September 6, 2016

I can even pronounce Lacedaemonian

I am back to Thucydides [Review Corner]. This time, extracting much more from it. Two years ago, I eschewed the sagacious counsel of blog friend tgreer and plowed through the text on Kindle just to experience it like my intellectual heroes would have.

It was a good time. But reading Song of Wrath: The Peloponnesian War Begins by J. E. Lendon exposes lacunae (see what I did there, using a Greek-root word?) in my understanding wide enough to drive a trireme through.

Lendon contextualizes the 2500 year old events and decisions to render them more explicable to modern ears. And he walks the reader through the first ten years of the Peloponnesian War adding detail to make it more contiguous than the General's narrative-through-speeches. I enjoyed the lyricism of Thucydides, but find myself reading Lendon and saying "oh, that's what happened."

This October, I will be joining tg in a Thucydides Roundtable hosted by a Strategy Blog. (I will have to set all my seriousness knobs to 11). But I look forward to a reread (one chapter a week) with some gifted companions and having purchased the descriptive Landmark Edition which was originally recommended.

I'll do a full Review Corner soon on "Song of Wrath," but encourage ThreeSourcers to catch some of the excepts Tweeted in the meantime. This one might ruffle some feathers:

"In fact the Trojans, and the Greeks who fought them, may be as much to blame for the Peloponnesian War as Athenians, Spartans, or Corinthians. For with the story of the war against Troy, Homer also passed down to the classical Greeks the ferocious competitiveness of their forefathers. The transcendent cause of the Peloponnesian War was the culture of Greek foreign relations, which was deeply embedded in Greek competitiveness and the ethics of a heroic past. The principle that created the Olympic Games, the principle that inspired potter to outdo potter and poet to surpass poet, the competitive principle that drove so much of what is memorable about Greek civilization--that same principle drove Athens and Sparta to war."
― from "Song of Wrath: The Peloponnesian War Begins"

Greek to me Posted by John Kranz at September 6, 2016 10:21 AM

"One cannot simultaneously prepare for Olympic Games, and prevent, war?"

Seems that the ancients needed Gary "The Johnson, not one of the nuts" Johnson, more than we do. (Seven percent in the latest CNN Presidential Poll.)

Posted by: johngalt at September 6, 2016 2:48 PM

One cannot -- Lendon suggests -- strive to be the best athlete or the finest poet and then sit quietly by and allow a neighboring state to assume superiority (or Hybris).

The first question a modern asks is "what the holy hell were they fighting over?" They had no resource conflicts or obvious economic concerns. They were the same peoples with the same religion, no historic antipathy... World War One seems obvious in comparison.

They were allies in the conflict with Persia which gives us the tale of Leonidas and the 300 at Thermopylae. In Lendon's view, Athens thought itself the equal of Sparta after that; the hegemonic Sparta did not share that estimation. So Athens and the Lacedaemonians spent 37 years killing, destroying the property of, and harassing each others' allies in an ancient pissing contest.

His explanation is somewhat controversial I understand. But at least it is an explanation.

I was concerned that "tall poppies" would bristle (do poppies bristle?) at the suggestion of ill-effects of striving, competition, and achievement.

(Fun fact: the Olympic games continued throughout the Peloponnesian War. The athletes gathered under truce and even staged a few goofy political stunts. Colin Kapernick would be proud.)

Posted by: jk at September 6, 2016 3:18 PM | What do you think? [2]