Ancient History & Civilisation


For the reader who would like to explore additional ancient sources—some more or less contemporary with Thucydides whose writings were influenced by events of the Peloponnesian War, others who wrote about the war or events immediately before or after it, or even some who lived and wrote much later than Thucydides (Plutarch, for example, worked in the second century A.D., five hundred years after Thucydides) but who wrote about the Peloponnesian War or some of its leading figures and used sources that were subsequently lost and are unavailable to us now—the following list of historians, philosophers, and playwrights may prove useful. All are available in English translation.

Andocides (c. 440-c. 390 B.C.): This is the very man whom Thucydides mentions but does not name in 6.60.2-4, who confessed to a role in the mutilation of the Hermae. In one of three extant speeches, On the Mysteries, he describes his imprisonment and the reasons for his decision to confess.

Antiphon (c. 480-411 B.C.): Several speeches and exercises survive. This is the man Thucydides describes as “not liked by the multitude because of his reputation for cleverness, and as being a man best able to help in the courts.” Although a leader of The Four Hundred, he did not flee to Decelea with the other extreme oligarchs when the regime fell, and remained to be tried, found guilty, and executed.

Aristophanes (c. 450-385 B.C.): The greatest of Attic comic playwrights. Eleven of his plays survive; many speak directly of the Peloponnesian War, criticize Athenian policy, and satirize all parties, particularly contemporary Athenians.

Diodorus Siculus: He wrote a world history (c. 60-30 B.C.), some parts of which are preserved in full, others lost or only fragmentary. The work is not of high quality, but it is of interest to us for its reflection of other historical writers and sources that he used and that are now lost. His section on the Peloponnesian War is complete and found in his Books 12 and 13. While he clearly relies upon Thucydides for some events, much of his account comes from others, presumably a great deal from the historian Ephorus, whose work is lost.

Euripides (c. 485-c. 406 B.C.): One of three outstanding Attic tragic playwrights and poets of the fifth century, some of whose surviving plays are clearly marked by events of and attitudes connected to the Peloponnesian War.

Herodotus (c. 485-c. 425 B.C.): A marvelous historian of the Persian Wars (who describes much else besides); his work was certainly known to Thucydides, and it is probably Herodotus whom Thucydides criticizes (without mentioning his name), in 1.20. See the Introduction to this volume, II.i, ii, v; IV.i, ii.

Hippocratic Writings: A compilation of medical writings, some more or less contemporaneous with Thucydides, which may well have influenced his extraordinary clinical description of the plague (2.47-53).

Lysias: A resident alien at Athens; a manufacturer of shields during the war who, when condemned to death by The Thirty tyrants in 404, managed to escape to Megara (although his brother Polemarchus was captured and executed). He returned later to write many legal speeches that have come down to us, many of which are informative about Athenian life at that time, and one of which (Against Eratosthenes)describes his own arrest and escape from the tyranny of The Thirty.

Old Oligarch: The name given by us to the author of a pamphlet titled The Constitution of the Athenians that describes and explains the Athenian democracy and the success of its navy while criticizing the system as unnatural. The unknown author is thought to have been a fifth-century Athenian with oligarchic views.

Oxyrhynchus Hellenica: Three separate papyri containing some nine hundred lines of an unknown Greek historian were found at the site of Oxyrhynchus in Egypt in 1906. This competent historian writes of Greek history in the period that immediately followed that covered by Thucydides, and like him he arranges his material by successive summers and winters. The best section of what survives deals with the Boeotian federal constitution of 396/5. See note 5.38.2a.

Plutarch (c. A.D. 50-c. 120): A Boeotian author who wrote comparative biographies of famous Romans and Greeks to illustrate morality and personal worth or failure. Despite this moral focus, and the fact that he wrote almost five hundred years after Thucydides died, he provides interesting information, some of it in the form of personal anecdotes, and much of it drawn from sources now lost. Among many biographical depictions, he wrote about such Athenians as Pericles, Alcibiades, and Nicias, and about the Spartan Lysander, all of whom were military and political leaders during the Peloponnesian War.

Xenophon (c. 428-c. 354 B.C.): As an Athenian of aristocratic background, Xenophon took part in and intentionally wrote about events that occurred just after Thucydides’ narrative breaks off. His aristocratic background and connections with The Thirty in 404-3 forced him to leave Athens for most of his adult life. While not nearly as skillful a historian as Thucydides, he provides much useful information for which he is the only source.

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