Thucydides: An Introduction for the Common Reader

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Thucydides: An Introduction for the Common Reader

by Perez Zagorin


208 Pages


This book is a concise, readable introduction to the Greek author Thucydides, who is widely regarded as one of the foremost historians of all time.

Why does Thucydides continue to matter today? Perez Zagorin answers this question by examining Thucydides' landmark History of the Peloponnesian War, one of the great classics of Western civilization. This history, Zagorin explains, is far more than a mere chronicle of the conflict between Athens and Sparta, the two superpowers of Greece in the fifth century BCE. It is also a remarkable story of politics, decision-making, the uses of power, and the human and communal experience of war. Zagorin maintains that the work remains of permanent interest because of the exceptional intellect that Thucydides brought to the writing of history, and to the originality, penetration, and the breadth and intensity of vision that inform his narrative. 

The first half of Zagorin's book discusses the intellectual and historical background to Thucydides' work and its method, structure, and view of the causes of the war. The following chapters deal with Thucydides' portrayal of the Athenian leader Pericles and his account of some of the main episodes of the war, such as the revolution in Corcyra and the Athenian invasion of Sicily. The book concludes with an insightful discussion of Thucydides as a thinker and philosophic historian.

Designed to introduce both students and general readers to a work that is an essential part of a liberal education, this book seeks to encourage readers to explore Thucydides--one of the world's greatest historians--for themselves.

''Thucydides: An Introduction for the Common Reader offers an engrossing intellectual appreciation of the most important and most difficult historian in the western cultural tradition. . . . Perez Zagorin . . . brings formidable personal intelligence to major questions in Thucydidian scholarship, and his book goes well beyond the typical synthetic handbook. . . . There is nothing else like it.''--Tom Palaima, Times Higher Education Supplement

''Thucydides: An Introduction for the Common Reader is a useful book.... Thucydides' ... depth and breadth remain an extraordinary reminder of how little political distance we have traveled since his time.''--Peter Stothard, The Wall Street Journal

''A perceptive, well-informed, concise, and readable introduction to Thucydides for the nonspecialist. Perez Zagorin has done a service to readers by composing such a vigorous and succinct book.''--Barry S. Strauss, Cornell University

''Lucid and engaging. This is an intelligent and helpful companion to the first-time reader of Thucydides.''--Josiah Ober, Princeton University

''Perez Zagorin addresses the main points in Thucydides with sound judgment and estimable intelligence. His choice of topics is expert, as is his treatment of different scholarly views. This is an ideal overview of Thucydides, which at times is as gripping as Thucydides himself.''--George Klosko

''Professor Zagorin has written a valuable companion for readers of Thucydides. His observations are full of learning, good sense, and wisdom.''--Donald Kagan, Sterling Professor of Classics and History, Yale University

Table of Contents:

Acknowledgments xi
Abbreviations xiii
Introduction 1
Chapter 1: Thucydides' History and Its Background 7
Chapter 2: The Subject, Method, and Structure of Thucydides' History 23
Chapter 3: Thucydides on the Causes of the War 40
Chapter 4: Thucydides and Pericles 57
Chapter 5: Scenes from the Archidamian War 75
Mytilene, Plataea, Corcyra, Pylos
Chapter 6: Dialogue at Melos, the Sicilian Expedition 100
Chapter 7: Endings 125
Chapter 8: Thucydides as a Philosophic Historian 139
Notes 163
Further Reading 185
Index 187

About the author

Perez Zagorin is the Joseph C. Wilson Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Rochester and a fellow of the Shannon Center for Advanced Studies at the University of Virginia. He is the author of many articles and a number of books, including A History of Political Thought in the English Revolution; Rebels and Rulers 1500-1660, Volume 2; How the Idea of Religious Toleration Came to the West and Francis Bacon (both Princeton).