Journal of Classical Studies
Online ISSN : 2424-1520
Print ISSN : 0447-9114
The Comparison between the Athenians and Spartans in Thucydides
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1966 Volume 14 Pages 57-65


Thucydides was not only the first scientific historian, but also an artist, who heightened the dramatic effect in his narrative by often using antilogia and contrast. As he described the Peloponnesian War as an antagonism between two different kind of cities, Athens and Sparta, the readers probably were able to understand more easily the harshness and cruelty of the war. The constitutions, education, morals, namely all ways of life, were entirely different in the two cities. And the comparison of the different characters of Athens and Sparta is found in the speeches of the Corinthian envoy (I, 68-71), the Athenian visitor into Sparta (I. 74-78), Archidamos (I. 80-85) and Pericles (I. 140-144, II. 35-46). There Thucydides' arguments of the antilogia and contrast, which may be the influence of the sophists, were most effectively developed. It seems that the speech of the Athenian visitor is an antilogia against the Corinthian envoy and that the speeches of Pericles are the antilogias against Archidamos. Again the speech of Archidamos is an antilogia against the Corinthian envoy. On the other hand, it is the Greek way in literature to treat both antagonists with impartiality and equality. As for the antilogia, it is more dramatic if the arguments of both sides are developed with almost equal power and confidence. But how are the substances of the arguments in the speeches of the Spartan side by Thucydides? The Corinthian envoy accused the Spartans as being leisurely, conservative and old-fashioned, while the Athenians were quick, bold and progressive. Archidamos defenced the character of the Spartans in his speech and praised their thoughtfulness, bravery, discipline, etc. But the concepts of the character of the Spartans in contrast with Athenians in those speeches are found also in the tragedies of Sophocles and Euripides (as J. H. Finley showed them in his article "Euripides and Thucydides", Harvard Studies in Cl. Phil. 49). And the analysis of the powers and expected strategies of Athens and Sparta by Archidamos is repeated by Pericles more accurately in his first speeches. It is likely that Thucydides inserted the Athenian view on Sparta and its way of life, which was popular among the Athenian citizens since the ascendancy of democracy and the aggravation of rivalry against Sparta. Therefore, the antilogias of the Spartan side in those speeches were not so confident in comparison with the Athenian side. And Thucydides, the democrat and real Athenian, was peeping out, although Thucydides made an effort to treat Athens and Sparta with impartiality in his History.

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