Bryn Mawr Classical Review 95.08.05

P.J. Rhodes (ed., trans.), Thucydides: History Bk III. Warminster: Aris & Phillips, 1994. Pp. xiv + 273. £35/$49.95. ISBN 0-85668-539-9 (hb).

Reviewed by Antony G. Keen, The Queen's University of Belfast (

This translation and commentary of Book III of T(hucydides)' Histories follows the edition by Professor R(hodes) of Book II in the same publisher's series1 (though R. reveals that originally this new volume was to have been treated by the late Ian Scott-Kilvert [p. v]), and now forms the centre of a trilogy of commentaries; a third volume on IV.1-V.24 will take R. to the end of the Archidamian War. Those familiar with R.'s commentary on Book II will find that, not surprisingly, little has changed in approach beyond the adoption of a rather more attractive typeface (though behind a less attractive cover). Indeed, the introduction to T., his work, and the Peloponnesian War (pp. 1-29) is repeated largely, though not entirely, verbatim from the previous volume; hence R.'s tendency in this introduction to use examples from Book II rather than III (much of the new material is the presentation of examples from Book III). This, however, cannot seriously be held up as a criticism; as R. himself notes (p. v), he must assume that the readers of this volume have not necessarily used the previous text, and so his introductory material must be presented anew.

The main text of the commentary follows the format by now familiar in the Aris & Phillips series. A Greek text is presented (R.'s own), together with a facing translation; notes then follow, tied to the translation (though occasionally seemingly tied to a slightly earlier version of the translation than that upon which R. has finally settled2). The notes divided into sections according to the division of the work laid out by R. at p. 30, thus allowing the reader, if he wishes, easily to follow the revolt of Mytilene or the siege of Plataia through the work. The notes are thoroughly cross-referenced, to such a degree that it the repetition actually gets slightly annoying for anyone reading the whole text cover-to-cover. Such readers, however, will form a very minor section of R.'s readership (essentially, only reviewers will do this), and it is probably much better that the reader dipping into the volume to see what R. has to say about, for example, chapter 115.5 be referred back to the note on the Athenian general Eurymedon ad 80.2.

These notes are largely historical in nature; where R. does deal with a textual matter (where, for instance, there are variant manuscript traditions) he often (though by no means always) seems most interested in how this would affect the historical meaning of the text. One suspects that R., probably with considerable justification, has decided that the principal users of his volume will be those whose chief interest is in Thucydides as a historian, not as a literary artist. Hence R.'s translation often departs from a rigorous adherence to the original text of T. (something for which R. is clearly unapologetic; see p. v). Not only is the common practice followed of breaking T.'s long sentences down into smaller English sentences, but often R., for the sake of clarity, changes the structure -- the replacement of a Thucydidean active voice with an English passive is common. At no point does R. change the basic meaning of what T. says, but his free translating does mean that any novice reader of T. encouraged by the facing text and translation layout to use this book as a crib will have to use the volume with care.

The cover blurb, proclaiming the volume "useful not only to specialists but also to readers who know little or no Greek", must therefore be qualified with the above caveat. Most readers, however, will find the volume very useful. The thorough background notes and biographies of important individuals such as Kleon or Demosthenes will be of considerable use to the undergraduate, whilst professional Greek historians will want to see R.'s views on such matters as the excursus on stasis at 82-83.3

It is clear that little in the past half-decade of Thucydidean scholarship has caused R. to shift his ground on any major issues since the publication of his commentary on Book II, but equally clear that he has kept abreast of what has been written since 1988. The most important contribution on this score, of course, is the appearance of S. Hornblower's commentary on Books I-III,4 and it is to R.'s benefit, and that of the reader, that he has been able to take account of Hornblower's work; note e.g. p. 202 ad 34.2 and pp. 248-249 ad 92.4.

A few other comments:

P. 176 ad 2.2. the note on ring-composition warrants a reference to the recent work of J.R. Ellis (e.g. "The Structure and Argument of Thucydides' Archaeology", Classical Antiquity 10.2 [1991], 344-380), at least on general principles.5

P. 218-219 ad 55.3. When dealing with the background to the grant of Athenian citizenship to the refugees from Plataia, Badian's views on the relationship between Plataia and Athens ("Plataea between Athens and Sparta", in H. Beister & J. Buckler [eds.], Boiotika [Munich, 1989], pp. 95-111, reprinted in E. Badian, From Plataea to Potidaea [Baltimore, 1993], pp. 109-123) may be radical, but they certainly deserve notice (to be fair, this work is also passed over by Hornblower ad loc.).

P. 230 ad 70.6. It is worth noting that the formula "to recognise the same friends and enemies as Athens" is very similar to that used at the formation of the Delian League ([Aristotle], Athenaion Politeia 23.5). Was Peithias then trying to make Corcyra a tributary ally of Athens? It is surprising that R., whose authoritative work on the Ath. Pol. is well-known, does not comment on this.

There are also production niggles. This reviewer personally has always disliked the aspect of the Aris & Phillips house style by which no indication of a note is given in the text of the translation; occasionally the printing is such that edges of lines are lost (note e.g. p. 205); and somewhere in the course of production the last part of the index (after "Sparta") has been lost.

This is certainly not a radical treatment of T. -- R. tends to agree with Gomme more than with Hornblower (no radical himself), and still maintains e.g. a disbelief in the Peace of Kallias (pp. 183-184 ad 10.4) and a 458/7 date for the Egesta treaty (p. 240 ad 86.1) in the face of a slight trend away from the three-barred sigma orthodoxy -- but a radical approach is not what is required in a work of this nature; what is needed is a good thorough scholarly treatment of the work, usable by students (and scholars) of history and literature alike. Books VI and VII received such a treatment in the 1960s from Sir Kenneth Dover, and we now have from R.'s pen complementary works for Books II and III. The final part of the trilogy is eagerly anticipated.


  • [1] P.J. Rhodes (ed., trans.), Thucydides: History II (Warminster, 1988).
  • [2] Most surprisingly R. changes from "persuaded" in the notes to "induced" for A)NAPEI/SEIN at 70.6, thus losing the point of Thucydides' pun with the name Peithias on which R. comments (p. 230).
  • [3] To the bibliography on which must now be added A.W. Lintott, "Civil Strife and Human Nature in Thucydides", in J.H. Molyneux (ed.), Literary Responses to Civil Discord (Nottingham, 1993), pp. 25-32, with a response by R.I. Winton at pp. 33-35.
  • [4] S. Hornblower, A Commentary on Thucydides, Volume I: Books I-III (Oxford 1991), reviewed in BMCR 3.6.9 (1992).
  • [5] Ellis has dealt with Book III in "The Structure of Thucydides' Dissertation on Stasis and the Authenticity of 3.84" in Electronic Antiquity 1.2 (July 1993), which appeared too late for R. to take note of it.