The Republic ~ Book II

The Republic
Jean-Leon Gerome
source Wikiart

Book II:

 

Pleasure (1900)
Eugene de Blaas
source Wikiart

Glaucon protests that Socrates has not made a reasonable enough explanation of why Justice is preferable to injustice.  First, he says, there are three classes of good:

 

  1. Pleasures that are enjoyed for themselves
  2. Good that is valued because of its consequences
  3. Good that is desirable both for itself and what comes out of it.
Really it seems that Glaucon believes Justice would fit into the second category, a type of in-between good.  

Then he tells a story of a shepherd called Gyges and his magic ring that helped him to become king (see Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book I).  If one could act however one wanted without threat of punishment or recrimination, wouldn’t everyone act thus?  Why should Glaucon be just if he can get away with being unjust? (Essentially he is asking: What is Justice on the level of an individual?)  It’s only our fear of getting caught that holds us to the course of Justice, and Justice itself is a social construct.  The Social Contract theory implies that people don’t really want to be just but because chaos would result from such a “free-for-all” society and therefore we enter into a “social contract” where we give up free reign on our desires for a greater good; certain rules are imposed on an individual that aren’t part of their nature for a common good. 

King Candaules of Lydia (1858)
Jean-Leon Gerome
source Wikiart
Socrates proceeds in a round-about manner.  Instead of directly commenting on how Justice works in an individual, he instead begins to examine how the same Justice works broadly within a state and then will apply what he discovers to the soul of man.  And thus Plato starts to establish his Republic.  The Republic begins with the need for a community ……. the need we have for each other for the basic provisions in life: food, clothing, shelter.  In the Republic, everyone has a trade or purpose, a division of labour that works best to run the city efficiently.  Right now, the city’s basic needs are met with simplicities, and no luxuries such as furniture, artists, meat, courtesans, perfume, etc. To Socrates, this city is true and healthy.  It’s important to note that in English, we use the word “soul” but the Greek word is actually “psuche” [ψυχή] (the root word for psyche) which can be used in a variety of different ways, such as: mind, self, individual, etc.  (Soul = that part of the human being which is not the body).
The Soul Breaking the Bonds …
Pierre-Paul Prud’hon
source Wikiart

Glaucon is perplexed.  What about the luxuries?  What Socrates has described only meets basic animal needs.  Socrates allows Glaucon his desires and adds in his wishes, but emphasizes that adding meat and sweets will cause inflammation and surely the physicians will be in more demand — he was obviously initially advocating vegetarianism for health.  Interesting ….   In any case, all these luxuries will increase competition, and therefore eventually war is inevitable.  Socrates will not say whether war is good or bad, he only examines the effect it will have on the Republic.  The city will therefore need an efficient soldier but they too must be specialists in their field. However, they must also exhibit a certain temperament, one that is combative and even aggressive, yet tempered by courage of spirit and controlled by rational behaviour.  Given their character and profession, they must be trained carefully to ensure they do not harm their own people.  How is that to be done?  Through education.  They must be trained to be hostile to their enemies and benevolent to their people, not indiscriminate with their behaviour.

Socrates now critiques the education of children.  In spite of the reverence given to the poets Hesiod and Homer, Socrates believes that the stories they have created will damaged the foundation of a good republic.  How can the gods be both good and bad?  Anything divine must be wholly good and it is impossible for it to be bad, therefore (Homer, in this case) is telling tales that are “impious, self-contradictory, and disastrous to our commonwealth.”  All such stories should be censored in a healthy city.  Also, death should never be depicted as something to be feared, so the Guardians of the city are not afraid to die in their defense of it; their defensive behaviour is part of the promoting of Justice and we do not want to impede them being just.

I had to admire Socrates in this section.  Even though he at first appears to advocate a simplistic city that he feels is the most healthy and functional, he bows to Glaucon’s wishes for luxuries, perhaps realizing that it would not be sensible to attempt to eradicate these human desires, and therefore, gives up his “perfect” city for one that is more realistic.  Plato is realizing the flaws in human nature and attempting to work within them.  Quite wise, I would say.

⇐ Book I                                                                                                       Book III ⇒


The Republic ~ Part I (Book I)

The Republic
Jean-Leon Gerome
source Wikiart

Book I:

The dialogue begins around the year of 410 B.C. at the port of the Piraeus, a town five miles from Athens.  As we read of the overthrow of the Athenian democracy in 404 B.C. in Thucydides’, History of the Peloponnesian War, Socrates begins to ask the questions about the benefits of democracy and builds his Republic on those ideas.  He begins by questioning the benefits and results of Justice.

Returning home from a religious festival with Glaucon (one of the brothers of Plato), Socrates becomes involved in a conversation with Cephalus, an old man.  Cephalus is certain Justice consists of being honest in your dealings with others and fulfilling your obligations, a very traditional Greek worldview.  When Socrates challenges this definition, the son of Cephalus, Polemarchus (who, in history, was executed by the Thirty Tyrants) expands on his father’s ideas, yet Socrates challenges his conception that Justice is treating your friends well and harming your enemies.  Man is libel to be mistaken in his assessment of both, and doesn’t harming someone make him less of a person?  Therefore, if you make someone less than they are, how can one be said to be just in his treatment of them?  

The Madonna of Justice (1620-25)
Bernardo Strozzi
source Wikiart

Thrasymachus, a well-known Sophist*, bursts into the conversation, insisting on a different defintion of Justice: the actions of those in power, as they dispense them on their subjects.  Thrasymachus is embodying the view of a relativist where there is no objective definition; Justice is only whatever the stronger imposes on the weaker.  Socrates counters, asking if a ruler always makes decisions in his own best interest, which Thrasymachus admits not.  Socrates then gives an example of physician or ship’s captain; is their interest in themselves or their patients or sailors?  The latter, of course, so “no skill or authority provides for its own benefit,” but for the benefit of the weaker, which contradicts the assertion of Thrasymachus.  I rather think Thrasymachus’ views would be a recipe for chaos.

Now the larger question is tackled by Socrates …. Is a life of Justice preferable to a life of injustice?  Socrates refutes Thrasymachus’ view, concluding that the virtue of a soul is Justice and injustice its defect.  Thus, “the soul robbed of its peculiar virtue, … cannot possibly do its work well ….. and living well involves well-being and happiness,”and therefore, “only the just man is happy.”  However, Socrates has not yet given a fixed definition of Justice.

* in ancient Greece, Sophists were paid teachers who were experts in using philosophy and rhetoric to promote excellence and virtue, yet are often portrayed as using fallacious reasoning and obscuring moral principles

⇐ Introduction                                                                                        Book II ⇒

History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides

“Thucydides, an Athenian, wrote the history of the war between the Peloponnesians and the Athenians, beginning at the moment that it broke out, and believing that it would be a great war, and more worthy of relation than any that had preceded it.”

Ah, the lovely Landmark editions!  Where would I be without them?  I would have no idea the location of Thrace or Thessaly or Corinth, etc. and therefore have less of a concept of the complicated dynamics that influenced various states in their struggles to fit into the puzzle of Hellenistic supremacy!

Thucydides account of the war between Sparta and Athens falls just after the events recounted in Herodotus’ The Histories.  Athens, high on her victory over the very powerful Xerxes, king of Persia, during the Persian Wars, is feeling rather self-important and she appears to be rushing around with her forces, conquering states here and subduing enemies there.  And while Athens becomes more powerful, the Lacedaemonians of Sparta are left to conduct their somewhat mundane and traditional existence.  But Athens’ power begins to worry them and while they were allies during the Persian Wars, this brotherhood appears to be heading towards a separation that could prove bloody as well as costly.

Index of Posts:

Book I / Book II / Book III / Book IV / Book V / Book VI / Book VIIBook VIII

Thucydides, indeed, gives a fascinating account of a mega-war between two superior powers that were at the height of their military powers, a war that would not only engulf their nations, but many of the city-states surrounding them and would even spread to Italy with the disastrous Sicilian expedition launched by Athens.  At first, the reader perhaps can sympathize that Athens might want to expand her influence or that Sparta might want to assert herself for balance, but soon the war grows like a cancer wherever it touches, prompting Thucydides to make an insightful observation:

“Think, too of the great part that is played by the unpredictable in war: think of it now, before you are actually committed to war.  The longer a war lasts, the more things tend to depend on accidents.  Neither you nor we can see into them: we have to abide their outcome in the dark.  And when peole are entering upon a war they do things the wrong way round.  Action comes first, and it is only when they have already suffered that they begin to think.”

How right he was!  One goes into a war with laudable intentions, but soon enough greed and power and hegemony begins to infect the general purpose and beyond anyone’s control the conflict becomes a nine-headed hydra.

After reading Herodotus, Thucydides’ narrative at first felt dry and sparse.  It definitely took determination and some plodding through a literary desert to keep going, but the reward was unexpected and quite amazing.  The fact that Thucydides did not colour the actions of others with his own palate (or at least, very little) allowed these actions and decisions to stand out in stark contrast and emphasized the selfless bravery, the strategic plotting, the blind stubbornness of leaders, the diplomatic brilliance, the plain stupidity of many and the various other exploits of all those involved in this lengthy and tragic war.

One wants to catalogue the evils of war, but Thucydides made me realize that war is much more complex that just an event; in fact, it seemed like the war was simply a side-issue that was a symptom of a much larger problem.  The problem of people ……. their greed and small-mindedness and selfish ambition.  It’s a scenario that’s played over and over throughout history and the actions of these people are always catastrophic at the most and injurious at the least, no matter if the venue is war, or political strife, or family matters, or any other large or small issue that our human faults and failing play into. Next I’m reading The Republic by Plato, a man whose life was coloured by this lengthy war.  It will be interesting to read the conclusions he draws.

 

 

 

The History of the Peloponnesian War – Book VIII

 

Isle of Chios
Frederic Leighton
source ArtUK

History of the Peloponnesian War

Book VIII:  While Athens is paralyzed in disbelief about the catastrophic Sicilian expedition, Sparta takes advantage of their weakness and begins to foment strife among Athenian allies. They instigate revolts in Chios and Miletus, as well as other areas that pay tribute to Athens. The Athenians fight back with some success. Various battles and political strategems abound, with Alcibiades coming to the forefront, inciting unrest and disagreement wherever he goes, a result of his selfish manipulations. Finally the Peloponnesians suspect him of subterfuge as he is now tight with the Persian, Tissapherne, and the Athenians mistrust him as well. It is unclear as to whether Alcibiades’ urging is the main catalyst, but suddenly Athenian groups break from their beloved democracy and revolt against it, sending envoys back to Athens to overthrow the democracy and establish oligarchies along the way. Their actions are so ill-planned that the areas they convert are so intoxicated with their new freedom that they begin self-government and the intended plan of the reform set to them by the Athenian envoys is completely ignored.Sparta and Persia form an alliance and Alcibiades is up to his usual no-good, playing off Sparta and Athens against each other with the help of Tissapherne, the corrupt Persian governor.
In Athens, mistrust and subterfuge is rampant as no one knows who to trust and any opponent of oligarchies is murdered.  A “party” named the Four Hundred overthrows the democracy in Athens and takes control, and another oligarchic party in Samos plans the same, but they are thwarted by a number of pro-democratic Athenians who vow to have nothing to do with the oligarchs in Athens, intending to restore democracy by fighting on their own.
Eretria, Euboea, Greece
Edward Lear
source Wikiart

Alcibiades begins to pander to the Athenians again and Sparta is concerned about desertion if they do not win a decisive battle. Meanwhile, back in Athens there is discontent and people are now jockeying for position if the oligarchy falls. The oligarchs send an envoy to Sparta asking for peace and indeed, these cowardly oligarchs would have rather lost their liberty and their country than see a return to democracy. Murders and unrest abound and people are so panicked that some call for rule under the Five Thousand even though there is no proof that that body even exists. A Spartan fleet reaches Eretria in Euboea and the Euboeans revolt from Athens which promotes panic in the city but the Spartans are too obtuse to sense this opportunity, or so our learned author claims. Athens quickly disposes of the oligarchs, installs the Five Thousand, enacts new reforms and recalls Alcibiades. A victory for the Athenian fleet at the Hellespont restores their confidence.

The Acropolis of Athens (1883)
Ivan Aivazovsky
source Wikiart

Finally Thucydides’ narrative breaks off in the middle of the 21st year of the war in 411 B.C., and we learn no more directly from the author. The war ended in 404 B.C., so we miss seven more years of fighting, political posturing, strife and discontent. Among the war incidents not disclosed, we miss two partial Athenian victories at Cyzicus and Arginouse and her final defeat by the famous Spartan commander Lysander at Aegopotami, where he captured almost the entire Athenian fleet in the Hellespont. After this embarrassment, Athens had but no choice than to sue for peace. Sparta decided to allow Athens to remain as a city, but demanded her fleet, the demolition of the Walls protecting her, and freedom for all states that were once part of the Athenian empire. From a powerful, vibrant democracy to a broken, isolated dependent, the loss of freedom must have been heavy indeed to this once great city.

This final chapter though was quite riveting and exposed the perils and weaknesses of human nature like no other has done so far.

The History of the Peloponnesian War – Book VII

 

A Dream of Ancient Athens
Sydney Herbert
source ArtUK

History of the Peloponnesian War

Athenian navy, Sicily
source Wikimedia Commons
Book VII:  Gylippus has great success in Syracuse, turning the tide of the war in favour of the Sicilians, capturing outposts and generally making a great nuisance of himself.  Nicias is ill with a kidney condition and writes to Athens to send more armaments, as Alcibiades has turned traitor, Lamachus is dead and he is the only general left.  They immediately send Eurymedon with ten ships which is hardly encouraging, and Demosthenes sets to gather more reinforcements to leave in the spring.  Meanwhile Gylippus prods the Syracusans to engage the Athenians in a sea battle and although they lose, he is able to capture three forts with loads of supplies and this feat is labeled “the first and foremost cause of the ruin of the Athenian army”.  Athenians ships fail to stop other Spartan ships from leaving Peloponnese and an Athenian supply vessel is destroyed, further damaging the Athenian cause, and with a Spartan invasion at Decclea, a second war front springs up for the beleaguered Athenians.  Thucydides relates complete disbelief that, in spite of all they had suffered and the emerging war on the home front, they still stubbornly clung to their Sicilian expedition. 
 

Destruction of the Athenian army
at Syracuse
source Wikimedia Commons
Demosthenes and Eurymedon arrive and Demosthenes pushes for immediate attack, feeling that Nicias missed his chance for victory with procrastination at the outset.  His attack fails and he counsels for immediate withdrawal as the troops with have more use at Athens.  Nicias disagrees with his counterpart.  NOW, in spite of never being in favour of the expedition, he wants to remain, citing information that the Syracusans are running out of money and his confidence in his fleet.  The two argue but when Gylippus returns, they all agree to leave, however an eclipse of the moon stays their departure and Nicias “who was somewhat over-addicted to divination and practices of that kind,” refuses to depart.  It is an unwise decision as Eurymedon is killed in battle and the Syracusans surround the whole Athenian fleet in the Great Harbour.  The Athenians with their whole fleet attempt to fight their way out, but are routed.  They retire and both Demosthenes and Nicias wish to try again the next day but the soldiers are demoralized and refuse to man the ships so they plan their escape route overland.  Exhausted, the army encounters opposition wherever they go and eventually are killed or captured, with very few escaping.  Both Demosthenes and Nicias surrender and are chopped to bits; Thucydides stresses that Nicias did not deserve this fate.  The losses for Athens are the most catastrophic imaginable.
Destruction of the Athenian army in Sicily
source Wikimedia Commons
⇐ Book VI                                                                                      Book VIII ⇒

The History of the Peloponnesian War – Book VI

 

Ruin of Greek Theatre, Taormina, Sicily
Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller
source Wikiart

History of the Peloponnesian War

 

Book VI:  The Athenians decide to attack Sicily although ignorant of the island’s size and number of inhabitants.  Sounds like a bad idea.  Thucydides now gives a history of the people who settled the island which is very interesting, so don’t skip it if you read this book.  Lots of expelling from cities is included.  I’m amazed at how many people were often just kicked out from where they had lived for years and had to go elsewhere.  However, Thucydides relates it as an unsurprising regular occurrence, so obviously my reaction is very different than the people of that time.

Planning not only to invade the island, but to help their Greek-Sicilian kinsman, the Athenians use pleas from Egestaean envoys as an excuse to help stop the domination of Syracuse, the kingdom on the island who is a possible supporter of Sparta.  When Athenian envoys return from Egesta, they report riches beyond their wildest imaginations and the Athenian people are wild to start the expedition.  Three generals are chosen to lead it, Alcibiades, Nicias and Lamachus, but of the three, Nicias is against its implementation.  He argues that Sicily is too far away to maintain control of, that affairs at home are still precarious; they should be using this time to recover from plague and war, and that Athens is respected by the Sicilians because they are unfamiliar with them, but by showing their hand, they risk later conflict.  A persuasive argument but Alcibiades counters, defending himself and his ostentatious and elaborate private life, claims that the Sicilians are politically weak, they will find assistance in other areas, and that they must strike now and expand their empire or risk losing their domination.  Nicias tries to counter his arguments but only succeeds in fuelling the people’s determination for the expedition.  

Alcibiades being taught by Socrates (1775)
Françoise André Vincent
source Wikimedia Commons

While the preparations for the expedition commence, the stone Hermae, figures in the doorways of private houses are mysteriously defaced and Alcibiades is accused of plotting to place himself in power.  When he demands a trial to clear his name, it is postponed, his enemies planning to use it as an excuse to recall him at a later date.  The occurrence, though, is seen as a bad portent for the expedition.

Meanwhile, the Syracusian, Hermocrates, tries to warn the people of the pending Athenian attack.  He wants the peoples to unite and meet the enemy in the Ionian sea but Athenagoras, a Syracusan general, pishaws the warning, saying that Athenians are too clever to make such foolish plans.  He implies Hermocrates’ warning is to destabilize the government, yet does suggest the city’s defences should be prepared.
Cape Zafferano, Sicily
source ArtUK

The Athenians and allied forces assemble at Corcyra.  The fleet consists of one hundred thirty-four triremes, the largest force seen since that of Pericles’ attack of Potidaea.  As the fleet sails down the coast of Italy, no city is happy to see them and even at the tip of Rhegium, the people who were supposed to be their allies, refuse to take sides.  The Athenian force also learns of Egesta’s trickery in appearing to have a massive treasury when, in fact, they have little.  Alcibiades and Lamachus are stunned and Nicias suggests engaging with the Selinuntines (which was their main objective to bring peace with Egesta).  They sail past other cities to show their force, and then return home and in that, prevent risking any resources of the Athenian state or their allies.  Alcibiades wants to send heralds to each city to gain alliances and then attack everyone who refuses, and Lamachus wants to attack Syracuse immediately, but he will defer to Alcibiades.  Attempts to solicit support mostly fail and then a delegation arrives to summon Alcibiades to answer for the Hermae affair as Athens is terrified of oligarchic and monarchical conspiracy stemming from their fear of the tyranny of Pisistratus and his sons; however Thucydides claims that the Athenians do not know their own history and it was Hippias, not Hipparchus, who was the true dictator.  He proceeds to give an account of a love triangle including Hipparchus, and of Hippias’ tyranny, how he was sent into exile in Persia and returned twenty years later at the Battle of Marathon (see Herodotus Book V).  Alcibiades sets sail for Athens, but with prejudice against him and blame for other happenings; he escapes and eventually surfaces in the Peloponnese.  Athens condemns him to death in his absence.

Syracuse, Anapo River (1904)
Walter Crane
source Wikiart

Meanwhile the Sicilian expedition is still sailing and sailing without accomplishing much. They have not been paid by Egesta and by their inaction, are losing the respect of the Syracusans.  The Syracusans march to Catana to engage the Athenians, only to find they have left for Syracuse and have to hurry back.  The inexperienced Syracusan army is routed but manage to regroup, a truce is made and the expedition breaks off for the winter, while the Syracusans reform their army and send for aid from Corinth and Sparta.  While the Athenian, Euphemus, tries to convince the Camarinaean populace of Athenian goodwill, the Spartans, who at first refused to aid the Syracusans, are persuaded by the argument of crafty Alcibiades, who has an answer for everything, including his treachery to his own country.  The Athenians build a wall around Syracuse, whereupon the Syracusans build their own but are dissatisfied with their eighteen generals, replace them and begin to consider surrender.  The Spartan, Gylippus, leaves for Syracuse, ignored by Nicias because of his small force, and Sparta invades Argos.  Athens comes to their aid, giving Sparta a pretext for ignoring the treaty and recommencing hostility towards Athens.  

Mount Etna from Taormina
John Brett
source ArtUK
⇐ Book V                                                                               Book VII ⇒

 

History of the Peloponnesian War – Book V

 

 

History of the Peloponnesian War

Book V:  After the armistice is concluded, Cleon, emboldened by his success in Pylos, leads an expedition through Thrace to Torone where he takes Torone, destroying some of Brasidas’ fortifications.  He makes Eion his base and Brasidas makes Amphipolis his, whereupon Cleon attacks, however in his delusions of grandeur he misjudges his ability, and tries to retreat too late.  In the fighting, Cleon is killed but his nemesis, Brasidas, is also fatally wounded.

Argos from Mycene (1884)
Edward Lear
source ArtUK

Both sides are eager for peace now, Athens suffering heavy losses, no longer certain of her strength in arms and worried about Sparta taking advantage of her weakness, and Sparta concerned about the devastation of their lands, deserting Helots, the return of the prisoners at Pylos to their important families, the possibility of civil war, their expiring thirty-year truce with Argos, and Peloponnesian cities intending to go over to the enemy.  Negotiations ensue with new leaders, Pleistoanax, son of Pausanias for Sparta and Nicias for Athens, each with their own agendas and with an idealistic view that peace would bring all things good with no repercussions from the war.  The peace treaty is then agreed upon.  Allies of Sparta refuse to accept the treaty, whereupon Sparta forms a fifty-year alliance with Athens, hoping this will dissuade aggression from Argos.  This happens in the winter of the tenth year of the war. Yet as time passes, the two powers begin to suspect each other, as both neglect to act on some of the conditions of the treaty, Sparta dragging her heels the most and being the whiniest.  Thucydides claims this was not a bonafide peace treaty but merely a ceasing of hostility in a war that continued.  
Near Athens (1863-65)
Harry John Johnson
source ArtUK

With the Corinthians once again causing trouble, they attempt to persuade Argos to go against Sparta.  Other states, uneasy with the treaty between the two major players, consider an alliance with the Argives.  More small invasions continue as does political plotting.  The Argives attempt to elicit a treaty with Sparta but changes its mind and makes one with Athens.  Alcibiades opposes Athens’ treaty with Sparta and Nicias pushes for its fulfillment while attempting to delay their treaty with the Argives, however he fails and the treaty is made, yet even so, the Athens and Sparta alliance continues.  The Spartans surround Argive forces, yet a truce is called by their leaders, Agis king of Sparta (remember the Spartan dual-king thing) and the Argive, Thrasylus.  The people on each side are furious at the undemocratic decision, each thinking they could have won; Thrasylus is stoned and has to flee to an altar to save his life and Agis nearly loses his home and is fined.  Instead, they enact a law, giving Agis ten counsellors and he is unable to make a decision without them.  

More fighting between Sparta and her allies and the Argives and her allies, then the Argives make an alliance with Sparta.  With infighting in Argos, the Argives change their minds again and reforge ties with Athens.Athens launches an expedition against Melos and after persuasive arguments, finally kills the men, sells the women and children as slaves, and settles Melos itself.

 

The bay of Milos
source Wikipedia

 

 

⇐ Book IV                                                                                    Book VI ⇒

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
(Brasidas)
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