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The illusion of power and the disruption of moral norms: Thycydides' critique of Periclean policy.

Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey is punctuated by the incongruous appearance of a tall, polished metal shaft in the midst of an otherwise natural setting, portending doom or perhaps hiding secrets, the knowledge of which confers understanding and mastery of life. In the film, humanity is driven by the puzzle the shaft embodies to attain to ever greater technological mastery over nature, yet it remains as uncomprehending as an infant in the presence of this featureless Sphinx. Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War exercises a similar effect on us. We are excited by the keen analysis, the apparent accessibility of the actors to rational interpretation, the ring of familiarity in the events the historian recounts. Above all, we are excited by Thucydides' claim to have written a work that will become "a possession for all time," a work that we will "judge useful" (I.22.4).(1) But what profit does it contain? Good counsel, a theory, an example to avoid (if so, how)? Having treated Thucydides as a forerunner of modern realism (Dougherty and Pfaltzgraff 1990, 90), international relations scholars today appreciate the complexity of his text and frequently challenge the traditional realist reading (Bagby 1994; Doyle 1991; Forde 1995; Garst 1989; Lebow 1991). Political theorists also increasingly appreciate the History's complexity of thought. Recently, for example, theorists have focused on its pessimism (Pouncey 1980), its pervasive humanity (Orwin 1994), its subtle critique of democracy (Farrar 1988; Ober 1993; Saxonhouse 1996), its account of the fragility of political unity (Euben 1990), or its analysis of the tension between love of glory and commitment to the common good (Palmer 1992). The growing attention to the History in both fields bears witness to the observation by a leading classicist that Thucydides forever proves resistant "to paraphrase and summation" (Connor 1984, 231).

In this article, we attribute Thucydides' power to resist summation to his pervasive use of antithesis as a tool of narrative and analytical style. Antithesis in the form of paired speeches or the dramatic juxtaposition of, for example, the Periclean funeral oration and the plague narrative is well known. But Thucydides' use of antithesis in his treatment of Pericles, a part of the text usually thought to exhibit a more straightforward teaching, has commanded less attention. We investigate that treatment here, anticipating a more subtle and elaborate judgment on the Periclean virtues and a window onto Thucydides' political thought. We conclude that the historian's treatment of Pericles conveys two antithetical yet complementary attitudes regarding the possibility of conducting ourselves wisely. The first is a relentless skepticism about humanity's capacity to assure its welfare by relying on a kind of strategic brilliance that is exercised in either ignorance or defiance of moral norms. The second is a conviction that moral norms must be buttressed by the effective application of coercive power. Thucydides' driving attention to both these views goes to the heart of much contemporary theorizing in international relations regarding the appropriateness of moral or strategic action.


The view of the History as an "objective" account of the war and its author as a "scientific" historian or a detached reporter of bald fact has been dead in the specialist literature for some time. Scholars today focus more on the artistry of the work and the intensity of the experiences it elicits (see, e.g., Aron 1978; Connor 1977a; Hunter 1973; Orwin 1994). Wanting to understand how the text works as a whole, they have little confidence in the notion that the author's "teaching" can be found in some specific episode, such as the Melian conference, or in some isolated first-person comments, such as those pertaining to Pericles. Instead, they examine how the interrelations of different aspects of the text (speeches, narrative, various episodes, language patterns, and literary devices) work to arouse the emotions and intellect of the reader. In this article, we bring this strategy of reading the text to the examination of Periclean leadership.

Much of the power of Thucydides' prose style derives from his use of antithesis, that is, the contraposition of claim and counterclaim in close and rhetorically effective order. Although antithesis is most evident in the paired speeches, we encounter antithetical claims pervasively. This "most instinctive, necessary clothing of [Thucydides'] thought" (Finley 1942, 46; see also Connor 1991, 67) extends to the very structure of the work, to the juxtaposition from phrase to phrase, chapter to chapter, book to book of starkly contrasting images, such that expectations nurtured at one point are dashed at another. Thucydides dresses the images up rhetorically as unchanging, inevitable realities and as matters of fact (see Connor 1984). But in the ensuing narrative he reveals them to be mere social and intellectual constructs, which the protagonists of the drama, through ambition, fear, and conceit, proceed to erode.

Awareness of Thucydides' use of antithesis helps us not only appreciate his style but also understand his political philosophy and use the text to engage debate in international relations theory. The antithesis, when wielded with the skill and relentlessness of a Thucydides, leads to skepticism, that is, to doubt regarding anything and everything that one may have previously accepted as knowledge, wisdom, or truth.(2) In Thucydides' era, the corrosive power of such skepticism, quite ascendant in Athenian intellectual circles, moved some Athenians to doubt the possibility of defining moral conduct in a way that would resist such inquiry. Thus, they fell victim to the idea that the prevailing notion of the Good must simply embody the interests of powerful people. This is the argument of Plato's Thrasymachus and Callicles. It is also the argument that Thucydides lends to the Athenian generals at Melos.


We reopen the file on Pericles because he comes across as the only actor of the History who is "on top of things." Thucydides' attitude toward Pericles seems to be one of "reverent admiration" (Cornford 1907, 50). He is, after all, the only speaker of the History whose words are never disputed by those of an adversary. The text thus invites us to believe that good politics must be Periclean politics. And yet, alert to Thucydides' use of antithetical argument, we suspect that on closer reading the text invites us to search for good politics in the close, critical examination of Pericles' politics.

Thucydides' catalog of Pericles' virtues is well known, and we need not rehearse it here. Suffice it to recall that, according to Thucydides, "for as long as [Pericles] was at the head of the state during the peace, he pursued a moderate and conservative policy; and in his time its greatness was at its height" (II.65.5). Among the virtues displayed by Pericles are his skills as a military leader (I.111.5, 114.5, 116.3, 117.2; II.31.12), his appreciation of and excellence in reasoned deliberation regarding political and strategic issues (II.40.2-3, 62.5), his integrity (II.13.1, 65.8), his grasp of human psychology (II.59.3ff), and his generally accurate estimate of Athenian military strengths and weaknesses (II.65.5). Moreover, he is a master of the art of persuasion. He draws on his oratorical skills to win approval of his ideas even as his popularity flags (II.59.2ff), and he uses rhetoric to stoke Athenian patriotism and self-confidence (II.40.1-41.5). In sum, his grasp of human psychology, his power to persuade, and his military skill all contribute to his ascendance among the Athenians and his ability "to lead them instead of being led by them" (II.65.8).

Nevertheless, we detect in the History as a whole a subtle interrogation of this explicit, glowing appraisal. While showing leadership, Pericles panders to the population; while extolling Athenian virtues, he undermines the norms of social cohesion; while advocating a prudent course of action, he engages Athens in an adventure that produces momentous turns of fortune.

Thucydides unquestionably attributes to Pericles a unique ability to persuade citizens to adopt a strategy that involves hardship and self-discipline, as well as an ability to speak frankly to the Assembly to the point of contradicting the wishes (or whims) of the multitude. During the period of Pericles' prominence, "what was nominally a democracy [became] in his hands government by the first citizen" (II.65.9). Each of Pericles' three speeches, as fashioned by Thucydides, shows the Athenian leader turning public opinion in a particular direction. Yet, on one significant point, Pericles comes across as a consummate follower, a caterer to the desires of the many. Pericles is uncritically devoted to the possession of empire for the sake of Athenian glory and for the material luxuries it provides.(3) During his leadership, the Athenians boldly transfer the treasury of the Delian League from Delos to Athens and use it to finance the adornment of the city. The alliance becomes an arche, an empire. As crisis unfolds, Pericles positions himself as the leader most capable of protecting the empire. He calls for only momentary restraint in adding to it: "[Do not] combine schemes of fresh conquest with the conduct of the war" (I.144.1). He does not rule out enlarging it once the crisis has passed.

Although Pericles is, in many ways, quite unlike the crop of leaders that gains prominence after his death, he does not differ from them as regards this attachment to empire. Thucydides seems to acknowledge this resemblance explicitly by attributing the same startling phrase - you hold a "tyranny" (II.63.2 and III.37.2) - to both Pericles and Cleon.(4) The term "tyranny" would have resonated among Athenian readers. It connotes much more than the extralegal seizure of power. It conveys the violent abuse of power and the disregard or outright rejection of customary Greek norms of decent, legitimate conduct. Contemporaries would have been struck by this term. Athenian readers would have remembered how, toward the end of the war, the oligarchs behaved so brutally before being deposed that they came to be known as the "thirty tyrants." Pericles uses the phrase during the crisis that accompanies the plague. Plague, he argues, must not weaken Athenian resolve to persevere in the war. "To take it [the tyranny]," he says, "perhaps was wrong, but to let it go is unsafe" (II.63.3). Cleon uses the term "tyranny" in another context to convince the Athenians to show severity in punishing the rebellious Mytileneans. He does not concede, as does Pericles, that taking the empire "perhaps was wrong." He defends its justice and warns the Athenians that showing mercy "will not oblige them so much as pass sentence upon yourselves. For if they were right in rebelling, you must be wrong in ruling" (III.40.4).

The difference in argument corresponds to a difference in rhetorical styles - Cleon is renowned for his verbal brutality - and to profound differences in character. Thucydides praises Pericles, the "first citizen" (II.65.9), and disparages Cleon, the "most violent man in Athens" (III.36.6). Yet, despite the contrasts, Thucydides suggests that there is some measure of continuity between them. Both sustain the public's attachment to empire. Both claim realistically to assess what that attachment requires in terms of policy and action. Both counsel steadfast resolve in carrying out policies once they are adopted. Both urge assemblies not to reopen debate on policies simply because their execution proves difficult.(5) For Euben (1990, 178), "given Thucydides' singularly explicit castigation of Cleon and his equally explicit praise of Pericles, it is disconcerting to find so many similarities between them" (see Hornblower 1987, 122ff; Hussey 1985).

In the turmoil following the debacle at Syracuse, Athens itself falls victim to the violence of tyranny. A part of the polis turns tyrannical toward the other, just as the Athenians had turned tyrannical in their treatment of their "allies" (Connor 1984, 179-80). But when this happens, the city is victimized not only by the actions of tyrannical leaders but also by the harsh moral character that the people of Athens themselves acquire through their dealings with their empire and begin to display in their dealings with one another. The parallel that Thucydides draws between Pericles and Cleon leads us to suspect that Pericles, too, bears some responsibility for the dissolution of Athenian political life in suspicion, mistrust, and violence.

This observation invites us to examine more closely the influence of Periclean politics on Athenian virtues. Periclean politics may not have promoted social cohesion among the Athenians as effectively as we are first led to think. Indeed, the narrative as a whole implies that Pericles' policies may (perhaps unwittingly) have accelerated the disintegration of Athenian solidarity and thus contributed to defeat. The one issue on which the narrative is thoroughly consistent, after all, is the attribution of that defeat to "intestine disorders" (II.65.12), factionalism, and growing atomization. For the Athenians, affective attachment to their status as members of the polis - their sense of democratic citizenship - pivoted on a norm of reciprocity between individuals and the polls. They imagined democratic citizenship to be characterized by mutual benefactions performed by both parties, citizens and city. In their civic self-image, a thriving democracy was not characterized by the prevalence of self-sacrificing individuals devoted to the common good. Rather, it required the successful cultivation of practices that provided multiple opportunities both for citizens (regardless of social and economic standing) to perform benefactions for the polls and for the collective - the city - to perform benefactions for the citizens. The Athenians extolled devotion to the common good in their civic self-image, but they also represented private interests and public interests as mutually obtainable. This is not to suggest that real citizens never encountered conflicts between private and public interests. Thucydides' History, as well as tragedy and many other literary sources, indicate that such conflict was frequent. Nevertheless, the ideal of citizenship as reciprocal exchange both defined a powerful political norm and acted as a force for social cohesion. This image of citizenship was expressed and celebrated on numerous civic ritual occasions during which individual affective ties to the polls were nourished.(6)

Thucydides makes Pericles acknowledge that Athenian democratic ideology pivots on such a view of private/public relations: "I am of the opinion that national greatness is more for the advantage of private citizens than any individual well-being coupled with public humiliation" (II.60.2). In the funeral oration, that recognition informs praise for the Athenian way of life (Monoson 1994). Yet, Pericles' war policies, however brilliant, require that the Athenians behave in ways that depart from this ideal of reciprocity. As he relates the effects of those policies, Thucydides invites us to observe how they involve the Athenians in behavior that manifests a growing tension between their civic self-image and their actual conduct and, therefore, how those policies threaten a normative understanding that had functioned powerfully to nurture Athenian solidarity.

Pericles' call to the citizens to collect behind the city walls is strategically brilliant but socially corrosive. The policy does not reward the Athenians for the suffering they must endure in these unusual circumstances in the same way that the city traditionally rewards them for the more common sacrifice of the body in combat. In Athenian practice, dying honorably in battle - contributing one's body to the polis (II.43.1) - is met by particular action on the part of the polis. The soldier knows beforehand that, if he perishes, the polis will reward his "contribution" to the collectivity by attaching honor to his memory, by burying him with pomp at public expense, and by assuming certain responsibilities for his family, such as educating his orphaned children and supporting his elderly parents.(7) Pericles' policy proposal, in contrast, does not require the city to express any explicit gratitude toward the individuals who sacrifice their property rather than their bodies to the polis. Instead, Pericles exhorts citizens to subordinate their private interests to a future public good. "Cease . . . to grieve for your private afflictions and address yourselves instead to the safety of the commonwealth," he urges (II.61.4). Pericles not only enjoins the citizens to make extraordinary sacrifices but also minimizes their importance: "You may think it a great privation to lose the use of your land and houses . . . [but] you should really regard them in the light of the gardens and other accessories that embellish a great fortune and as, in comparison, of little moment" (II.62.3).

In defense of his policy recommendations, Pericles makes no attempt at all to fit the citizens' acceptance of property loss into a model of reciprocal exchange. He may implicitly promise participation in the enduring glory and pleasures that attend citizenship in a dominant polis, but he does not stress any "exchange." Rather, he uses his rhetorical skills to shore up the citizens' resolution and their tolerance of "private afflictions" (II.61.4), offering himself as an example. He is resolute, though he, too, has lost property. He admonishes the Athenians to be strong like him: "I am the same man and do not alter; it is you who change . . . the apparent error of my policy lies in the infirmity of your resolution" (II.61.2). But he fails to appreciate that the Athenians have only himself, an extraordinary charismatic leader, to help them achieve such resolve.(8) Their daily activity - camping out, often in deplorable conditions, behind the walls - does not provide them with the customary symbolic reinforcements and expiations that would make self-sacrifice on this scale tolerable. Though Pericles succeeds in assuaging the anger and frustration of the Athenians, Thucydides reports that "still, as private individuals they could not help smarting under their sufferings, the common people having been deprived of the little that they ever possessed, while the higher orders had lost fine properties with costly establishments and buildings in the country and, worst of all, [had] war instead of peace" (II.65.2). Only when Pericles helps them vent their anger by accepting a fine do they finally "become less sensitive to their private and domestic afflictions" (II.65.4).

After Pericles' death the Athenians lose the ability to subordinate their private concerns to the pursuit of victory. Their new leaders, Thucydides suggests, do not supply the model and the rhetorical reinforcements they need in this regard. The Athenians lost the war because they "allowed their private ambitions and private interests . . . to lead them into [unwise] projects" (II.65.7). They fail utterly to remain fixed on the public interest and fall prey to civil discord. Pericles' policy contributes to that failure by involving the Athenians in a departure from dominant normative understandings.


Pericles is an extraordinary leader acting in circumstances as unusual as himself. But aspects of Thucydides' narrative invite us to ask if the exceptional circumstances are not to some extent of Pericles' own making. This is not to diminish the effect of events more or less beyond Athenian control, particularly the eruption of conflict between Corinth and Corcyra. But we must recognize that Pericles' response to the events leading up to the war - abandonment of the countryside and engagement in a potentially protracted war of attrition - is an uncommon one.(9) Thus, when the high mortality suffered by the Athenians crowded behind the city walls during the plague - an unforeseen consequence of Pericles' uncommon policy - takes away the sole leader who might have held the polis together under exceptional circumstances, we are forced by Thucydides' narrative to question the wisdom of Pericles' strategically brilliant and apparently prudent course of action. Aspects of Thucydides' narrative style, moreover, lend rhetorical emphasis to those interrogations.

Recall that Pericles recommends in his first speech that the Athenians fight a war of attrition, confident that they, because of their strategic skill, exceptional wealth, and naval supremacy, will prove able to withstand the strains of war far longer than the Peloponnesians. Pericles' recommendation that the Athenians forsake the countryside is a startling one. But he makes it sound reasonable to the Athenians, and they support it despite its unattractive features. They are confident of victory and, the reader is tempted to think, with good reason. The modern reader may see in Pericles' policies an instance of prudent realism: He diminishes the city's vulnerability to attack by land and invests in its advantage at sea. But in order to find Pericles' strategy irresistible it is necessary to discount the power of chance (tyche). Thucydides does not suggest that Pericles ignores tyche. Pericles refers to it explicitly in his first speech (I.140.1). But Thucydides does suggest that he may not appreciate its full import. Pericles sees chance as the source of possible sufferings that could threaten public resolve, but he is apparently unaware that it can be the source of deeper and more enduring effects.(10)

The plague provides the most devastating example of the power of tyche in the entire History. Thucydides emphasizes the plague's importance by placing its narration, with almost no transition, after Pericles' funeral oration. The brutal juxtaposition swiftly and effectively contrasts the idealized image of Athenian patterns of life articulated in the funeral oration with the actual behavior of the Athenians during the plague. In the oration, Pericles portrays the Athenians as enjoying, among other things, "ease in our private relations" (II.37.3); "[lawfulness], particularly such as regards the protection of the injured, whether actually on the statute book or belong[ing] to that code which, although unwritten, cannot be broken without acknowledged disgrace" (II.37.3); mutual trust among citizens; and confidence in their good judgment, public spiritedness, and courage. Several times he praises the Athenians for being able to endure ordeals with dignity: "We are still willing to encounter danger; we have the double advantage of escaping the experience of hardships in anticipation and of facing them in the hour of need as fearlessly as those who are never free from them" (II.39.4). He boasts: "I doubt if the world can produce a man, who where he has only himself to depend upon, is equal to so many emergencies and graced by so happy a versatility as the Athenian" (II.41.1).

When the plague hits, Thucydides reports that people initially struggle to nurse the sick and dying but often end up succumbing to the illness themselves (II.51.2). The Athenians try to bury bodies as best they can, but the majority collapse under the strain of the disease (II.52.2-4). The plague soon causes social customs (nomoi) to break down and give way to multiple forms of "lawless extravagance" (epi pleon anomias) (II.53.1). In dramatic contrast to the orderly and elaborate public funeral at which Pericles delivered his famous speech, the Athenians now neglect to perform proper burial rites for their dead: "The bodies of dying men lay one upon another. The sacred places in which they had quartered themselves were full of corpses of persons that had died there, just as they were" (II.52.3). The Athenians panic in the face of the disease, giving the lie to Pericles' boast about their steadfastness in an emergency. They lose confidence in their judgment and act not as self-reliant and responsible citizens but, Pericles chides them, as slaves (douloi) (II.61.3). The rebuke is ironic, for Pericles earlier used the threat of enslavement (doulosin) to justify resistance to Sparta and the adoption of his extraordinary plan (I.141.1). Athens took up that resistance but then failed to elude the servile condition that resistance was supposed to prevent. Fear and the absence of manly virtue drive the Athenians slave-like to pursue immediate personal pleasures for as long as their health permits in utter disregard for the law and social norms. "Perseverance in what men called honor was popular with none. . . . Fear of gods or law of man there was none to restrain them" (II.53.3). Far removed from the idealized Athens of the funeral oration, we now see the despair of a people besieged, casting aside its recollection of virtue and obligation. "The plague offers the most violent challenge to the Periclean attempt to exert some kind of rational control over the historical process" (Parry 1969, 116).

Thucydides sheds more doubt on Pericles' prudence by linking his strategy of abandoning the countryside to an intensification of the trials of the plague. "An aggravation of the existing calamity," Thucydides notes, "was the influx from the country into the city, and this was especially felt by the new arrivals. As there were no houses to receive them, they had to be lodged at the hot season of the year in stifling cabins, where the mortality raged without restraint" (II.52.1-2). Thucydides reports, moreover, that the plague first appeared among the Athenians only days after the Spartan invasion of Attica had begun. Athenian readers would have observed (and many would have remembered) that the plague came at what was already a most stressful time, as they gathered behind the walls and struggled to accept that their fields, livestock, orchards, and homes were, at that very moment, being ravaged by an enemy no less invisible than the plague. To underscore the severity of the Athenians' situation, Thucydides matter of factly reports that the plague never entered the Peloponnesos (II.54.5). Even though "it was actually asserted that the departure of the Peloponnesians [who enjoy the luxury of mobility] was hastened by the fear of the [plague]," Thucydides writes, "in this invasion they remained longer than in any other, and ravaged the whole country, for they were about forty days in Attica" (II.57.1-2). The reader cannot resist wondering if Pericles' understanding of prudential conduct is not somehow flawed. Pericles' embarrassment is made manifest in the more accusatory tone and rhetoric of the third speech. As spokesman for civic values in the funeral oration, he speaks of "we" and "us," but in his third and final speech he belabors the contrast between "me" and "you." References to "us" disappear (Connor 1984, 65).

Pericles' own fate highlights the limits of his power to control the course of events. In Thucydides' report of the reception of Pericles' third speech, we learn that Pericles' eloquence, reputation, and forceful personality help the Athenians regain their composure and commitment to the war in the face of the devastation wrought by the plague: "He succeeded in convincing them; they not only gave up all idea of sending to Sparta but also applied themselves with increased energy to the war" (11.65.2). Thucydides never suggests that Pericles himself is not equal to the emergency, but in the midst of describing the positive effects of his third speech on the Athenians, Thucydides almost casually informs us that Pericles, too, has perished. "He outlived [the war's] commencement two years and six months" (11.65.6). Pericles might have helped the Athenians negotiate this unforeseen event, but the power of the unforeseen makes a dramatic reappearance. Pericles is dead. Thucydides could have included some description of events in Athens during the year or more that separates Pericles' third speech from his death. He could have included some narration of the circumstances of that death, but in doing so he would have eased the reader into the knowledge of Pericles' loss. Instead, the narrative leaves the reader asking: "Wait a minute, did Pericles just die?" Thucydides empowers us to experience vicariously the shock and confusion that the Athenians of the period must have felt. The text enables us not only to know but also to feel the power of chance. Thucydides' treatment of Pericles, the most gifted of Athenians, has, through the antithetical encounter of praise and disappointment, the effect of nourishing a corrosive skepticism regarding humanity's very capacity to master its destiny through the use of its intellectual powers.


It would be hasty to conclude that the skepticism in Thucydides' treatment of Pericles resolves itself in "mere tragedy," in unalleviated pessimism regarding the capacity of humankind to master its destiny.(11) By our reading, Thucydides does not so much doubt the capacity of human intelligence to master the course of history as he doubts humanity's capacity to chart a prudent course of action while disregarding norms of moral conduct. Thucydides leads the reader to appreciate how Pericles' overweening confidence, both in his own abilities and in the advantages of his city, breeds in him and his compatriots the illusion that power has endowed them with immunity from the sanctions of norms of moral conduct, which, in Pericles own words, "although unwritten, cannot be broken without acknowledged disgrace" (II.37.3). Suspicious of Pericles' self-confidence, Thucydides invites us to observe how prudent action relies on the guidance and restraint provided by moral norms.

The most telling discussion in all of Thucydides of the conditions under which deliberate and prudent conduct is possible is found in the famous passage on the Corcyraean civil war, or stasis (III.70-83). There Thucydides describes how factional conflict besets Corcyra as a result of war. The opposing factions, each emboldened by the prospect of reinforcement by an invading power, become increasingly harsh toward one another until normal political interaction is no longer possible. Violence ensues, and "the Corcyraeans engaged in butchering those of their fellow-citizens whom they regarded as enemies" (III.81.4). Under such conditions, Thucydides explains, it became increasingly difficult, and finally impossible, for both "states and individuals" (poleis and idiotai; III.82.2) to conduct themselves prudently, moderately, and deliberately. Instead, the circumstances of stasis drove them to extremes, to behave with "reckless abandon" (tolma gar alogistos; III.82.4) and "frantically" (emplektos; III.82.4). Thucydides characterizes the situation as one in which actors are unable to practice any measure of "hesitation" (mellesis promethes; III.82.4), "moderation" (to sophron; III.82.4), and "practical intelligence" (to pros hapan xuneton; III.82.4).(12)

Thucydides does more than assert that war makes these things happen. He shows us the mechanics of the link. War encourages actors to expect help from foreign sympathizers, freeing them from the need to treat their adversaries with consideration (III.82.2). As it disrupts normal human commerce, war makes actors desperate because it "takes away the easy supply of daily wants"; "plunges" cities and individuals into dire necessity;(13) and ushers in a situation in which words have no stable meaning (III.82.4). Sincere good naturedness (to euethes) is laughed out of court (III.83.1), and there is no trust (III.83.2).(14) War disrupts the norms on which we rely for some measure of predictability and civility in daily life, the conditions of rational, deliberate, prudent action.

Thucydides' precise words at III.82.1 help us appreciate the subtlety of his insight. He pauses in his narration to note that revolution at Corcyra, being one of the first revolutions to occur, made a strong impression. "Later on, one may say, the whole Hellenic world (pan to Hellenikon) was convulsed (ekinethe)." What kind of convulsion did the whole Hellenic world suffer and with what consequences? The verb ekinethe (a form of kineo, the root of "kinetic") suggests movement and instability. The context lends the word a negative connotation, captured nicely by "convulsed." The image is one of chaos, terrible flux, a destructive kind of motion. Yet, the verb kineo as such does not connote that negative image. In the first paragraph of the History, for example, Thucydides uses the noun kinesis in an apparently neutral way. He explains that the war was "worthy of relation" because it was "the greatest movement" (kinesis megiste I.1.2) in history.(15) This movement engulfed all the Hellenes, the barbarians, and the better part of humankind (pleiston anthropon). It is the physical dimensions of the "movement" (kinesis) of people and materials that initially caught Thucydides' attention and made him think the war worth writing about. What, then, endows the term ekinethe with negative connotations later on (III.82.1)?

It is true that the marshaling of physical force for civil war may lend the verb a certain negative force in the Book III passage. But the intestine nature of the war is not the primary source of the negative connotation, for now Thucydides directs our attention to a more intangible yet more powerfully destructive "movement." People and cities are losing their reserve, the power to check their motion. They are acting on impulse and fear. The things that war is now setting in motion, or stirring up, are not only men, money, resources, and ships but also the very customary understandings of what constitute "normal" human values and relationships. War is causing "the distortion of morality and values" (Hornblower 1987, 156; see also Connor 1984, 102, n. 57). The breakdown of the norms that undergird social relations, captured in Thucydides' observation that even words lose their ordinary meanings, is leading to chaos, violence, and the pursuit of immediate wants without regard to their moral value (pleonexia). When those norms are "convulsed," as they are at Corcyra, one cannot expect reason to provide a useful guide to action. Reason requires that words convey meaning, that the norms to which we commonly refer in judging the actions, intentions, moral character, and trustworthiness of others are still generally employed.

The Corcyraean stasis has the same effect as the Athenian plague on humankind's capacity to act reasonably. At Athens, when physicians found themselves unable to stem the tide of plague, reason (logos) "was overpowered" (Connor 1984, 100). The same condition obtains in Corcyra. For Thucydides, war is a "violent teacher" (biaios didaskalos; III.82.2, translation modified) because it instructs by setting in motion, poltergeist-like, that which in times of peace is usually at rest. Thucydides opposes this kinesis of social norms antithetically against hesychia, his term for designating peace. (Hesychia literally means quiet or tranquility; the more common term for peace is eirene.(16)) Thucydides employs the kinesis/hesychia antithesis to highlight the parallel between stasis at Corcyra and plague at Athens. In both instances he opposes an image of kinesis with an antithetical image of hesychia. In the case of the plague, the image of hesychia is developed in the funeral oration. In the case of the Corcyraean stasis, it is developed in the description of the Athenian purification of the island of Delos, with its long excerpt from Homer's Hymn to Apollo (111.104.1-6). In both instances, Thucydides compels the reader to ponder the contrast.


War and stasis destabilize norms and meanings and render reasonable, prudent conduct difficult if not impossible to achieve. But it would belie the complexity of Thucydides' text to call war and stasis the cause of that destabilization. Indeed, war and stasis themselves can, to a considerable extent, be seen as the consequence of a prior subversion of moral norms. Thucydides, at V.25.1, inverts the variables. The Peace of Nicias obtains, but Corinth and other Peloponnesian cities are trying mightily to "disturb" the arrangement. The verb employed here is diekinoun (which appends the prefix dia [thoroughly] to kineo, discussed above). The episode invites us to take a longer view, to ask if the peace that obtained before the outbreak of war was not similarly being disturbed. We hark back to the broad indictment of Athens by the Corinthians (I.70.19). There we find the "daring, dynamism, innovation, audacity, immoderation, presentism, and frenetic motion" (Euben 1990, 190(17)) characteristic of stasis being applied to the conduct of Athens in peacetime: "They were born into the world to take no rest (hesychian) themselves and to give none to others" (I.70.9).

The corrosive effect of "frenetic motion" saps the capacity of the Athenians as well as other Greeks to act with prudence and deliberation as the story progresses. Early in the History, moral norms inform the debate between Corinth and Corcyra. Moral argument provokes some hesitation on the part of the Athenians before entering into the fateful alliance with Corcyra (1.31-44; see Euben 1990, 167, 175-7). Moral scruples again cause the Athenians to rethink their policy toward the rebellious Mytilenians. They still possess the power to pause, to listen to argument, to reconsider, to check their motion and moderate their conduct. Yet, the hold of norms is clearly weakening. As Euben points out, Diodotus, the advocate of restraint and decency, is compelled by the press of argument and the hubris of imperialism to "defend the more moderate human policy in relentlessly realistic terms that anticipate the Athenian arguments at Melos" (Euben 1990, 180; see Bagby 1994; Orwin 1984; Saxonhouse 1996). This argument is self-defeating in the long run. Diodotus' reigned realism saves the Mytilenians but legitimates the idea that empire, arche, is of necessity as oppressive as it is ineluctable and thus subverts confidence in the legitimacy and value of moral discourse. Diodotus thus unwittingly invites those Athenians who may still be willing to subject action to rational examination to shed their regard for norms of decency in favor of a facile, normatively disembodied strategic calculus. By the time of the Melian dialogue, "a travesty of dialectic" (Hornblower 1987, 62; see also Connor 1984, 87-8; Euben 1990, 198),(18) the process of decay is complete. Language is not used for purposes of deliberation but as an instrument of siege. "Athens is left with self-interest alone, the desire for power without a culture to give it bounds and meaning. Not only is ambition of this sort unlimited, it is incoherent and irrational; for without a comprehensible world there can be no way of reasoning about it or acting within it" (White 1984, 79).

Thus, the norms and understandings that provide guidance to everyday social intercourse are subverted not only by violence but also by "peacetime" politics and political discourse - peacetime, that is, in the sense of eirene rather than hesychia. Pericles, we can now see, plays no mean role in this history of subversion. He is "not only at home in wartime, and tolerate[s] its climate of aggression, but even foster[s] it" (Pouncey 1980, 36). At I.127.3, Pericles "urges" (horma) the Athenians to war. The verb hormao, which Crawley translates as "urge" (cf. English "hormone"), literally means to set in motion or to rush at something or someone, as in battle. The use of this term further supports our view that Thucydides regards Pericles as a source of kinesis. He takes pride in making "every land and every sea . . . the highway of our daring" (II.41.4). Thucydides portrays Pericles as a source of kinesis and, indeed, embellishes on the historical record to do so (see Lebow 1991, esp. 158, n. 4; Kagan 1989).

In a passage particularly revealing of Thucydides' complex attitude toward Pericles (VIII.97.2), the short-lived Athenian experiment with a mixed constitution is described thus: "For the first time in my experience the Athenians appear to have governed themselves well."(19) The judgment clearly embraces the government of Pericles and "implies censure of Pericles' management of affairs" (Hornblower 1987, 160). It revives our initial suspicions regarding Pericles' statecraft. By pandering to the population, by challenging the customary understandings of the bond between citizen and polis, by implementing an extraordinarily innovative and bold war strategy that uprooted established patterns of life, by offending the allies' reverence for autonomia (political autonomy), Pericles is a source of kinesis and contributes significantly, though perhaps unwittingly, to the deterioration of norms of social conduct. This strategy not only panders to Athenian pleonexia, or desire for more power and wealth, but also, by making Athens invulnerable to external assault, tries to free it from the need to cultivate "normal" relations with other Greek cities. It also tries to free the conduct of the war from the need to secure the customary way of life of the majority of Athenian citizens, who are compelled to abandon that way of life to seek refuge sine die behind the city walls.(20)

But as Pericles and the Athenians undermine the legitimacy and influence of moral norms through rhetorical flair, brazen strategy, and unadorned violence, they not only create a revolutionary world that loses its moral compass but also prove ironically quite incapable of flourishing in the world they create. In the end, the Athenians suffer as much as anyone from the collapse of political order throughout Greece and the concomitant decay of "those general laws to which all alike can look for salvation in adversity" (III.84.3; cf. Pericles at II.37.3).(21) The tragic lament of Nicias following the defeat at Syracuse (VII.77.1-7), with its ironic use of language previously employed at the Melian conference, makes this point with pathos.

The History offers a sustained exposition of humanity's dependence on moral norms - not for philosophically transcendent reasons but because they are the necessary support of prudent conduct. When those norms are in shambles, the protagonists of the History find it virtually impossible to chart a prudent course of action. "Thucydides' history is unquestionably aimed at an audience that values cleverness, sophistication, intellect, and self-interest, but it does not simply affirm and reinforce those values" (Connor 1984, 15). Gnome (foresight or rational calculation) trips on tyche (chance) or is coopted by orge (passion) (Connor 1984, 55-9, esp. 58, n. 18). In some instances, "sound calculation leads to a poor outcome" (Kauppi 1991, 18; cf. Connor 1984, 118); in others, carelessly concocted schemes, such as Cleon's assault on Pylos (IV.27-41), succeed beyond hope. We see the actors of the History treat morality and prudence as if they were rival terms. But Thucydides invites us to consider at what cost they do so.


What are the norms, and how free was Pericles to respect them? The first question challenges us to identify specifically "international" norms, since we have already discussed the importance of norms such as reciprocity in domestic political life. This is an important issue for international relations scholarship, because "international norms" are at the core of one of the most abiding claims of realist theory: Morality is unachievable without first securing "political order" through the exercise of power (Carr 1964, chapter 9; Morgenthau 1946; Wight 1960). It follows from this claim that we can discuss morality meaningfully only as it obtains "inside" states. It is not meaningful "outside" states, in the anarchical realm of international politics and war.

G. E. M. de Ste. Croix (1972) offers a reading of Thucydides that lends some support to the realist argument. But in general the stark dichotomization between "inside" and "outside" does not hold up well in Thucydides' text, which provides grist for the mill of scholars in international relations who take the distinction to task (Kratochwil 1989; Walker 1993). It is beyond the bounds of this article to explore in any depth the norms that regulated relations among Greek poleis, but it is important to verify the existence of such norms in the text. Indeed, Thucydides' claim, advanced in his analysis of the Corcyraean stasis, that both private persons (idiotai) and states (poleis) found prudent action increasingly difficult to achieve constitutes a rather explicit rejection of the "inside/outside" dichotomy. The text reveals here and there that a number of norms of war and diplomacy regulated the exchange of the dead (III.113.1-5; IV.97.2-98.8), the treatment of prisoners and refugees, Olympic truces, diplomacy through proxenies, the obligations of allies, and so on (see Hornblower 1987, 180).(22) Perlman (1991) shows how the term arche evolved to become synonymous with dynamis, despoteia, and even tyrannis, precisely because Athens showed such disregard for the norms of eleutheria (freedom) and autonomia, which, like sovereignty and cuius regio in the Westphalian system, were constitutive of the Greek polls-based "international system." Indeed, Thucydides seems to experience the war as a kind of civil war within a normatively unified space. Hermocrates' efforts to forge cohesion among Sicilians, a people who "go by the same name" (onoma hen keklemenous; IV.64.3), serve as a foil to the civil war that is raging on the mainland among people who are also designated by a single name, "Hellenes" (Connor 1984, 126, n. 42). Within this unified normative space, the actors in the drama, as well as the reader, are clearly able to form judgments of the moral character of leaders of opposing cities, that is, across political frontiers, on the basis of shared understandings of such goods as justice, honor, mercy, and other common virtues - at least until those norms lose sway under the combined blows of an overweening self-confidence and self-sufficiency, war, and stasis. It is only when those norms become inoperative that the reader finds it difficult to develop a firm grasp of the moral character of such figures as Alcibiades and Phrynichus, who dominate the final books of the History.

Do we really mean to argue, then, that Pericles ignored opportunities to legitimate, reaffirm, and defend such norms of moral conduct by adopting the policy course he did? The claim gives pause because scholarship in international relations, goaded by Thucydides' claim that the war was "inevitable" (I.23.6),(23) has become accustomed to trying to understand the text in terms of "necessary outcomes." It therefore seems odd to think of Pericles as something other than an extraordinary leader confronting the great forces of history. But, in addition to Lebow's (1991) well-argued complaint that the popular "power transition" reading of "necessity" is not much supported by the text, it is simply impossible to identify any recurring set of factors in the History that render some pattern of outcomes "necessary." It is true that "the Archeology" (Thucydides' digression on the pettiness of previous history in comparison with this great war [I.2-23]) seems to suggest such a theme by alerting the reader to the role of "historical forces" in the genesis of the History. But Thucydides' interest in "historical forces" evident in the Archeology all but vanishes in the narrative of the war. "There is, in Thucydides, no systematic treatment of Spartan and Athenian weaknesses other than those of character" (Hornblower 1987, 33). As the narrative unfolds, the attention paid to individual moral character grows rather than diminishes. In the final books, the historian's attention seems to fixate on the moral character of two figures: Nicias and Alcibiades. By paying so much attention to character, Thucydides seems to embrace the belief that "individual human action can change the course of history" (Hornblower 1987, 146; see also Kauppi 1991, 112).

What, then, could Pericles have done otherwise? The question should probably be resisted because it distracts from the text and entangles us in potentially unresolvable debates about counterfactuals. For purposes of illustration only, we will mention one thing, among others, that Pericles might have done otherwise: He could have devised an honorable way to revoke the Megara Decree. Thucydides reports (I.139.1) that lifting the embargo against Megara may well have satisfied Sparta and forestalled (and perhaps avoided) war. In his speech, Pericles acknowledges that some (or many) Athenians look on the Megara Decree as "a trifle" (to brachy ti), and he suggests that by refusing this trifle Athens takes a bold and significant step that demonstrates its resolve (I.140.4, 5). But Pericles, perhaps because he authored the "trifle," does not entertain the possibility that to concede it might prove as constructive as refusing it proves provocative. Lifting the decree would do more than satisfy the Spartans. It would convey Athenian commitment both to the norm of autonomia that attaches to the polls and to the sanctity of its treaty with Sparta, and thus enhance the authority of normative restraint. It would, moreover, challenge Sparta to reciprocate. Nor would it foreclose the ability of Athens to prosecute its complaint against Megara. The Athenians might be obliged to accept Sparta as a party to that prosecution, but given Megara's poor relations with Corinth and its record of diplomatic fickleness, Sparta might well lend Athens a sympathetic ear. In the event of a rebuff, the decree (which apparently did not contravene the treaty) could be reimposed. Pericles' refusal to give this course of action serious thought seems to flow as the unexamined consequence of his principled rejection of any and all meaningful negotiation with the Spartans (I.127.3, 144.3; II.12.2). It also may have its source in the hubris of a "first man" who simply cannot contemplate reversing himself.


Thucydides' demonstration of our dependence on moral norms dilutes his realist credentials. In a provocative article, Forde (1995, 154) has suggested that Thucydides even counsels us to "resist" realism. But our alertness to Thucydides' unrelenting recourse to antithetical reasoning makes us pause before advancing categorical statements regarding his teaching. Nicias, after all, resists realism, and the outcome is less than impressive. Recall, moreover, the Archeology's account of the mastery and accumulation of political and military power by the Greeks, the devolution of that power on Athens as set out in the Pentekontaetia (Thucydides' discussion of the growth of Athenian power during the fifty years between the Persian and Peloponnesian wars at 1.88-118.2), and Thucydides' amazement at the dimensions of the kinesis with which he introduces the History. How could we expect normative restraints to operate effectively when history confers such an overwhelming advantage on a people? The claim that power politics is ineluctable pervades the History. In the words of Diodotus, "it is impossible to prevent, and only great simplicity [euetheias] can hope to prevent, human nature [tes anthropeias physeos] doing what it has once set its mind upon [hormomenes], by force of law [nomon ischyi] or by any other deterrent force whatsoever" (III.45.7). The difficulty with Thucydides is finding a coherent rule or prescription in the relentless succession of antithetical claims. How does one reconcile the claim that prudent politics requires guidance by moral norms with the claim that power politics is inevitable? Looking to the text, we find a clue in the remarkable speech delivered by the Syracusan Hermocrates in Book IV.

Hermocrates wants to promote reconciliation between two feuding Sicilian cities, Gela and Camarina, in order to avoid Athenian intervention. He begins by making clear Athenian interest in the feud. Athens, he claims, seeks to ally itself with certain Sicilian cities only as a first step toward subjugating the entire island. Moreover, those ambitions are, he states in a realist-sounding utterance, "very excusable," since "it is just as much in men's nature to rule those who submit to them as it is to resist those who molest them" (IV.61.5). Hermocrates urges the two cities to settle their differences so that Sicily can unite to dispel the Athenian threat. But why should the cities of Sicily join in the collective defense of their island rather than bandwagon or balance by individually joining either the Athenian or the Spartan alliance? Realism counsels only the course of action that is most likely to succeed at the lowest cost. Hermocrates, however, evokes the sentiment of Sicilian identity: "We are neighbors, live in the same country, are girt by the same sea, and go by the same name of Sicilians" (IV.64.3). But what is so important about being "Sicilian"? It is not a source of nationalist sympathy or solidarity. Indeed, national sentiment is held in check by the more ancient rivalry between Dorians and Ionians. The idea of Sicily, for Hermocrates, refers rather to a geographic space where, through the repeated interactions of its cities, a set of shared norms has evolved to facilitate interaction, deliberation, and the settlement of grievances. "Do you not think that the good which you have," he asks, "and the ills that you complain of, would be better preserved and cured by quiet [hesychia] than by war" (IV.62.2)?

Hermocrates greets with skepticism the self-assurance that is bred of power and strategic cleverness. He asks his listeners not to fall prey to the illusion that strength is sure because it is confident (euelpi) (IV.62.4). Given that skepticism, he equates prudent action with the defense of Sicily as a normatively coherent and functioning space. He likens war among Sicilian cities to civil war. He evokes civil war using the forceful term oikeios polemos (IV.64.5) rather than the more technical stasis. The expression produces a powerful image of war in the household (oikos). He invites his listeners to feel terror (ekplagentes), not only in the presence of the Athenians but also before "the undefined fear of this unknown future" (IV.63.1). Ekplagentes means frightened out of one's wits and is laden with rhetorical force. The image of civil war, that is, the destruction of a space and of the facilities for prudent action that space provides, should inspire terror. Terror, in turn, should inspire concessions on the part of the feuding cities in order to preserve that normative space. Hermocrates' argument evokes with irony the words of Pericles, who sought not only to stir confidence in Athenian power and strategic skill but also to inspire disdain for the adversary: "Disdain [hyperphron]," Pericles states, "is the privilege of those who, like us, have been assured by reflection of their superiority to their adversary" (II.62.4). In this same vein, Hermocrates' invitation to make concessions contrasts sharply with Pericles' principled rejection of meaningful negotiation.

But Hermocrates realizes that power can cause people to "confuse their strength with their hopes" (IV.65.4). He realizes that the temptation to test one's power is strong. The defense of Sicily as a normative space will therefore probably require the countervailing application of military power. Hermocrates is not a peace activist. He is trying to forge an alliance. He admits, as does the realist, that violence is inevitable or "natural" in human affairs. He admits that Sicily's cities will probably wage war on one another again (IV.64.3). But he conceptualizes prudent action as participation in that violent struggle with the goal of preserving the social norms that make prudent action possible. He does not invite us to resist realism but to apply the realist's alertness to the permanence of power and violence in human affairs in defense of norms of moral conduct. Pericles, in contrast, knows how to acquire and apply power, and Thucydides values that mastery. But what is missing in Pericles is a full appreciation of what one might do with power such that the normative conditions for its intelligent and prudent application can be sustained.

Hermocrates' speech and policy seem antithetical to Pericles' earlier speeches and policies. They do not engage one another immediately, but they do engage one another at the level of theory. We submit that the antithesis between Pericles and Hermocrates contains a prescriptive lesson. At the same time, however, we acknowledge how difficult it is to pin Thucydides down. Sicily does not unite for long. Hermocrates, moreover, may merely be seeking to assert Syracusan hegemony over the island (though the exercise of the hegemonic power is not per se incompatible with the defense of norms). At another time he employs a remarkably different language that emphasizes ethnic solidarities: "We protest that we are menaced by our external enemies the Ionians, and are betrayed by you our fellow Dorians" (VI.80.3). And when the Athenians finally invade, the Sicilians meet them in disarray. Inversely, Thucydides employs all his rhetorical skills to concentrate our minds on Hermocrates' words at IV.59-64 and lend those words centrality. The scene provides us with our first introduction to Sicily and Syracuse, the principal instruments of Athens's defeat, and to Hermocrates, a central figure in that defeat. At Gela, moreover, Hermocrates gives the only speech, a privilege that compels the comparison with Pericles. Finally, his speech follows immediately and antithetically on the Athenian triumph at Pylos, an unexpected victory and the highwater mark of the city's fortunes.

It is for all these reasons, and because our suspicions are supported by so many other elements of the text as a whole, that we believe the antithetical opposition between the two statesmen, Pericles and Hermocrates, contains a prescriptive lesson. We might formulate that lesson in three parts: Power can be entrusted only to people (1) who enjoy a healthy skepticism regarding their own (and humanity's) capacity for clever strategy, (2) who are inclined by that skepticism to be respectful of social norms, which they value for the prudent guidance they provide, and (3) who will use power to defend (or help craft) those norms, ever alert to humanity's tendency to fall victim to the illusion that power confers freedom from moral restraint.


Both the prescription and the skeptical premises in which it is lodged directly engage modern theorizing in international relations. Thucydides' skepticism, as conveyed by his antithetical style of analysis, invites us to revisit realism, whose ties to skepticism have been noted but not systematically explored (see Beitz 1979, chapter 1; Cohen 1985; Loriaux 1992). For example, while doubting the claim that there is such a thing as a "realist tradition," Walker (1993, 17) nevertheless emphasizes the skepticism that is common to the great thinkers who are usually assigned to that tradition. He writes of a "Rousseauean skepticism," a Machiavellian challenge to "universalist pretentions," a Weberian acquiescence "in a complex and widespread skepticism about modernity" (Walker 1993, 4, 47, 56, 110). Realists rely on skepticism regarding humanity's aptitude for moral improvement to justify their attention to power politics and self-help. Pericles himself, by this definition, is a realist. Indeed, the label fits not only his attitude toward policymaking but also the philosophical premises underlying that attitude. Pericles, like Thucydides, had ties to the Sophists. He was closely linked with Protagoras, and his consort Aspasia animated a lively intellectual "salon" in which Sophistic thought flourished. Pericles may have drawn more or less self-consciously on Sophistic skepticism in order to "clear the decks" of received wisdom and thus make room for his strategic innovations.

But Thucydides' subtle critique of Pericles questions the realists' ability to ground their political philosophy in skeptical premises. Skepticism in Thucydides spreads from doubt regarding humanity's capacity for moral improvement to doubt regarding humanity's capacity to flourish while ignoring or defying moral norms. Thucydides excites such skepticism even when statecraft is, as in Pericles' case, apparently prudent, and even when the conceptualization of the policy is, as in Pericles' case, brilliant. It is difficult to think of a realist argument that might stave off this metastasis of skepticism from doubt regarding human morality to doubt regarding the human intellect's self-sufficiency. Thucydides, in any event, "makes it clear where he stood: it is not with the sophists who denied the validity of any principle of morality but a short-sighted self-interest" (Hornblower 1987, 185, citing Gomme 1945-81).

Thucydides' invitation to appreciate how norms function as a condition for prudent action also intersects with the new constructivist literature on norms and law (Finnemore 1996; Katzenstein 1996; Klotz 1995; Kratochwil 1989; Lynch n.d.; Wendt 1992). The History shows how norms can function in a nondeterminist manner to provide guidance to deliberate and prudent action. Thucydides' reliance on a skeptical outlook suggests a way that proponents of constructivism might philosophize about the foundations of that perspective.(24) Inversely, his acknowledgment of the inevitability of power relations should inspire caution in constructivists as they mount their assault on realist theory. His account of politics in extraordinary times suggests that we can, and should, assess the possibility of supporting or unsettling norms through material struggle.

We cannot develop these ideas here, but we raise them to recall Thucydides' capacity to confront each generation's particular theoretical enthusiasm with challenging and even deadly objections. In our view, his capacity to resist encapsulation - not his putative status as the founder of one or another school of thought - remains the reason his work stands as a "possession for all time."

1 Unless otherwise noted, all translations are from the revised Crawley edition (Strassler 1996).

2 Thucydides may have acquired his antithetical style through ties to the Sophists. On this possible link see de Romilly (1988, 86-7, 97-9), Finley (1942, 44), Hornblower (1987, 45-52, 60-2), and Connor (1984, 27-8).

3 Plato explicitly criticizes Pericles for pandering to the Athenians in this way (see Gorgias, 515e ff.).

4 Pericles says: "What you already hold is like a tyranny" (hos tyrannida gar ede echete auten [2.63.2]). Cleon says: "You don't appreciate that what you hold, the empire, is a tyranny" (ou skopountes hoti tyrannida echete ten archen [3.37.2]). To preserve the important parallel with Pericles' language, we depart from Strassler's (1996) rendering of Cleon's use of "tyrannida" as "despotism." For sustained analysis of these passages, see Connor (1977b). For other parallels between the speeches of Pericles and Cleon, see Connor (1984, 79, n. 1).

5 This is the position of Cleon in the Mytilenean debate and of Pericles regarding the Megaran Decree and the strategy of collecting behind the walls.

6 The centrality of reciprocity in Athenian democratic ideology is increasingly noted in recent scholarship. See Farrar (1993), Kurke (1991), Millet (1991), Monoson (1994), Ober (1989), and Seaford (1994). See also Monoson (n.d.) for sustained discussion of reciprocity in the Athenian democratic imaginary.

7 The Athenian polis celebrated and displayed the generous way in which the city met these responsibilities toward orphans in the "preperformance rituals" that opened the dramatic competitions on the occasion of the grandest civic festival of the year, the City Dionysia. See Goldhill (1987) and Winkler (1985).

8 Perhaps the success of Pericles' policies was thereby predicated on the subversion of normal institutions of Athenian democracy. This is one way to read Thucydides' famous comment regarding Pericles' relation to democratic institutions: "What was nominally a democracy became in his hands government by the first citizen" (II.65.9). Pericles' ability "at once [to] restore them [the multitude] to confidence" (II.65.9) regarding a previously chosen policy was also a capacity to oppose the democratic impulse to rethink, reconsider, reflect, and possibly decide anew. As Saxonhouse (1996) argues, steadfast devotion to a policy is a stance uncharacteristic of democratic assemblies - their distinguishing mark is the tentative, reversible status of all decisions.

9 During the Persian Wars, the Athenians were compelled to abandon the city by the press of combat. No such compulsion obtains at the time of Pericles' proposal.

10 See Edmunds (1975) and Orwin (1994, 25, n. 28). Orwin's position is closer to the one we defend here. Cornford (1907, 82-109) discusses the contrast between chance (tyche) and foresight (gnome) in the narration of the events at Pylos. We focus here on the plague because it receives such extensive treatment in the text and because it assumes such importance in Thucydides' narrative of the rapid decay of social norms. Connor (1984, 51) provides other instances of Pericles' possible lack of foresight. Cawkwell (1997, 44-5) suggests that insofar as Pericles' policy succeeds, it does so only accidentally.

11 See Euben (1990, 194, n. 52) for an accounting of the camps (pessimist versus modernist) into which fall many interpreters of Thucydides' treatment of Pericles.

12 We depart from Strassler's (1996) translation of to xuneton, "ability to see all sides of a question," by proposing "practical intelligence," which conveys the notion of commonly understood virtue. See 1.79.2, where the term is used to describe the Spartan leader Archidamus, who uses the term himself (1.84.3) to designate a characteristic virtue of the Spartans and a reason for their stability and success in war. It appears again (11.15.1) in reference to Theseus, the mythic founder of Athens as a unified polls. Thucydides applies the term, always positively, to a handful of revered historical Greek figures, including Themistocles (I.74.1 and 1.138.2-3) and the Peisistratids (VI.54.5). He also applies it to actors of his history who cut a good and often brilliant figure, such as Brasidas (IV.81.2) and Hermocrates (VI.72.2), as well as in discussing the oligarchs of 411 (VIII.58.4) and by implication Pericles (II.34.6, 8). See Gomme (1945-81) II.49.377.

13 Thomas Hobbes offers "plunges" in translation of piptein (Grene 1989).

14 To euethes combines "eu" (good) and "ethos" (custom or habit), and it thus designates etymologically the moral virtue of being good as a matter not of calculation but of habit.

15 Connor (1984, 21, n. 4) observes that kinesis "is an unusual word at this point in the development of Greek, clear enough in general meaning but obscure and surprising in this [1.1.2] context." The inference is, therefore, that it was not lightly or casually employed by the author.

16 Thucydides generally uses the term eirene to designate formal peace treaties between cities (as well as the absence of war that results) and hesychia to designate the absence of turmoil, both within the city and in relations among cities. At VI.38.3 he explicitly contrasts hesychia with stasis and the condition in which fellow countrymen behave toward one another as toward an enemy (polemios). Note that the application of hesychia is not limited to domestic peace (V.55.1-2). For eirene, see 1.29.4 and V.13.2, 14.1, and 26.2; for hesychia see 1.70.9, II.22.1, and V.22.2 and 53.

17 Euben never associates those characteristics specifically with Pericles.

18 See Connor's treatment of the Melian dialogue (1984, 147-55): "Whatever our reactions to what happens to the Melians, it is hard to escape a feeling of horror at what is happening to the Athenians." (p. 154).

19 Translation from Connor (1984, 228 and n. 34), emphasis added (in conformity with the text, which stresses "my experience" with the enclitic particle ge). See the discussion of translation problems in Hornblower (1987, 160), who also (pp. 166-8) gives a critical examination of Pericles' stewardship, as do Lebow (1991, 254-9) and Palmer (1992, 113).

20 See Ober (1991, 254-9) on the development of a defensive ideology in Athens.

21 Though the authenticity of III.84 is disputed, we are convinced by Connor's defense of the passage (1984, 102, n. 60).

22 At IV.97-8 is an interesting debate regarding what should be regarded as custom (homos) and what should not. See also Connor (1984) on Mytilene (p. 91) and on Nicias (p. 163); and Ducrey (1986, chapter 9) on treatment of prisoners of war.

23 The use of "inevitable" for anangkasai is controversial. See Connor (1984, 32, n. 31).

24 Kratochwil (1981) sets out from David Hume. There is a parallel between the argument developed here and Hume's own rediscovery of the norms of the "common life" through the exploration of skeptical premises. Compare Michael Oakshott's influence on Terry Nardin (1983).


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S. Sara Monoson is Assistant Professor and Michael Loriaux is Associate Professor of Political Science, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208.
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Author:Monoson, S. Sara; Loriaux, Michael
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Date:Jun 1, 1998
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