History of the Peloponnesian War – Book IV

Pylos from the north
source Wikipedia

History of the Peloponnesian War

Book IV:  Demosthenes continues his strategies to Athens’ benefit.  There is an ironic battle between Athen and Sparta in Pylos, where Athens is fighting on Spartan land, defending it against the Spartans who are approaching by sea.  A power struggle between Creon and Nicias ensues and Creon is forced to take command of the troops against his will, after clever manipulation by Nicias, and chooses Demosthenes as his commanding officer.  The Spartans are eventually defeated with the prisoners being taken to Athens.  The Spartans try to negotiate peace but the Athenians reject the proposal, always “grasping at more.”  Nicias now leads an expedition and more Athenian battles ensue.

Athens with the Acropolis
William James Müller
source ArtUK

More battles are described covering many areas of Peloponnese and Attica.  Athens appears most of the time to have the upper hand until Brasidas, a Spartan commander, begins a march through Thessaly toward Macedon where he has been invited by its leader, Perdiccas, to help them, and surrounding areas revolt from Athens.  Brasidas is wildly successful and is only stopped from invading Eion by Thucydides (our famous author!), however most other Chalcidice territory falls into his hands.  His attacks and revolts by kingdoms continue in spite of a one-year armistice between Athens and Sparta that is agreed upon in the 9th summer of the war.  However, as some of Brasidas’ soldiers vent their anger on baggage and oxen of deserting Macedonians, a falling out occurs between Perdiccas and Brasidas, the former “beg{inning} to regard Brasidas as an enemy and to feel against the Peloponnesians a hatred which would not suit well the adversary of the Athenians.  Indeed, he now departed from his natural interst and made it his endeavor to come to terms with the latter and to get rid of the former.”  The ninth winter ends with a failed attempted by Brasidas to conquer Potidaea.

He became a target for every arrow
source Wikipedia

History of Peloponnesian War – Book III

History of the Peloponnesian War

Landscape of Attica
Nikolaos Lytras
source Wikiart

Book III:  In the summer of the fourth year, there is much action along the Ionian coastline.  Sparta also prepares to invade Attica.  Lesbos revolts from Athenian control and Mytilene follows suite and after fighting, Athenian strength prevails.  Cleon and Diodotus argue over how to treat the revolutionaries with Cleon arguing for execution.  In the end, Athens votes to spare them.

We have many descriptions of battles and states allying with one opponent or the other.  Most often the alliance was formed for self-preservation, rather than from any deep conviction, although the occasional loyalty did crop up.

The Thebans and Plataeans squabble, Sparta judges and executes the Plataeans (yes, all of them) and their city is razed.

Thucydides gives a fascinating speech on the evils of war and revolution and how it changes men both externally and internally.  There are chilling similarities to the politics and power struggles of our times:

“The sufferings which revolution entailed upon the cities were many and terrible, such as have occurred and always will occur as long as the nature of mankind remains the same; though in a severer or milder form, and varying in their symptoms, according to the variety of the particular cases.  In peace and prosperity states and individuals have better sentiments, because they do not find themselves suddenly confronted with imperious necessities; but war takes away the easy supply of daily wants and so proves a rough master that brings most men’s characters to a level with their fortunes …… words had to change their ordinary meaning and to take that which was now given them. Reckless audacity came to be considered the courage of a loyal supporter; prudent hesitation, specious cowardice; moderation was held to be a cloak for unmanliness; ability to see all sides of a question incapacity to act on any.  Frantic violence became the attribute of manliness; cautious plotting a justifiable means of self-defence.  The advocate of extreme measure was always trustworthy; his opponent a man to be suspected.  To succeed in a plot was to have a shrewd head, to divine a plot a still shrewder; but to try to provide against having to do either was to break up your party and to be afraid of your adversaries …….  The cause of all these evils was the lust for power arising from greed and ambition; and from these passions proceeded the violence of parties once engaged in contention …… Thus every form of iniquity took root in the Hellenic countries by reason of the troubles.  The ancient simplicity into which honor so largely entered was laughed down and disappeared; and society became divided into camps in which no man trusted his fellow.  To put an end to this, there was neither promise to be depended upon, nor oath that could command respect; but all parties dwelling rather in their calculation upon the hopelessness of a permanent state of things, were more intent upon self-defence than capable of confidence.  In the contest the blunter wits were most successful …. {yet} often fell victims to their own lack of precaution.”

For a second time a plague strikes the Athenians, although the first plague has not quite left, and lasted for a year, has a devastating effect on their population.

Demosthenes (1893)
Nicholas Roerich
source Wikiart

We are introduced to Demosthenes and his aggressive and single-minded leadership, which seems to work well for him, as he assists the Acarnanians in routing the Peloponnesians and the Ambraciots in a decisive victory.

The winter of the sixth year of the war concludes with an eruption of Mount Etna.

Viw of Mount Etna (1844)
Thomas Cole
source Wikiart

History of the Peloponnesian War – Book II

Peloponnese region
courtesy of Ian Gkoutas
source Wikimedia Commons

History of the Peloponnesian War

Pericles Funeral Oration (1877)
source Wikimedia Commons

Book II:  This book takes the reader from the beginning of the war to the third year in the winter season.  An altercation between Spartan and Athenian allies provides the spark for Sparta to invade Hellene lands and so the war begins, with descriptions of battle and raids and refugees. and even the great Athenian general Pericles donates his land to the Athenian government for political reasons.  His eulogy over dead fighters (his famous funeral oration) gives a particular insight into Hellenic culture and character:

“Our constitution does not copy the laws of neighbouring states; we are rather a pattern to others than imitators ourselves ……  We throw open our city to the world, and never by alien acts exclude foreigners from any opportunity of learning or observing although the eyes of an enemy may occasionally profit by our liberality …. We cultivate refinement without extravagance and knowledge without effeminacy; wealth we employ more for use than for show, and place the real disgrace of poverty not in owning to the fact but in declining the struggles against it.  Our public men have, besides politics, their private affairs to attend to, and our ordinary citizens, though occupied with the pursuits of industry, are still fair judges of public matters; for, unlike any other nation, we regard the citizen who takes no part in theses duties not as unambitious but as useless, and we are able to judge proposals even if we cannot originate them; instead of looking on discussion as a stumbling-block in the way of action, we think it an indispensable preliminiary to any wise action at all …… But the prize for courage will surely be awarded most justly to those who best know the difference between hardship and pleasure and yet are never tempted to shrink from danger …. “

Soon after, an horrendous plague hit Athens, which started on Lemnos and is speculated to have originated in Ethiopia.  Thousands upon thousands of Hellenes began to die and Thucydides was one of its targets, although obviously he didn’t die and was an expert on its progression, both from having the disease, to observation and inquiry.

Anaxagoras and Pericles
Augustin Louis-Bell
source Wikimedia Commons

Pericles is then disparaged by the people for the deprivation and struggles they are facing during the war, and he gives a rather stirring speech in his defense, after which the people throw their support behind him, albeit not without a fine to assuage their previous grumblings.  Thucydides’ description of Pericles is very complimentary:

“For as long as he 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.  When the war broke out, here also he seems to have rightly gauged the power of his country.  He outlived its commencement two years and six months, and the correctness of his foresight concerning the war became better known after his death.  He told them to wait quietly, to pay attention to their marine, to attempt no new conquests, and to expose the city to no hazards, during the war, and doing this, promised them favourable results.  What they did was the very contrary, allowing private ambitions and private interest, in matters apparently quite foreign to the war, to lead them into projects unjust both to themsevles and to their allies —- projects whose success would only conduce to the honor and advantage of private personas, and whose failure entailed certain disaster on the country in the war.  The causes of this are not far to seek.  Pericles indeed by his rank, ability, and known integrity, was enabled to exercise an independent control over the multitude — in short, to lead them instead of being led by them; for as he never sought power by improper means, he was never compelled to flatter them, but on the contrary, enjoyed so high an estimation that he could afford to anger them by contradiction.  Whenever he saw them unreasonably and insolently elated, he would with a word reduce them to alarm; on the other hand, if they fell victims to a panic, he could at once restore them to confidence.  In short, what was nominally a democracy was becoming in his hand government by the first citizen.”

Then follows many general descriptions of battles that take us through to the end of the third year of the war: Plataea is wooed by Archidamus, king of the Spartans, but decides to remain loyal to Athens and are besieged by the Peloponnesians for their decision; Acarnania, in western Hellas, is attacked by the Peloponnesians and defends itself, causing a Peloponnesian retreat.

The Acropolis of Athens (1883)
Ivan Aivazovsky
source Wikiart

Book I                                                                                            

History of the Peloponnesian War – Book I

Achraf Baznani
source Wikiart

I swore I would never do this again ……. After being completely drained by my The Histories posts, I made a pact with myself NOT to do the same with Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War.  After all, how much brain power can one person have?  But my post for the book is getting longer and longer and longer, and honestly I’m getting more engaged with Thucydides narrative, somewhat dry though it may be.  I was admittedly bored until about halfway through, but now it has suddenly become interesting and I’m eager to keep reading.  So, with some renewed energy and in an effort not to overwhelm everyone (including myself!) with an hideously long book review, I’ve decided to take the plunge and travel book by book.  Most of the reviews won’t be as long as Herodotus, in fact, some will be rather short.  I’m certain everyone is sighing in relief!

So without further ado, Book I of History of the Peloponnesian War:

History of the Peloponnesian War

Peloponnesian War Alliances
source Wikipedia

Book I:  Think of two brothers embroiled in an enormous disagreement, trust and unity quickly eroding to jealousy, self-importance and suspicion.  Athens incenses Corinth by placing their fleet so they are unable to attack Corcyra and then they woo Potidaea, a colony of Corinth. Now Corinth is livid and appeals to Sparta with their grievances.

I quite liked this comparison between the two nations, Athens and Sparta, offered by the Corinthians:

“….. you will encounter in the Athenians, how widely, how absolutely different from yourselves.  The Athenians are addicted to innovation, and their designs are characterized by swiftness alike in conception and execution; you {Sparta} have a genius for keeping what you have got, accompanied by a total want of invention, and when forced to act you never go far enough.  Again, they are adventurous beyond their power, and daring beyond their judgment, and in danger they are sanguine; your wont is to attempt less than is justified by your power, to mistrust even what is sanctioned by your judgment, and to fancy that from danger there is no release.  Further, there is promptitude on their side against procrastination on yours; they are never at home, you are most disinclined to leave it, for they hope by their absence to extend their acquisitions, you fear by your advance to endanger what you have left behind.  They are swift to follow up a success, and slow to recoil from a reverse.Their bodies they spend ungrudgingly in their country’s cause; their intellect they jealously husband to be employed in her service …… To describe their character is a word, one might truly say they were born into the world to take no rest themselves and to give none to others.”

Theatre of Ancient Sparta
source Wikipedia

While the Spartan delegation counsels war with Athens, their king, Archidamus, cautions that they must build their alliance and gather resources as the war must prove to be long and arduous.  Thence, we hear of a number of alliances and misalliances involving both states plus further introductions to a more crafty Themistokles and an arrogant and violent Pausanias, that appears to be in direct contrast to his portrayal by Herodotus.  Pausanias, inflated by his successes in the Persian Wars, attempts to solidify his power by courting Persia’s regard and is eventually questioned by Sparta.  Tricked into revealing his crimes, he flees to the temple where he is confined and ultimately perishes of starvation.  Likewise, Themistokles is an anathema in Athens, and to preserve himself, pursues the favour of the Persian king, now Artaxerxes, is appointed governor by him and eventually dies. However, the Spartans vote for war, encouraged and praised by the shrewd Corinthians, and Athens vows to defend herself, inspired by the stirring speeches of Pericles.  All-out war seems imminent, but it doesn’t happen just yet.