Friday, November 29, 2019

Thinking Through Thucydides

[First posted in AWOL 31 July 2012, updated 29 November 2019]

Thinking Through Thucydides (T3)
The ancient Greek historian Thucydides famously claimed that his work would be ‘a possession for all time’: not just the history of a single war between the Athenians and the Spartans, but a guide to the way that the world works, and especially to politics and war.  He was right. Over the last two hundred years, Thucydides has been one of the most frequently quoted ancient writers. His ideas have influenced historians, politicians, international relations experts and soldiers; all agree that his work is useful and important.

Thucydides does not offer simple lessons, but a training course in analysis and deliberation. He demands that his readers follow his narrative of events and think about how things could have turned out differently; he asks them to listen to opposing arguments and to weigh up the issues – and then to think about how those arguments relate what actually happened.  He shows how the world is complicated – and how we can make sense of that complexity. In brief, he aims to help his readers to develop the skills that every citizen of a democracy needs.

The lessons that Thucydides offers are needed today more than ever. The problem is that his work is complex and difficult, even in the original Greek – and of course most readers have to rely on translations, often of dubious quality. The aim of the T3 project (Thinking Through Thucydides, or Thinking, Through Thucydides) is to make key passages from Thucydides' work accessible to as many people as possible, setting his words in context and explaining significant points. These passages can then serve as a resource for thinking about the world and our place in it, a starting-point for debate about some of the most vital issues that face us today.

The project is at a very early stage of development; on this webpage you will find one sample passage of Thucydides (II.43, from the Funeral Oration) along with contextual material and key questions to discuss, to show you what we have in mind. We plan to develop this resource in partnership with schools, so that it can serve as a resource for the study of both Classical Civilisation and Citizenship, but we hope that this will be of interest to everyone. In due course we will be introducing a blog where you can post your comments and suggestions, and get involved in debates about the significance of passages; in the meantime, if you have any comments, or if you would like to be involved in developing this project, please contact Neville Morley (n.d.g.morley(at)

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