November 20, 2016

Thucydides, Book Five: Halftime

Indeed it so happened that directly after the battle of Amphipolis and the retreat of Ramphias from Thessaly, both sides ceased to prosecute the war and turned their attention to peace. Athens had suffered severely at Delium, and again shortly afterwards at Amphipolis, and had no longer that confidence in her strength which had made her before refuse to accept the offer of peace, in the belief of ultimate victory which her success at the moment had inspired; [5.14]
The "Ten Years War" is complete. J. E. Lendon's Song of Wrath [Review Corner] covers only this period. And Thucydides himself spends a small section defending his decision to consider the entire "three times nine years" period a single conflict, getting a dig in at the superstitious of his time:
So that the first ten years' war, the treacherous armistice that followed it, and the subsequent war will, calculating by the seasons, be found to make up the number of years which I have mentioned, with the difference of a few days, and to provide an instance of faith in oracles being for once justified by the event. [5.26]
But if the play-by-play, battle-by-battle coverage takes a small break in Book Five, there's some time for extended commentary (and highlights from other conflicts).
I lived through the whole of it, being of an age to comprehend events, and giving my attention to them in order to know the exact truth about them. It was also my fate to be an exile from my country for twenty years after my command at Amphipolis; and being present with both parties, and more especially with the Peloponnesians by reason of my exile, I had leisure to observe affairs more closely. [6] I will accordingly now relate the differences that arose after the ten years' war, the breach of the treaty, and the hostilities that followed. [5.26]
Sparta and Athens indeed complete a truce, essentially establishing a "status quo ante" distribution of territory with a few small exceptions. But Hellas does not become Hundred Acre Wood, and they do not spend these years in idyllic pastoral repose. Both combatants drag their heels at completing requirements of the treaty. "Oh, we'll give them the hostages from Pylos someday..."

The peace is uneasy to begin with, and not all the allies are on board with the idea of armistice or with its terms. This gives Argos an opportunity to restore her empire by picking up affected city-states for a side alliance. The Argives can rival wounded Athens and Sparta with a few key allies.

The persons with whom they had communicated reported the proposal to their government and people, and the Argives passed the decree and chose twelve men to negotiate an alliance for any Hellenic state that wished it, except Athens and Sparta, neither of which should be able to join without referring the issue to the Argive people. [5.28]

Though this "peace" lasts seven years, it's more of a repositioning. One expects they're analyzing film, taping up ankles and listening to coaches' speechmaking. Commentator Thucydides gets to elaborate on "Fear, Honor and Interest," which is shorthand for his strategic realism.
In a dialog with Melians, the Athenians eschew the eloquent speeches and peans to liberty common in the other books, and a small delegation sits down to hear the stronger power dictate alliance terms to the weaker.
Athenians: "For ourselves, we shall not trouble you with specious pretenses-- either of how we have a right to our empire because we overthrew the Mede, or are now attacking you because of wrong that you have done us-- and make a long speech which would not be believed; and in return we hope that you, instead of thinking to influence us by saying that you did not join the Spartans, although their colonists, or that you have done us no wrong, will aim at what is feasible, holding in view the real sentiments of us both; since you know as well as we do that right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must." [5.94]

The Melians trust in "the gods" and possible Spartan protection and turn the Athenians away. Spoiler Alert: they "suffer what they must."

Greek to me Review Corner Posted by John Kranz at November 20, 2016 12:02 PM
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