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Thucydides' historical technique.

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Thucydides' Historical Technique. By Philip Beswick Thucydides' historical technique. Thucydides has often been described as one of the fathers of history, and possibly the first historian that can be used with any real historical accuracy. His objectivity and lack of digressive storytelling mark him out from previous historians such as Herodotus, and Thucydides began a new era of historical writing. Although named the father of history, Herodotus wrote in a literary style, rather than the accurate telling of the facts and objective analysis that Thucydides offers us in his History of the Peloponnesian War. Herodotus tended to digress with irrelevant storytelling, whereas Thucydides abandoned this technique, and adopted a method that greatly improved the accuracy of his historical chronicling. Therefore natural questions that arise are: How did Thucydides break new grounds in terms of historical writing? What strengths and indeed weaknesses does Thucydides' writings have? Are they of sufficient accuracy to be useful to modern historians? I will be looking principally at the first two books, although I will make references that will encompass the other 6 books that comprise The History of the Peloponnesian War. First I shall discuss briefly Thucydides' past, as this bears some significant relevance to the way Thucydides was about to write his history, and the expertise he was able to employ. ...read more.


He does not however use speeches to the extent that Herodotus used them. Herodotus' Histories were mainly in a literary form throughout, and he had decided that he was free to use speeches wherever the narrative allowed it. Thucydides maintains from (I. 21): "I do not think that one will be far wrong in accepting the conclusions which I have reached from the evidence which I have put forward. It is better evidence than that of the poets, who exaggerate the importance of their themes..." Thucydides is far more calculated in the use of his speeches, not wasting time with short speeches on small matters and small debates, which Herodotus used regularly. He mainly uses them on full addresses on large matters4 or encouragement for troops before an important battle5, moments of historical importance, and the sources prove useful in giving us material to analyse as well as some social and political insight into the history. For example, Thucydides gives us a popular view on the inherent weaknesses of oligarchies, with some personal analysis on (viii 89.4.) "Most of those involved in the oligarchy were...discontented with it...They maintained that the five thousand should be appointed so that the government should be set up on a wider basis." ...read more.


As well as having comparisons with tragedy, Thucydides also has similarities with epic, in particular, Homer. There is one passage in particular, which seems to reflect this similarity, (VII. 87. 5-6): 'And this Hellenic event turned out to be the greatest connected with this war and, at least in my opinion, of Hellenic events we have heard of, the most splendid for those who won and the most wretched for those who were ruined. For after having been completely defeated in every respect and suffering no little misery at every point in, as the saying is, total destruction, army and navy, nothing was not lost, and few out of many returned home. This was what happened concerning Sicily.' "...few out of many returned home," is a quote that could have been directly plucked from one of Odysseus' stories to the Phaeacians. Also, the words that Thucydides uses, links his works to the nostos genre of epic. 1 Thucydides is reputed to have owned gold mines here, and would have helped him to fund his evidence collecting missions. "Ancient Thrace was largely uncultivated and covered with dense forest; mineral deposits, particularly of gold, made the region a coveted possession."- Encarta 2002 2 Explained later: Pg2 Line 11. 3 (I 32) The debate between Corcyra and Corinth, which started over ownership of the colony Epidamnus, and took place in Athens. 4 Such as (i. 67-117) 5 Such as (ii. 87-9) ...read more.

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