Sunday, January 3, 2010

Thucydides on NPR

NPR has a bit with Donald Kagan on Thucydides the historian, the spin doctor:

Without a man named Thucydides, the chances are slim that we'd know
anything about the Peloponnesian War. A new book about the man
attempts to correct what we know.

For more than a quarter of a century, starting in 431 B.C., two Greek
cities faced off. Sometimes they confronted each other directly, and
sometimes through proxies and allies. Thucydides recorded the details
of the conflict throughout the war and, Yale professor Donald Kagan
tells NPR's Guy Raz, "invented the modern understanding of history."

The war between Athens and Sparta has long since become an allegory of
modern conflicts like the Cold War, Vietnam, Iraq — even
Afghanistan. Historians and students of Thucydides all draw
comparisons back to that ancient conflict. Kagan says Thucydides was
the first person to apply rigorous scholarship in the approach to

Kagan's own four-volume history of the Peloponnesian War is considered
a seminal work, widely cited by students and scholars. His latest
book, Thucydides: The Reinvention of History, delves into the ancient
author and why he may not have always told the truth.

Thucydides was born around 455 B.C. to a noble Athenian family. During
his youth, the Athenian empire was ruled by Pericles, who was
something of a benign autocrat. But after Pericles' death in 429 B.C.,
the governance of Athens was taken over by a group of self-proclaimed
democrats — most likely an affront to Thucydides' family, Kagan
says, who would have had a deep skepticism of democracy.


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