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DIED B.C. 401.
HUCYDIDES was of Thracian descent, and is sup
posed to have been born about the year 471 B.C.
He tells us he was possessed of some hereditary property and is said to have studied rhetoric under Antiphon, the reputed inventor of oratory. It is, however, as the first of reliable historians that he holds his place in classical literature, and the value of his work is greatly enhanced by his having taken a personal share in most of the events of the great struggle between Athens and Sparta which he relates, and from his priding himself on making his history useful to posterity by simply recording what really happened, and carefully avoiding any of the fabulous embellishments indulged in by his contemporary Heredotus.
He begins with a brief summary of the early history of Greece, in which he accepts the siege of Troy as an historical fact, whose importance has been magnified by the poets, and as unworthy of comparison with the undertakings of later times. He also treats the still earlier legends as founded upon facts, but passes over in silence most of their improbable details. His own annals date from the return of the Greeks from Troy, which was followed by the Dorian migration into the Peloponnesus, and the settlement of Athenian colonies in the Archipelago. Then began the building of navies, the increase of wealth, and the rise of
despotism, until Sparta undertook the cause of liberty, and to put down the tyrants in the weaker states. Soon afterwards came the great Persian War, recorded by Herodotus, on which Thucydides does not linger, but notes that out of it sprung the jealousy between the Lacedemonians and Athenians, the one state being as superior by land as the other was by sea.
After the defeat of the Persians, the Spartans endeavoured to persuade the Athenians not to rebuild their fortifications, but Themistocles, their general, temporised with the ambassadors until the walls were restored, and so outwitted them. Then several of the minor states joined their ships to the Athenian navy, and submitted to be taxed towards its maintenance for the defence of Greece, which enabled Athens gradually to reduce them to a position of complete dependency; and thus were the seeds sown for the prolonged contest for supremacy which ensued between her and her formidable rival.
Athens had rapidly grown in wealth and power, and, Thucydides adds, Pericles, her foremost citizen, had raised the material grandeur of the city to such a pitch, that, if the stranger of some distant future should come to gaze upon her ruins, he will estimate her power to have been even double what it was.' Corinth looked on with a jealous eye, for she had been the earliest naval power in Greece, and was now eclipsed. Her colonists at Corcyra had proved refractory, and had appealed to Athens, who sent à fleet thither, and, in a sea-fight which ensued, took part with them. She had also blockaded Potidæa, another Corinthian settlement, on the pretence that it was meditating revolt, and thus provoked an appeal to Sparta, where a general congress was held, and Thucydides gives, at some length, the speeches delivered by the assembled representatives. When they had withdrawn, the Lacedemonians deliberated, and war was voted by a large majority. The oracle at Delphi was next consulted, and the reply was that, if they made war with all their might, the victory should be theirs. The confederated allies were then summoned, and undertook to furnish their contingents without delay.
A year, however, elapsed before the commencement of
hostilities, both sides in the meanwhile seeking to put their adversaries in the wrong on religious pretexts. The Lacedemonians also offered terms of peace; but, after a full discussion in the assembly at Athens, the eloquence and influence of Pericles prevailed; and the war began with an ineffectual attempt to detach Platæa from Athenian protection. Both confederacies now prepared for a general conflict, and the Peloponnesians talked of invoking the aid of the Persian king. The national feeling was strongly against Athens; a herald sent thither with a final proposal for peace was escorted back without an audience, and, as he crossed the frontier, he uttered the ominous words of Homer, ‘This day will be the beginning of much woe to the Greeks.'
The Athenian army amounted to barely thirty-two thousand men, and their fleet consisted of three hundred galleys, each carrying three hundred men. The rural population took refuge within the city, and all their cattle and sheep were transported to Euboea and the adjacent islands. The Spartan king now led his forces into Athenian territory, and destroyed the crops, without, however, provoking a battle. The Athenians, in their turn, despatched a fleet to make a descent on Melthone, in Laconia, but the invaders were repulsed by Brasidas, a Lacedemonian officer, who cut his way through them with only a hundred men. The island of Ægina, however, was occupied, and Megara laid waste. At the close of the year's campaign, the Athenians held a public funeral for those who had fallen, first arranging their bones in a tent, and then carrying them in procession to the cemetery, according to their tribes, followed by their families, and an empty bier to represent those who were missing, the ceremony concluding with an oration pronounced by Pericles, which Thucydides records in full, and of which the peroration was as follows :-* They gave their lives for their country, and gained for themselves a glory that can never fade, a sepulchre that shall stand as a mark for ever. I do not mean that in which their bodies lie, but that in which their renown lives after them, to be remembered on every occasion of speech or action which calls it to mind. For the whole earth is the tomb and monument of heroes ; it is not the mere graving upon marble in their native land which sets forth their deeds, but, even in lands where they were strangers, there lives an unwritten record in every heart, felt, though never embodied. I call those fortunate whose death, like theirs, or whose sorrow, like yours, has the fullest portion of honour, and whose end comes at the moment they are happiest. There is ever a jealousy of the living as rivals; it is only those who stand no longer in our path that we honour with an ungrudging affection.'
Again Athenian territory was ravaged by the Peloponnesians, but this time they were driven back by tidings of the outbreak of a terrible pestilence in the streets and suburbs of the city, where the cry was that the enemy had poisoned the wells. It is supposed, however, to have been à virulent eruptive fever, originating in Ethiopia, and brought to the Piræus from the Archipelago by a trading ship. Thucydides tells us that he was attacked by it, and that he watched the cases of many sufferers. He also noted the symptoms and course of the disease with remarkable clearness, in order, he says, that it might be recognised in the event of its recurrence. Many sank from the despondency which unfitted them for offering any moral resistance to it, and many from attending the sick. Some households were entirely swept away from lack of any to nurse them, and others were so overwhelmed that they could not even mourn for their dead. The bravest and most compassionate were those who had recovered, as none were attacked a second time. The fatal character of the pestilence was aggravated by the crowded state of the city, owing to the war, and the dying were rolling in agony in the streets, or crowding to the fountains to slake their thirst. The burial rites, to which the Greeks attached so much importance, were disregarded, and bodies were thrown promiscuously on the nearest funeral pile; whilst those who escaped pursued whatever was most pleasant for the moment, esteeming life and riches as lasting only for a day, and unrestrained either by fear of the gods or respect for man. Not even the naval forces were exempted, one-fourth of those in the fleet sent against Potidoa having died within a month.
Pericles was now reproached as the author of all these troubles, and the people clamoured for peace with Sparta at
any price; but, he argued with them, “Because the suffering comes home to each man's feelings at once, while the advantages of the war do not as yet make themselves clear, because a great reverse, and that on the sudden, has befallen you, you are too utterly dispirited to persevere in the course you chose. But, as citizens of a great city, it is your duty to stand up cheerfully against reverses, and never to tarnish your high name ; for the world claims the right to censure those who from lack of spirit fail to maintain the reputation they have won, and you are bound to check your grief for your private sufferings, and hold fast to the public weal. Show, then, that you have not degenerated in two great points from your fathers; through toil and danger they acquired this dominion, they did not receive it as an inheritance; moreover, they maintained and handed it down to you; and were baser to let what we have be taken from us than to have been unsuccessful in its acquisition.'
They followed his advice, but, on some pretence of malversation, fined him a sum of money, and not long after chose him as their general again, and put everything into his hands. He, however, lived only a year longer ; and, speaking of his influence and abilities, Thucydides says that whenever he saw the citizens overweeningly confident without just grounds, he would speak so as to inspire them with a wholesome fear; or, when they were unreasonably alarmed, he would raise their spirits again to confidence. It was a nominal democracy, but in fact the government of the one foremost man.
The plague lasted for two years, and after a year's interval broke out afresh for another year, the number who died of it exceeding the total of those slain in battle during the whole war.
The Peloponnesians now unsuccessfully sought aid from Persia, as the Athenians had done at an earlier period. They also tried to induce the king of Thrace to attack Potidæa, but he sent the envoys to Athens, where they were put to death, in retaliation for the cruel treatment of some Attic sailors by the Spartans. Thucydides mentions here, incidentally, that the Athenians maintained a fleet to watch the coasts and protect their merchant ships against the