Lecturer: Assoc Prof Matthew Sharpe
Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War is arguably the founding text of the historical discipline as we know it today. Written after Thucydides, a General, had withdrawn from active service, it traces the origins and course of the great war between Athens and her Allies and Sparta and her Allies, the rise and then fall of Athens in the disastrous imperial campaign in Syracuse.
Thucydides’ remarkable opening book reconstructs early Greek history, with a view to establishing the claims of the Peloponnesian War to being the greatest Polemos up until that time.
In doing so, he stakes a claim for the superiority of his own “historical” form of inquiry over the poets led by Homer, who had elevated the Trojan War as the greatest military engagement then known.
Pitting a naval against a sea power, an inland versus a port city, a dynamic, adventurous, intellectual power versus a static, cautious and conservative one, Thucydides argues that his study of this war will be a possession for all times, since it engages such fundamental oppositions and tendencies within the human condition.
So what lessons does Thucydides allow us to draw, of a philosophical kind, from his account of Athens’ and Sparta’s struggles?
Dr Sharpe will look at the novelty of Thucydides’ mode of inquiry, with its ideal of a reasonable impartiality (a “view from on high” in a leading commentator’s phrase), as well as several celebrated episodes in the text: the plague at Athens that follows Pericles’ famous oration, the civil war in Corcyra, the Athenian treatments of Mytilene and Melos, and the lead up to the Syracusan disaster.
Dr Sharpe has an eclectic array of research interests. Increasingly, he works on classical philosophy and modern receptions thereof, and the early modern period, up to and including the French enlightenment. I am interested in the history of Western receptions of its classical past, and the rich ethical legacy left by Stoic and academic schools in particular. Amidst so many ‘returns to theology’, he is interested in the ways that we might ‘return to classical philosophy’, and in contesting reactionary versions of this idea and levelling historicising depictions of ‘modernity’ which don’t reflect historical complexity and intellectual debates.
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