Lessons of Fear: A reading of Thucydides

Desmond, Dr William (2006) Lessons of Fear: A reading of Thucydides. Classical Philology, 101. pp. 359-379.

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It is perhaps a truism that "reason is the slave of the passions" and that dispassionate deliberation can often only serve some deeper, preverbal desire or intuition. Despite this, modern historiography and political science have until recently tended to stress the role of impersonal forces like geography, the market or intellectual precedent upon individual and communal decision making. In more recent years, however, historians have paid increasing attention to the emotions, attention that is reflected also in Classical historiography. Of the ancient historians, Thucydides would seem closest to a "modern," impersonal perspective: he dismisses Herodotean-style dramatic history for a greater emphasis on quantifiable facts such as chronology of events, material resources, money, equipment, troop numbers, casualties, and the like: national character has an overriding influence on individual initiative that only truly exceptional statesmen can resist. And yet, despite Thucydides' own dispassionate style, his History documents a war that stirred the most vehement passions in both individuals and larger groups. Careful reading of his work detects a long and considered observation of how the emotions pervade and sometimes even dominate political life.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Fear; Thucydides; Classical historiography;
Academic Unit: Faculty of Arts,Celtic Studies and Philosophy > Ancient Classics
Item ID: 827
Depositing User: Dr William Desmond
Date Deposited: 12 Dec 2007
Journal or Publication Title: Classical Philology
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Refereed: Yes

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