The Ancient Library

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signed his work to be " an eternal possession," and such it has proved to be. After his introductory chapters (i. 1—23) he proceeds to explain the alleged grounds and causes of the war: the real causes were, he says, the Spartan jealousy of the Athenian power. His narrative is interrupted (c. 89—118), after he has come to the time when the Lacedaemonians resolved on war, by a digres­sion (e'/cgoAT?) on the rise and progress of the power of Athens ; a period which had been either omitted by other writers, or treated imperfectly, and with little regard to chronology, as by Hel-lanicus in his Attic history (c. 97). He resumes his narrative (c. 119) with the negotiations that preceded the war ; but this leads to another di­gression of some length on the treason of Pausa-nias (c. 128—134), and the exile of Themistocles (c. 135—138). He concludes the book with the speech of Pericles, who advised the Athenians to refuse the demands of the Peloponnesians ; and his subject, as already observed, begins with the second book. Mr. Clinton, in his Fasti, has a chapter " On the Summary of Thucydides," or that part of his first book which treats of the period between b. c. 478 and 432. The Pelopon-nesian war began b. c. 431.

A history which treats of so many events, which took place at remote spots, could only be written, in the time of Thucydides, by a man who took great pains to ascertain facts by personal in­quiry. In modern times facts are made known by printing as soon as they occur ; and the printed records of the time, newspapers and the like, are often the only evidence of many facts which become history. When we know the careless way in which facts are now reported and recorded by very incompetent persons, often upon very in­different hearsay testimony, and compare with such 'records the pains that Thucydides took to ascertain the chief events of a war, with which he was contemporary, in which he took a share as a commander, the opportunities which his means allowed, his great abilities, and serious earnest character, it is a fair conclusion that we have a more exact history of a long eventful period by Thucydides than we have of any period in modern history, equally long and equally eventful. We are deceived as to the value of modern historical evidence, which depends on the eye-sight of wit­nesses, by the facility with which it is produced and distributed in print. But when we come to examine the real authority for that which is printed, we seldom find that the original witness of an important transaction is a Thucydides ; still less seldom do we find a man like him who has devoted seven and twenty years to the critical enumeration of the events of as many years. A large part of the facts in Thucydides were doubt­less derived from the testimony of other eye-wit­nesses, and even in some cases not directly from eye-witnesses ; and that is also true of all modern histories, even contemporary histories ; but again, how seldom have we a Thucydides to weigh the value of testimony either direct or indirect (i. 22). His whole work shows the most scrupulous care and diligence in ascertaining facts ; his strict at­tention to chronology, and the importance that he attaches to it, are additional proof of his historical accuracy. His narrative is brief and concise.: it generally contains bare facts expressed in the fewest possible words, and when we consider what


pains it must have cost him to ascertain these facts, we admire the self-denial of a writer who is satisfied with giving facts in their naked brevity without ornament, without any parade of his per­sonal importance, and of the trouble that hia matter cost him. A single chapter must sometimes have represented the labour of many days and weeks. Such a principle of historical composition is the evidence of a great and elevated mind. The history of Thucydides only makes an octavo vo­lume of moderate size ; many a modern writer would have spun it out to a dozen volumes, and so have spoiled it. A work that is for all ages must contain much in little compass.

He seldom makes reflections in the course of his narrative: occasionally he has a chapter of political and moral observations, animated by the keenest perception of the motives of action, and the moral character of man. Many of his speeches are po­litical essays, or materials for them ; they are not mere imaginations of his own for rhetorical effect; they contain the general sense of what was actually delivered as nearly as he could ascertain, and in many instances he had good opportunities of knowing what was said, for he heard some speeches delivered (i. 22). His opportunities, his talents, his character, and his subject all combined to pro­duce a work that stands alone, and in its kind has neither equal nor rival. His pictures are some­times striking and tragic, an effect produced by severe simplicity and minute particularity. Such is the description of the plague of Athens. Such also is the incomparable history of the Athenian expedition to Sicily, and its melancholy termina­tion.

A man who thinks profoundly will have a form of expression which is stamped with the character of his mind ; and the style of Thucydides is accordingly concise, vigorous, energetic. We feel that all the words were intended to have a mean­ing, and have a meaning • none of them are idle. Yet he is sometimes harsh and obscure ; and pro­bably he was so, even to his own countrymen. Some of his sentences are very involved, and the connection and dependence of the parts are often difficult to seize. Cicero, undoubtedly a good Greek scholar, found him difficult (Orator, c. 9) : he says that the speeches contain so many obscure and impenetrable sentences as to be scarcely intel­ligible ; and this, he adds, is a very great defect in the language of political life (in oratione civili).

The first thing that is requisite in reading Thu­cydides is to have a good text established on a collation of the MSS., and this we owe to I. Bek-ker. Those who were accustomed to read Thucy­dides in such a text as .Duker's, can estimate their obligations to Bekker. For the understanding of the text, a sound knowledge of the language and the assistance of the best critics are necessary ; and perhaps nearly all has been done in this depart­ment that can be done. But after all, a careful and repeated study of the original is necessary in order to understand it. For the illustration of the text a great mass of geographical and historical knowledge is necessary ; and here also the critics have not been idle. To derive all the advantage from the work that may be derived for political instruction, we must study it ; and here the critics give little help, for Politik is a thing they seldom meddle with, and not often with success. Here a man must be his own commentator ; but a great.

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