6 sessions – Wednesdays, September 26 thru November 7, in the Peierls Room (no class Oct 31) 7:30 PM
In any list of the Great Books of Western Civilization, The Peloponnesian War stands near the top. Thucydides called his account of two decades of war between Athens and Sparta “a possession for all time,” and indeed it is the first and still the most famous work in the Western historical tradition. It is considered essential reading for generals, statesmen, and liberally educated citizens for more than 2,000 years, The Peloponnesian War is a mine of military, moral, political, and philosophical wisdom.
I encourage you all to read as much of the text as you can, but this is not an easy read. I will provide the pieces on which we shall focus so if you are strapped for time you can engage what will be touched upon in class. I recommend “The Landmark Thucydides” by Strassler and Crawley for its readability and amazing study aids embedded in the text. The only other readable version I know is the Hobbes translation.
Weeks 1 & 2– (Sep 26 and Oct 3) – we will focus on Book I – the overal history of the region and the war itself and The Spartan Debate, 432 BCE (1.66-88); plus the beginning of Book Two (2.1-17);
Week 3– (Oct 10) – We will discuss Pericles’ Funeral Oration (Book 2.34-46); The Policy of Pericles, 430 B.C. (Book 2.56-65);
Week 4 – (Oct 17) – The Siege of Plataea, 429 B.C. (2.71-78), The End of Plataea, 427 B.C. (3.51-68); The Plague, 430 B.C. (2.47-55); Civil War in Corcyra, 427 B.C. (3.69-85).
Week 5– (Oct 24) We will engage both The Mytilenean Debate, 427 BCE (3.35-3.50); and The Melian Dialogue, 416 BCE (5.84-5.116);
Week 6– (Nov 7) Book VI, because it most vividly portrays a democracy in decline.
A 250-word written response is asked for each class. We will need a volunteer to bring the first question each week. Please show up ready to engage the text. And you are right! We will not get to the end of the book, but neither does Thucydides: he never finished the last seven years he promised to record!