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Confronting History: On the Wisdom and Example of Diodotus in Thucydides’ History of The Peloponnesian War

From the book Wherefrom Does History Emerge?

  • Jonathan Wensveen


In Book Three of the History, Thucydides famously remarks that “war is a violent teacher.” But a teacher of what, exactly, and to whom, he does not specify. I attempt to answer these questions in an effort to shed light on how Thucydides makes sense of the perennial relationship between cosmos and chaos, order and disorder characteristic of history. Beginning with an analysis of Thucydides’ account of the civil war at Corcyra, I then explain why this famous remark is representative of how Thucydides, as opposed to Homer, understands the nature of history and why a character named Diodotus reveals how best to confront it. I ultimately argue that while Thucydides exhibits an often unnoticed optimism when it comes to learning from war, this optimism is a sober and staid one, accepting of war and thus history as a permanent if regrettable feature of the human condition.

© 2020 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Munich/Boston
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