Thucydides’ tragic vision

Sat Jun 20 13:04:50 2009
The Sicilian Expedition and the Battle of Syracuse are central to Thucydides conception of the world. It is a beautifully complex history with a sensibility based in tragic drama. We repeatedly see examples of hubris followed by tragedy. Pericles brilliant and inspiring speeches at the begriming show optimism and drive, but also arrogance and selfishness. They are followed by a very detailed and moving description of the plague. While Thucydides makes no causal connection between the two, their juxtaposition seems very deliberate and prescient.

The description of the Sicilian Expedition is similar. Alcibiades is a bold and dynamic leader, in many ways similar to his guardian, Pericles. In this case, hubris is somewhat more directly linked to military disaster. But it is also indirectly juxtaposed with the breakdown of the cultural and religious fabric of Athenian society so well described in Borimir Jordan’s article “Religion in Thucydides” mentioned in an earlier comment.

The plague and the Sicilian Expedition serve as the beginning and ending of the larger narrative of the tragedy. We can’t know what his original plan was for the larger unfinished history but Book VII feels like the climax and Book VIII the dénouement. It is hard to imagine he could have improved the dramatic structure by writing more. Although it is somewhat ironic that the unfinished history describes the Athenian victory at Cynossema just before it ends mid sentence.


~ by severalfourmany on June 20, 2009.

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