5 Thucydides’ Use of the First and Second Images in History of the Peloponnesian War

In the second chapter, it was shown how commentators have criticised neorealists for misinterpreting Thucydides. Two areas of analysis have highlighted that Thucydides does not fit neatly into the realm of neorealism: His use of the First Image (individuals) and second Images (internal structure of states) and also his differing conception of power and hegemony. This chapter will substantiate the above claims that the First and Second levels of analysis can be seen in Thucydides’ History. In doing so, extracts from Thucydides’ primary source, his History of the Peloponnesian War (1979) will be used exemplifying where First and Second levels of analysis can be seen. In particular, these key important dialogues will be used: The Debate at Sparta and Declaration of War, Pericles’ speeches, the Mytilenian debate and the Sicilian Debate. It will be firstly shown through the Declaration of War at Sparta that the Second Image played an important role in shaping the foreign policy of the Greek polis. Sparta’s reluctance to go to war can be attributed to its moderate and slow reacting demeanour. In addition, the First Image can also be seen with speeches from Spartan King Archidamus and ephor Sthenelaidas - who ultimately sways the debate. Pericles’ speeches, his response to the Spartan ultimatum and the funeral oration, also exhibit both levels of analysis. Firstly the first level of analysis is seen with the importance attributed to the individual Pericles, and secondly the second level of analysis is seen with Athens’ unique Athenian political system argued responsible for Athenian success. In the latter half of the chapter, with the Mytilenian and Sicilian debates, it will be further shown the crucial importance that individuals played in shaping Athens’ actions. The debate over the fate of Mytilene, an Athenian rebel state, is effectively left in the hands of two individuals. Even more drastic is the Sicilian Debate, where trust in the wrong individual, Alcibiades, leads to the ‘downfall of Athens’ (Thucydides, 1972, p. 418). The chapter will present these dialogues in chronological order to contextualise events for further critical analysis developed in chapter 4.

5.1 The Debate at Sparta and the Declaration of War: 431BC

The debate between Sparta and its allies was of paramount importance; it starts with a dispute over Athenian aggression against the island of Potidaea and ends with a de facto decision to go to war against Athens. More importantly for the purpose of this chapter, it exemplifies Thucydides’ use of the First and Second Images in explaining state behaviour. Thucydides records four speeches constituting two debates, one between Corinthian and Athenian (mentioned in next chapter) speakers for and against Spartan action and one between Spartan leaders deliberating whether or not action should be taken. The Corinthian delegates begin the first debate criticising the Sparta’s national character. According to the Corinthians it is because of the Spartan character that the Athenians have been able act aggressively to allies. The Corinthians suggest that the Spartans are ‘reluctant to listen’ to others, due to the great trust they have in their own constitution and way of life (Thucydides, 1979, p. 73). Whilst this is a quality that certainly makes them ‘moderate’ in their judgements, it is responsible for a ‘kind of ignorance’, which they show when they are dealing with foreign affairs (Thucydides, 1979, p. 73). The Spartans are the ‘only people in the Hellas’ who wait calmly on events, waiting until their enemy has ‘grown double [their] strength’ to act upon matters (Thucydides, 1979, p. 73). The Corinthian delegates then compare the ‘enormous’ difference between the Sparta’s national character and Athens’ for effect (Thucydides, 1979, p.73). The Athenians are presented as innovative, ‘quick to form a resolution and quick at carrying it out’ (Thucydides, 1972, p. 75). Whereas the Spartans, good at keeping the status quo, ‘never’ originating in ideas and with Spartan actions tending to stop short of their aims (Thucydides, 1972. p. 75). Thus we can see the use of second level of analysis here with the Corinthian and allied delegates blaming Athenian aggression on Spartan institutions. This is not only the view of the Corinthians however, as it will be now shown in the second debate used to show the first level of analysis, key Spartan individuals supported this stereotype.

Indeed Spartan King Archidamus reaffirms the archetypical Spartan character further, arguing against haste in going to war with the ominous Athenians: Here the Spartans would be engaged with people who have the ‘widest experience of the Sea’, who are ‘extremely well equipped’ and ‘very wealthy’(Thucydides, 1972, p. 75). As for being slow and cautious, King Archidamus argues that there is nothing to be ashamed of: ‘slow and cautious’ can equally well be wise and ‘sensible’ (Thucydides, 1972, p.75). After the speech of Archidamnus, Sthenelaidas, one of the ephors that year, came forward to make the final speech. In a very short speech Sthenelaidas argues that the Spartan’s should come to the help of their allies quickly and with all their might rather than discuss and deliberate (Thucydides, 1972, p. 86). The Spartans act in accord to Sthenelaidas’ wishes and vote to send an ultimatum to the Athenians. In sum, in this passage it can be seen that the Spartan national character was important in delaying action against the Athenians, of which the allies felt was necessary long before the debate. The First Image is also seen with Thucydides’ recording of prominent individuals’ in the debate, the ephor Sthenelaidas effectively dissuades the Spartans from voting in their usual conservative manner, and compels them to go to war against the Athenians.

5.2 Pericles’ Speeches –Response to the Spartan Ultimatum and the Funeral Oration: 431BC

Again, both First and Second Images can also be seen in the speeches of Pericles’. Needless to say, with two speeches given by a single individual the First Image can again be seen in Thucydides’ History (1972). Moreover, Pericles is undoubtedly one the most important individuals in Thucydides’ History (1972). Thucydides states that under Pericles, ‘Athens was at her greatest’ (Thucydides, 1972, p. 163). Indeed, Thucydides notes that Pericles was such a powerful individual that in what was normally a democracy, ‘power was really in the hands of the first citizen’ (Thucydides, 1972, p. 163). So naturally when the Spartans send an ultimatum to the Athenians, as the ‘leading man of Athens’, Pericles’ response is recorded (Thucydides, 1972, p. 163). Pericles advises the Athenians not to give into Spartan demands and to support his case for war Pericles uses the second level of analysis. Whereas in a ‘single battle’ the Peloponnesians could stand up to the whole of Greece, they cannot fight a war against a ‘power unlike themselves’ (Thucydides, 1972, p. 119). This is so long as they gave ‘no central deliberative authority’ to ‘produce quick decisive actions’, unlike the Athenian empire (Thucydides, 1972, p. 119). Pericles then goes on to emphasis the sui generis Athenian military. Seamanship, is a ‘difficult lesson to learn’ (Thucydides, 1972, p. 119) Pericles’ tells the Athenians they have been ‘studying it since the Median war, and yet, ‘have still not entirely mastered it’ (Thucydides, 1972, p. 120). This national characteristic thus gives the Athenians an advantage. Again selected for his ‘intellectual gifts’ (Thucydides, 1972, p. 143), Pericles is used for the Athenian funeral oration to commemorate those who had died in the first year of the war. Pericles speech eulogizes Athens national character. The Athenian system of government, Pericles states, is a ‘model to others’ (Thucydides, 1972, p. 145). Differing from Athens’ neighbours, Pericles reminds the crowd he is addressing, that Athens is a democracy: Power is in the hands of the people not a minority; disputes are settled before the law, and a man’s ability, not his birth right, decide his fate (Thucydides, 1972, p. 145). Taking all this together, Pericles declares that Athens is an ‘education to Greece’ (Thucydides, 1972, p. 139). Thus with the prominence that the Athenian internal composition is given for the success of Athens, it again shows how the second level of analysis can be seen in Thucydides’ History (1972). After his death, Pericles’ wise predictions in these two speeches are realized. For Pericles had said that Athens would be victorious if it bided its time and took care of her navy, if it did nothing to risk the safety of the city itself. But his successors did the ‘exact opposite’ (Thucydides, 1972, p. 164), and in other matters which apparently had no connection with the war private ambition and private profit led to policies which were bad both for the Athenians themselves and for their allies. These Post-Periclean individuals will now be discussed.

5.3 The Mytilenian Debate: 427BC

When Mytilene revolt in 427BC, it can further be seen the importance that the First Image had in shaping Athenian state behaviour. The debate is summoned to decided best on how to deal with Mytilene, an Athenian subject who had revolted. The reader is noted that the Athenians had originally sentenced the entire population to death in punishment for revolting, but a sudden change in feeling’ opened up chance for another debate (Thucydides, 1972, p. 212). Two key individuals preside over the debate, Cleon and Diodotus. Thucydides, illustrating the importance of the individuals devotes time to providing character depth. Thucydides starts the passage with description of Cleon: Cleon is ‘remarkable’ among the Athenians for the ‘violence of his character’. Thucydides (1972, p. 212) informs the reader, that at this time, Cleon ‘exercised the greatest influence over people’. Cleon starts his speech with an attack on those who called for recall of debate: ‘personally I have had occasion enough already to observe that a democracy is incapable of governing others’ especially when he sees that the Athenians are now changing their minds about the Mytilenians (Thucydides, 1972, p. 214). Insulting the demos, Cleon states that any novelty in an argument deceives them ‘at once’ and that they are too easily led. The Athenians should instead revert back to the original plan, which would stop all allies revolting on the slightest pretext (Thucydides, 1972, p. 214).

Diodotus, the next person to speak is presented as a more moderate, but pragmatic individual (Kagan, 2005, p. 109). Diodotus argues that the question is not so much of whether the Mytilenians are guilty, but a question of whether the Athenians are making the ‘right decision’ for themselves (Thucydides, 1972, p. 218). Harsh penalties will not stop further revolts: not only would it serve to make allies consider much more careful preparations for revolt, but it would also make allies more likely to hold in sieges to the very end, ‘since to surrender early or late simply means the same thing’ (Thucydides, 1972, p. 218). The demos are persuaded by Diodotus’ advice and passed his motion to avoid the elimination of the entire island of Mytilene. In sum this passage leaves the reader with the impression that Thucydides put the fate of the entire population of Mytilene into two prominent individuals’ hands. Explicitly noting the influence the individuals had over the demos the passage provides further evidence of Thucydides’ use of the First Image.

5.4 Sicilian Debate 415BC

The debate on whether to launch the Sicilian Expedition is a final important illustration of how Thucydides employs the First Image in his History. In the winter of 415 BC the Athenians decided to sail against Sicily and conquer it. Again before the launching of expedition, a key debate emerged with two speakers, Nicias and Alcibiades. The first of the speakers was Nicias, who was instructed by the demos to lead the expedition. Nicias is presented as a moderate individual, similar to Pericles, but without Pericles’ rhetorical skills. Wisely, Nicias believes that the Athenians were making a mistake: the Athenians had still not tended to the revolting Chalcidians in Thrace, and in other areas too, the Athenians were only getting ‘grudging obedience’ from their subjects (Thucydides, 1972, p. 415). Another expedition thus, would overextend Athens’ reach. Nicias urges the demos not to follow Alcibiades’ advice, which was in favour of the expedition: Alcibiades for his own ‘selfish reasons’ wanted the expedition to go ahead, as he would be in command (Thucydides, 1972, p. 417). Nicias warns the demos that Alcibiades is ‘too young for his post’, and that they should not be rhetorically coerced by this individual, as he wisely predicts, the ‘country is on the verge of the greatest danger she has ever known’ (Thucydides, 1972, p. 418). Yet Nicias’ prudent calculation was swept aside as Alciabades the ‘most ardent supporter of the expedition’ presented his overzealous argument (Thucydides, 1972, p. 418).

Alcibiades fits the description of post-Periclean leaders that Thucydides notes in his second book: leaders so busy with their personal intrigues for securing the leadership of the people that they brought confusion into the policy of the state as a consequence (Thucydides, 1972, p. 164). These traits are reflected in his speech. Alcibiades first addresses Nicias attack, proclaiming arrogantly that it is quite natural for his fellow citizens to envy him, due to the magnificence with which he had done such things in Athens (Thucydides, 1972, p. 420). Turning to the issue at hand, Alcibiades notes that there is nothing to be concerned about in launching an expedition: Nicias’ faction talks about enemies that the Athenians will leave at home if they sail, but there fathers left behind them these same enemies when they had the Persians on their hands, and so founded the empire relying solely on their superiority in sea-power (Thucydides, 1972, p. 420). The city, like everything else will wear itself out of its own accord if it remains at rest, and its skill in everything will grow out of date; but in conflict it will constantly be gaining new experience (Thucydides, 1972, p. 420). The demos unaware of its implications pass Alcibiades’ motion. Thucydides notes that the Athenians were trusting Alcibiades when they should not have (Thucydides, 1972, p. 420). This is because whilst in a public capacity ‘his conduct of war was excellent’, his personal way of life made him ‘questionable to everyone (Thucydides, 1972, p. 418) Thus, unaware, the Athenians entrusted their affairs to other hands, and ‘before long ruined the city’ (Thucydides, 1972, p. 418).

5.5 Summary

In sum, from this chapter it can be seen that Thucydides’ uses both the first and second levels of analysis extensively in the History of the Peloponnesian War (1979). In earlier speeches, attention given to internal composition and national character of both Athens and Sparta shows the use of second level of analysis in his History. Furthermore, with the great importance Thucydides attributes to individuals, the First Image can also be seen. Pericles is regarded by Thucydides as a very person for Athens, presiding over Athens’ ‘greatest years’ (Thucydides, 1972, p. 164). In contrast, Pericles’ successors are explicitly blamed (Thucydides, 1972, p. 164), for the downfall of Athens. The more deep seated reason for these individuals’ failure will be shown in the next chapter, dealing with Thucydides’ conception of power and hegemony.