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Thucydides and the Philosophical Origins of History
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  • Page extent: 282 pages
  • Size: 228 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.59 kg

Library of Congress

  • Dewey number: 938/.05
  • Dewey version: 22
  • LC Classification: DF229.T6 S47 2007
  • LC Subject headings:
    • Thucydides.--History of the Peloponnesian War
    • Greece--History--Peloponnesian War, 431-404 B.C.--Historiography
    • History--Philosophy

Library of Congress Record

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 (ISBN-13: 9780521864114 | ISBN-10: 0521864119)

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$103.00 (C)

Thucydides and the Philosophical Origins of History

This book addresses the questions of how and why history begins with the work of Thucydides. The History of the Peloponnesian War is distinctive in that it is a prose narrative, meant to be read rather than performed. It focuses on the unfolding of contemporary great power politics to the exclusion of almost all other elements of human life, including the divine. Western history has been largely an extension of Thucydides’s narrative in that it repeats the unique methodological assumptions and concerns that first appear in his text. The power of Thucydides’s text has never been attributed to either the charm of its language or the entertainment value of its narrative, or to some personal attribute of the author. In this study, Darien Shanske analyzes the difficult language and structure of Thucydides’s History and argues that the text has drawn so many readers into its distinctive worldview because of its kinship to the contemporary language and structure of classical tragedy. This kinship is not merely a matter of shared vocabulary or even aesthetic sensibility. Rather, it is grounded on a shared philosophical position, in particular on the polemical metaphysics of Heraclitus.

Darien Shanske is a scholar of classical literature and works on topics at the intersection of philosophy, classics, and law.

Thucydides and the Philosophical Origins of History


Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, São Paulo

Cambridge University Press
32 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10013-2473, USA
Information on this title:

© Darien Shanske 2007

This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception
and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements,
no reproduction of any part may take place without
the written permission of Cambridge University Press.

First published 2007

Printed in the United States of America

A catalog record for this publication is available from the British Library.

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data

Shanske, Darien, 1974–
Thucydides and the philosophical origins of history / Darien Shanske.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN-10: 0-521-86411-9 (hardback)
ISBN-13: 978-0-521-86411-4 (hardback)
1. Thucydides. History of the Peloponnesian War. 2. Greece – History – Peloponnesian
War, 431–404 B.C. – Historiography. 3. History – Philosophy. I. Title.
DF229.T6S47 2006
938′.05′–dc22 2005037371

ISBN-13 978-0-521-86411-4 hardback
ISBN-10 0-521-86411-9 hardback

Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for
the persistence or accuracy of URLs for external or
third-party Internet Web sites referred to in this publication
and does not guarantee that any content on such
Web sites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.

For My Parents,

Without whom not,

Thanks to whom,



Acknowledgments page xi
    Introduction 1
    Restoring the Wonder of Thucydides 1
    Theoretical Preliminaries 8
    Short Outline 13
1   Thucydides’s Vision 15
    Introduction – Six Features of Thucydides’s Text 15
    The First Sentence 18
    The Archaeology 22
    The Empire of Logos 27
    What the Athenians Did Not Know 31
    Thucydides on His Method – Disclosure about Disclosure 33
    The Causes of the War 37
    Conclusion 40
2   The Case of Pericles 41
    Introduction 41
    War – Pericles’s First Speech 42
    Who We Are – Pericles’s Funeral Oration 45
    Rhetoric and Adversity – Pericles’s Third Speech 46
    Transition – The Dissemination of Pericles 49
    Plague 51
    Cleon and Diodotus 52
    Brasidas and Hermocrates 55
    Nicias and Alcibiades 57
    Thucydides 60
    Themistocles 62
    Identity and Disclosure 64
    Conclusion 64
3   Deinon, Logos, and the Tragic Question Concerning the Human 69
    Introduction 69
    Tragedy 70
    Introducing the Deinon 71
    Tragic Elements in Thucydides 74
    Deinon in Pretragic Literature – A Summary 80
    Aeschylus 81
    Sophocles 85
    Euripides 99
    Thucydides Revisited (The Deinon and Epieikeia) 105
    Plato 116
    Conclusion 117
4   Thucydidean Temporality 119
    Introduction 119
    The Metaphysics of Praise – Pericles and Socrates on Athens 120
    Plato’s Menexenus 125
    Thucydides and Plato in the Philosophical Tradition 129
    Heraclitus 134
    Thucydides as a Cure for Platonism 138
    Thucydidean Realism 142
    Book Eight 145
    Philosophical Implications 148
    Conclusion 152
    Appendix I: Restoring Key Terms 1.1–1.23 155
    Unconcealedness (Aletheia) 155
    What Is Appropriate ( ) 157
    Pretext ( ) 158
    Compulsion (Ananke) 163
    Kind ( ) 167
    Appendix II: Pretragic History of Deinon 169
    Introduction 169
    Etymology and History of Interpretation 169
    Homer and Hesiod 171
    Conclusion 174
    Appendix III: Wittgenstein on Fly-Bottles, Aspect Seeing, and History 177
    Introduction 177
    Aspect Seeing 178
    Aspect Seeing and History 179
    Conclusion: Forms of Life and Logos 184
    Appendix IV: Heidegger on World and Originary Temporality 185
    Introduction 185
    World 186
    Ontological Difference 188
    Originary Temporality 188
    Phenomenological Bestiary 191
    An Internal Defense 194
Notes 199
Bibliography 249
Index 261


It is easy to know where to begin my thanks, though impossible to know where to end. Without the love, support, and models provided by my parents, grandparents, siblings, uncles, and aunts, neither this book nor any of the other endeavors I have been so happy and fortunate to be a part of would have been possible. I want especially to give thanks for the extraordinary relationships that I have enjoyed with my siblings, Alisa and Uri, and my uncles Abe and David and Aunt Shirley.

   This book began as a dissertation in the Rhetoric Department at the University of California at Berkeley. Every member of my committee – Fred Dolan, Mark Griffith, Hans Sluga, and especially my chair, David Cohen – in many ways went beyond the call of duty to help me develop as a scholar and as a person. At Berkeley, I was also very fortunate to have the opportunity to learn from Anne Carson, Alan Code, and Hubert Dreyfus. Most remarkable of all was the time I spent learning from Philippe Nonet, who week after week opened his home to his students for a truly singular reading group.

   I was introduced to Thucydides during the first semester of my first year as an undergraduate at Columbia College by Richard Billows. Clearly, it made quite an impression. Michael Tanner introduced me to Nietzsche, and Philip Buckley and Charles Taylor supervised my MA thesis at McGill University on Nietzsche and the self.

   Academic work is often a fairly solitary endeavor, but I never felt alone. Two friends in particular showed great patience in reading the many earlier incarnations of this project: Mark Feldman and Stuart Murray. No friend has shown greater patience with me than Michael Wara. Of the many other people who enriched my life and helped and inspired me on this project, the following stand out for special thanks: Michelle Allersma, Kari Rosenthal Annand, Joanna Brooks, Kyra Caspary, Julia Cho, Steve Frenkel, Juliette Gimon, Natasha Guinan, Kusia Hreshchyshyn, David Kamper, Sara Kendall, Katherine Kim, Minna King, Jens Kjeldsen, Heidi Maibom, Eve Meltzer, Chris Palamountain, Loren Passmore, Deven Patel, Jeya Paul, Ellen Rigsby, Shalini Satkunanandan, and Rebecca Wara. No doubt, in my good fortune, I have overlooked many people to whom I owe a great deal, and I ask their indulgence.

   It is hard, in the end, to say when this project began, with a passion for learning instilled by my family, my first introductions to Thucydides and Nietzsche, or the beginning of graduate school. The publication of this project does represent a more definite ending, and I am very grateful for the thought and care of the editors at Cambridge University Press – Terence Moore, Beatrice Rehl, Louise Calabro, and Helen Greenberg – as well as the anonymous readers who made so many astute comments and suggestions. The questions of this book, those of history, of tragedy, and of language and the self have, of course, not been answered, and I very much hope this book becomes a vehicle for ongoing dialogue.

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