Guide to the classics: Thucydides’s History of the Peloponnesian War

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The fall of the Athenian army in Sicily during the Peloponnesian War in 413 BC as depicted in an 1893 illustration by J.G.Vogt.
Wikimedia Commons

Julia Kindt, University of Sydney

Thucydides’s History of the Peloponnesian War breaks off before the story is over. After detailing the armed conflict between the Athenians and the Spartans (and their respective allies) between 431 and 404 BCE, the eight-book text ends abruptly in the middle of a chapter as if, one day, the writer simply dropped his pen and left his desk, never to return.

Bust of Thucydides.
shakko, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

What required such urgent and final attention? And why did Thucydides never return to complete the manuscript? Whatever the answers, the book’s incompleteness adds a human touch to a work that is otherwise an accomplished and polished piece of writing.

The Peloponnesian War Thucydides recounts culminated in Sparta’s surprisingly…

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