The Composition of Thucydides' History

Classical Quarterly 34 (3-4):146- (1940)
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Abstract

The problem of the composition of Thucydides' History, first raised by Ullrich in 1846, has evoked a mass of controversial literature. In this article I shall confine myself to the main arguments and conclusions. Thucydides' history is unfinished, not only because it breaks off at 411 b.c., but also because the style is uneven. The history of the Archidamian War to 424 b.c. and of the Sicilian War is fully polished and complete; the remainder is lacking in stylistic finish and particularly in the set speeches which characterize the completed books. This unevenness can be explained by the circumstances of Thucydides' life. For the period 431–424 b.c. he could obtain full information at Athens and, after his exile in 424 b.c., at Sparta and elsewhere; for the Sicilian War he could obtain full information in Sicily from the Siceliotes and from the Athenian prisoners. He was thus in a position to complete his history for these two periods. During his exile from 424 b.c. to 404 or 403 b.c. he lacked the information from the Athenian side, which was necessary for the completion of the remainder of his work. Further light is shed on the unevenness of finish by Thucydides' method of composition. He informs us that he began his work at the beginning of the war, and that he was watching and applying his judgement throughout the Twenty-seven Years War; and the statement that he wrote the history down to the capture of the Peiraeus implies his collection of material down to 404 b.c. The working up of this material must have been conditioned partly by the circumstances of the war; in particular, the conception of the Twenty-seven Years War cannot have been formed until after 415 or 412 b.c

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