Bryn Mawr Classical Review 97.2.21


Gregory Crane, The Blinded Eye: Thucydides and the New Written Word. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1996. ISBN 0-8476-8130-0.


Reviewed by Kevin Carroll, Department of History, Arizona State University, kcarroll@asu.edu.

This work is a volume in the series "Greek Studies: Inter-disciplinary Approaches" (General Editor Gregory Nagy). It is an attempt to show how certain ideas or attitudes changed in the Greek world between the time of Herodotus and Thucydides. Perhaps I should write, how those two authors reflect or illustrate the changes.

Let me make my negative comments first. The use of Greek vs. a translation or a transliteration is inconsistent. Crane tends to be consistent within a chapter, but not throughout the book (v. chapters 6 and 7). At times a long passage of Greek is given with a translation, sometimes without (see, for example, chapters 3 and 4). The same is true of short passages. There is a similar inconsistency in his figures/charts. Sometimes Greek is given with a transliteration, sometimes only Greek or a transliteration, sometimes only Greek or a transliteration with an English translation, (see, for example, 46-47, only Greek; 84, Greek with an English translation; 141, transliteration with English translation). Normally a transliteration is used in the text, but again there is no consistency. This may be unimportant, but it will make reading the work confusing for people who do not know Greek. And there are such people who will probably find this book of interest.

I also have a problem with the title. It gives only a vague hint as to the matter of the book. Chapters 1 and 7 come closest to justifying the title. On page 81, Crane writes "the usage of Thucydides and Herodotus is the subject of this study." While that comment is meant to pertain to the chapter in which it appears, it is a good indication of what the book is about. There are those who would be interested in the comparisons. Due to the title, they may never look here. Perhaps the title should have reflected the content.

One final negative comment: an index of cited passages would be helpful. The focus of the work is on word usage. When the same passage is cited in different contexts, it would be useful to be able to check the use of the passage for other points. Crane rarely refers to the other occurrences.

With these negative comments out of the way, I would like to say that the book is well worth reading. Anyone interested in how Thucydides wrote and how his use of words shows his basic ideas and interpretations will find this book of great interest. Many have pointed out that an intellectual 'revolution' occurred in fifth century Athens and that Thucydides was a product of this revolution while Herodotus was not. Crane, by a close study of the word usage of the two men, has shown their different outlooks, the differences in their views on society and politics, and the differences in their methods and styles. Their use of the same words and their preference for particular words are analyzed to show the outlook of each man. In doing so, he also shows the change in ideas and outlooks between the two generations.

Ch. 1 gives a description of the growth of the importance of written works in the fifth century and how they affected Thucydides. 23-26 give a brief summary of the points to be made in the other chapters. Chapters 2-6 are the heart of the book. In these chapters, Crane gives a detailed analysis of the language used by the two men. Ch. 2 explores the claims to authority made by both men by concentrating on the word atrekeia (precision). One interesting comment, "Both Herodotus and Thucydides attempt to become transparent lenses onto their subjects, but the two focus on different points, Herodotus on the evidence and the source material, Thucydides on a final intellectual synthesis for which the sources are the tool" (65). 65-73 make several good points about Thucydides' speeches, especially regarding the difference between the spoken and the written word.

Chs. 3-6 take up particular concepts and explain how each author dealt with them: women and kinship, the position of oikos and polis, and religion.

There is not space to go into detail on each of these ideas. Perhaps Ch. 4, "Thucydidean Exclusions and the Language of Polis II: Oikos, Genos, and Polis," will serve as an example.

Crane writes about the distinction between oikos and polis, "Thucydides reflects a trend that we can trace in other sources, but he exaggerated this trend to an unparalleled degree, dismissing virtually all kinship terms, male as well as female. He elides kinship and particular families because he polemically constructs a discourse in which the city-state is predominant" (111). Crane then uses a comparison of word usage by Herodotus and Thucydides to show this conflict. His aim is to show that the polis was becoming the dominant element rather than oikos or genos. "For the Thucydidean Perikles, there were only two players: the polis and the individual citizen, between whom no oikos or kinship group should intervene" (133). Crane's view is that there was a change in focus during the fifth century and that this can be demonstrated by studying Herodotus and Thucydides. Thucydides, according to Crane, seems to have decided that family and kinship had no part in his story (137) and that this shapes Thucydides' account (140).

At times, Crane may be pushing his evidence. One might, at times, question how he views the use of the word oikos and whether all his examples are relevant (e.g., 128, 129 n. 33). But even discounting some of his examples, there are still many to support his view. And he makes a strong case for the idea that the study of word usage can aid understanding of Thucydides' view of his world and how that view influenced his interpretations of events.

The book does give the impression of having been written as separate articles seeking a common theme pasted together by Ch. 1 and Ch. 7. As an interdisciplinary study, it fails. The few references to other fields seem to have been placed simply to justify the book as an interdisciplinary work. There are inconsistencies. Those criticisms should not deter you from reading the book. Crane's study of word usage will be of interest to those who are concerned with the changes in attitudes, both secular and religious, that occurred in the fifth century. By comparing Herodotus and Thucydides, Crane has shown the changes.