Title: The Landmark Thucydides:
A Comprehensive Guide to the Peloponnesian War
Editor: Robert B. Strassler
Rating: 4 of 5
A powerful democracy that takes credit for saving the civilized world from tyranny and now dominates an empire of “allies” versus a brutal military oligarchy where most of the people are slaves or second class citizens…it’s Athens vs. Sparta (What? Who did you think I was talking about?). But, seriously, this is an intriguing (if long) ancient history book. One of Thucydides’ points is that history repeats itself with some variations in magnitude/brutality. The realpolitik that drives this conflict shows that human nature hasn’t really changed in the last 2,300+ years.
This particular edition of Thucydides is from the same series as The Landmark Herodotus which I reviewed here. Like its predecessor, this book is stuffed with helpful background information in the form of footnotes, maps, appendices, section summaries, etc. The maps were by far the most helpful feature. They come in a variety of scales, every few pages and show only the sites that are relevant to the section in which they occur.
The one slightly disappointing aspect of this book was the translation. I don’t know how much this would bother the average person, but I studied quite a bit of Greek translation theory in college and seminary so it bugs me (i.e. I’m a translation snob). Rather than a new (or even recent) translation, this book used a Victorian era (1874) translation with modern language “pasted over” any phrasing that sounded too awkward or archaic. It read smoothly enough for the most part, but that is just not great translation methodology for a scholarly publication. It ignores the last 140+ years of scholarship in Greek translation theory, produces a hybrid Victorian-Modern English that was never actually spoken by anyone, and may introduce unnecessarily interpretive paraphrasing when decisions are made based purely on English style. To be fair, I haven’t compared it to the original Greek myself (I studied Koine rather than Classical Greek) so I can’t speak to accuracy…I just question the methodology.
Overall, an excellent book for those who enjoy ancient history and/or the study of human nature in politics and war.
5 thoughts on “Nothing New Under the Sun”
Fantastic title for this review! And very true- nothing really changes. And I gotta admit, I studied this at un, but found it a bit dry and a bit of a struggle after the joy that is reading Herodotus (he’s not as focused on historical accuracy, but he’s a better storyteller and oddly funny). That’s fair about the methodology!
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Yes, Herodotus is definitely more entertaining. The excellent Athenian mystery series by Gary Corby includes him as a character in one of the books (The Singer from Memphis) and has him constantly rattling off some of his more outrageous “facts.”
As far as Herodotus vs. Thucydides, In addition to higher entertainment value, I also like how Herodotus is willing to give alternate versions of an event when sources vary. Thucydides is more the kind of historian who presents his personal assessment of the facts and largely ignores conflicting sources that don’t fit his narrative.
Oh I have to check that out! I love his “facts” (especially since he so often follows it up with “this is probably not true”)
Yes, I definitely agree there!