Bryn Mawr Classical Review 97.4.26


Simon Hornblower, A Commentary on Thucydides, vol. 2, Books IV-V.24. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996. Pp. xvi + 520. £65/$125. ISBN 0-19-814881-X.


Reviewed by P. J. Rhodes, Classics, University of Durham, Durham, DH1 3EU, England.

Hornblower's commentary on Thucydides, like Gomme's before it, has grown in the making: he covers IV.1-V.24 in volume 2, and now expects to complete the work in a third volume. (His revision of Jowett's translation is still to come too.)

Volume 1 (1991: Books I-III) contained no maps; volume 2 contains one (of Amphipolis), and to make its topographical notes clear could usefully have contained more. Volume 1 contained no Introduction, since Hornblower's Thucydides of 1987 was intended to serve the purpose; volume 2 contains 145 pages of Introduction, including a corrected reprint of an article originally published in FILOLA/KWN... H. Catling (1992). The commentary in volume 2 averages slightly more than two pages per chapter of Greek text, which is a slightly more ample treatment than was given in volume 1. Inevitably, and rightly, Hornblower refers to his earlier publications, but volume 2 is more nearly self-contained than volume 1, and one does not need to have the complete works of Hornblower to hand when using this volume as one did when using volume 1.

The commentary (to proceed hysteron proteron) displays the virtues with which the reader will be familiar from volume 1. Although there is a good deal of Greek text in it, as there must be in a serious commentary on a Greek work, Hornblower is anxious to make his commentary accessible to the Greekless, and the Greek is regularly accompanied by translations (Hornblower's revision of Jowett in the case of Thucydides). As he remarks (p. 8), there is a further gain, in that the need to translate forces the commentator to think about the meaning of every word and every sentence, as he might not do if he took the translation for granted and simply focused on passages which caught his attention. Hornblower has a good eye for interesting questions and good sense in answering them; and he has himself read a very great deal of relevant modern work, both work published after Gomme's commentary and work which was published before but not seen, or at any rate not mentioned, by Gomme, so that this commentary is valuable not only for Hornblower's own comments but also for the many occasions on which he draws attention to work by others.

Hornblower stresses his interest in aspects of Thucydides which did not interest Gomme (cf. below, on the Introduction). As in volume 1, he is interested in religion, and in Thucydides' treatment of it and silences about it. Thus IV. 92. 7, on Pagondas' sacrifices before the battle of Delium, attracted a cynical comment from Gomme but is taken seriously by Hornblower. Likewise Gomme had nothing to say about the oaths by which Brasidas claimed to have bound the Spartan authorities (IV. 86. 1), and little to say about the Argive Heraeum, whose destruction by fire is reported at IV. 133. 2-3, but Hornblower does justice to both.

In volume 2 he adds matters of narratology, which he first addressed in his chapter on Thucydides in Hornblower (ed.), Greek Historiography (1994). In particular, he is interested in focalisation, the seeing of events sometimes through Thucydides' own eyes but sometimes through the eyes of some other person or persons. Thus in IV. 23. 1 it is formally unclear whether the Spartan breaches of the truce at Pylos which the Athenians condemned seemed trivial only to the Spartans or also to Thucydides, and whether the Athenian wrongdoing of which the Spartans complained was perceived as wrongdoing only by the Spartans or also by Thucydides; but in the context of Thucydides' evident hostility to the Athenian success at Pylos we are left with the feeling that Thucydides the Athenian did here agree with the Spartans against the Athenians. Hornblower does not refer explicitly to focalisation, though he might well have done, on IV. 28. 4, where the wiser men were glad at the prospect of Cleon's failure (he thinks, and I think, that Thucydides was expressing approval of their opinion, and he does not mention that Andrewes on VIII. 64. 5 thought it just possible that Thucydides was using "the wiser men" as a party label and was not sympathising with the view attributed to them), or on IV. 39. 3, where Cleon's promise was "mad-seeming" (he notes it only as a possibility that "-seeming" is the significance of the -W/DHS suffix in MANIW/DHS). On "the whole place was [imperfect] steep" in the account of the Solygea campaign (IV. 43. 3) Hornblower mentions Stroud's suggestion that Thucydides was repeating what an informant told him, but while referring to Greek Historiography, 165, he does not explicitly repeat the suggestion made there, that, whether or not Stroud is right, the imperfect is to be explained in terms of focalisation, that this is how the slope was perceived by the soldiers.

Another feature in which Hornblower is interested is narrative dislocation, the mention of an item at a point in the narrative other than the obvious point. In Greek Historiography, 139, 165-6, he suggested that Thucydides usually resorts to this when he wishes to lessen the impact of something which would be striking when mentioned at the obvious point. In IV. 70. 1 Brasidas' preparations for his expedition to the north-east are mentioned not in the context of that expedition but in the context of the Athenian attack on Megara, which he helped to frustrate. Hornblower believes that this is not a deliberate piece of dislocation with an ulterior motive but an innocent solution to the problem of "linearisation" that is, of how best to present a set of jumbled events as if they were a linear sequence (cf. Greek Historiography, 143). He does, however, see an ulterior motive in Thucydides' treatment of Athens' regular attacks on Megara. In II. 31. 3, reporting the first of these attacks, in autumn 431, Thucydides remarks that they were made every year; they are not mentioned again until IV. 66. 1, where he gives the further information that they were made twice each year. Hornblower remarks in commenting on the second passage, as he did in Greek Historiography, 145-6, but did not in commenting in volume 1 on the first, on the contrast between the once-for-all treatment of these invasions in the first passage and the individual treatments of the Peloponnesian invasions of Attica; and, following Homeric scholars, he calls the postponement of the further detail to the second passage a technique of increasing precision, suggesting that its effect is to reduce the impact of these invasions on the reader. I accept his point on II. 31. 3, but wonder if it really was by design that the further detail of IV. 66. 1 was not given in the earlier passage.

Presentation through negation is another narrative technique highlighted by Hornblower. For instance, in IV. 94. 1 in the account of Delium Thucydides remarks that the Athenians did not have a regular light-armed force either then or at any other time: Gomme thought that Thucydides was contradicting a popular misconception; but the Athenians themselves can hardly have been misinformed on the matter, and Hornblower canvasses other possible explanations. Another use of negation is in unfulfilled conditions: in IV. 106. 4 "if the ships had not come to the rescue at top speed, Eion would have fallen to Brasidas at daybreak".

Sometimes there is significance in attributive denomination, the way in which a person or place is referred to in a particular context. In IV. 106. 2 Eucles in Eion is referred to not by name but as "the Athenian general in the city", and Hornblower cites Westlake's suggestion that the purpose of this is to underline Eucles' responsibility for safeguarding Athenian interests there. In IV. 56. 2 we may wonder why Cynuria is "the country called Cynuria": the commentary says nothing about this, but in Greek Historigraphy, 162, Hornblower mentions this along with similar instances of "so-called" attribution, used particularly for Athenian and north-Greek places, where perhaps "Thucydides feels coy about showing off his own special knowledge of these areas".

However, it is not a narratological study but L. Kallet-Marx's Money, Expense and Naval Power in Thucydides' History, 1-5.24 (1993) whose publication Hornblower describes as "the most important event in Thucydidean scholarship for many years" (p. v). Much of her work is cited with strong approval, for instance her attack on the suggestion of Meritt and his collaborators that the 2,000 staters taken from Rhoeteum by the Mytilenaean exiles in 425 (IV. 52. 2) were Rhoeteum's tribute to the Delian League, newly collected and about to be sent to Athens -- which is indeed speculative but is still possible. On IV. 50. 1 he cites her insistence that the money-collecting ships mentioned there and in II. 69. 1, III. 19. 1, IV. 75. 1, are not necessarily tribute-collecting ships (with which I agree), and in the Introduction (pp. 93-9) he cites her defence of Thucydides for not mentioning the increase in the League's tribute in 425 (where I am not sure that her suggestion that the increase did not have much effect is either right or a sufficient excuse).

As in volume 1, there are matters in which Hornblower is not interested. On IV. 50, reporting the Persian envoy to Sparta, captured in Athens, and the subsequent Athenian embassy to Persia, which turned back on hearing of Artaxerxes' death, he makes much of the fact that this chapter belongs to winter 425/4 but Artaxerxes is now known not to have died until some time between December 424 and February 423: this is thus a striking instance of prolepsis, departure from the chronological structure of summers and winters to complete an item of narrative in one segment. He makes less of Andocides' Peace of Epilycus, whose authenticity is made virtually certain by the fragment which M. B. Walbank added to the decree for Heraclides (IG I3 227 = M&L 70 with SEG xxxii 10 = M&L addenda [1988], p. 313: he cites the inscription but not the new fragment), and of the striking fact that Thucydides has mentioned the embassy which turned back but not the later embassy which did not turn back.

The last phase of Athenian activity in Corcyra occupies three chapters in book IV (46-8): Hornblower calls it "this revolting piece of narrative" and refers to Auschwitz, but he gives the episode only one page in his commentary. He does not say whether he would print a text of 46. 1 referring to "the" Athenian ships (which I prefer) or to a specified number (as favoured by Gomme and others), and he does not remark on the similarity between the suicides of 48. 3 and those of III. 81. 3). On IV. 49 Hornblower does not comment (and neither did Gomme) on E)KPE/MYANTES: I am among those who follow the Oxford text, believing that it must mean not "expel" but "send out" with *KORINQI/OUS deleted and accusative OI)KTO/RAS as object, but the other interpretation is adopted in the Budé edition. On IV. 65. 3, at the end of the section on the settlement in Sicily, he does not remark on the facts that Eurymedon was treated more leniently than his colleagues, and was to be sent to Sicily again in 413.

In general Hornblower is interested in large issues and in problems in interpretation. Although he has been careful to make his commentary accessible to the Greekless (cf. above), he often does not explain details which the more elementary reader of Thucydides might like to have explained: e.g. lochoi and navarch in IV. 8. 9 and 11. 2. At IV. 31. 1 he does not mention, either to accept or to reject (I reject it), Wilson's suggestion that the Athenians were kept inactive on their ships for nearly twenty-four hours before landing on Sphacteria. At IV. 42. 2 he does not comment on the description of the ancient Corinthians as Aeolians. At IV. 53. 2 he has interesting things to say about the office of Kytherodikes, but does not ask where the Kytherodikes and his garrison were at the time of the Athenian attack.

"But it is (it may be said) easy to find fault with a commentator's distribution of attention. It is more important to ascertain the commentator's views" (p. 78). I note Hornblower's views on some controversial matters.

On IV. 8. 5-6 I agree with him in believing that the "harbour" at Pylos is the great bay and that its "mouths" are the openings to the north and south of Sphacteria (on the lagoon the Minnesota Messenia Expedition gave qualified but sufficient support to Pritchett); I agree that for the width of the southern gap we should follow R. A. Bauslaugh (JHS xcix 1979, 1-6) in reading "eight or nine <stades>" (but in the Introduction, p. 17, he is unhappy that this solution had not occurred to anybody earlier and emphasises that it depends on the hypothesis that Thucydides is likely to have been right); I am more confident than he is that the length of Sphacteria should be emended from 15 stades to 25.

On IV. 27. 3, V. 19. 2, 24. 1, I agree with him in reading Theogenes rather than Theagenes. He reports without committing himself the view (which I regard as probable) that it is the same man who is mentioned in IV and in V, and he cites MacDowell without making it clear that MacDowell's views on the identification of this man differ significantly from those of the other scholars whom he cites. On the office to which Cleon was appointed in IV. 29. 1 (I should say he was made an additional member of the board of strategoi), he notes Develin's ambiguous position but does not state his own.

On IV. 40. 2 F. Bourriot's article in Historia xlv 1996, 129-40, is mentioned in what I imagine is a last-minute addition: Bourriot argues (there, and in a book Kalos Kagathos -- Kalogathia) that kaloi k'agathoi here is a technical term referring to an identifiable élite body which included perioikoi as well as Spartiates, which I find hard to believe.

On IV. 58 Hornblower agrees with Jowett and Gomme that E)S TO\ KOINO/N is to be taken with E)/PEISE rather than with EI)=PEN, but I believe that PEIQO/MENOI in 65. 1 responds to E)/PEISE here and supports the alternative interpretation.

On IV. 66. 1 he agrees with Gomme (as I do) that Megara in 424 was democratic. Again he agrees with Gomme (as I do) on IV. 80. 3, that the Spartans were afraid of the youthfulness (NEO/THTA) rather than the awkwardness (SKAIO/THTA) of the helots and that "Spartan policy towards the helots was largely determined by considerations of security". On IV. 118. 11 he wonders if Thucydides himself, "perhaps unconsciously", omitted the boule from the enactment formula of the decree; but, since inclusion of the boule was absolutely standard in the second half of the fifth century but later depended on the relationship of the probouleuma to the final decree, I like Gomme am sure that the omission should be blamed on a later copyist. I agree with Hornblower that the omission of the archon at this date is unremarkable. A long note on IV. 121. 1 successfully argues that PROSH/RXONTO is an imperfect not of PROSA/RXOMAI = "offer first-fruits to" (nowhere securely attested) but of PROSE/RXOMAI = "go up to"; and a note on V. 11. 1 successfully argues that the "Hagnonean buildings" were cult buildings, i.e. that Hagnon received heroic honours at Amphipolis during his life-time.

The Introduction I have deliberately left to the end of this review. In §1 Hornblower gives a defence of the commentary as a genre, and of the writing of a new commentary on Thucydides when we already have that of Gomme: Gomme's is not only half a century old, but it took for granted an ability to translate Greek (and, it should be added, modern European languages) which cannot be taken for granted in today's readers; it was not interested in religion; and, though Gomme was indeed prepared to address literary as well as historical questions, it could not employ literary approaches which had not been thought of when Gomme wrote. All of that is entirely just, and was worth spelling out here.

The remaining sections of the Introduction are not so much introductory as consolidatory of themes which were at the front of Hornblower's mind when he was working on this volume. §2 considers the extent to which Thucydides was conscious of and engaged with Herodotus -- and indulges in polemic against R. S. Stroud's article on Thucydides and Corinth (Chiron xxiv 1994, 267-302), which maintains that Thucydides was not a "book historian". This is supplemented by two Annexes at the end of the Introduction: a corrected reprint of Hornblower's 1992 article on Thucydides and Herodotus (cf. above), and a list of possible parallels between Thucydides and Herodotus. §3 studies IV.11-V.11 as the aristeia of Brasidas (following a suggestion advanced by J. G. Howie, Parnassos xxxiv 1992, 425-88), arguing that both literary and historical approaches are needed to understand this treatment of a Spartan who was not so unlike other Spartans as Thucydides would like his readers to think. §4, inspired by the work of O. Curty, looks at the treatment of kinship in Thucydides, refining what Curty says about oikeiotes and xyngeneia and remarking (correctly) that Curty has limited his enquiries to too narrow a range of words. §5 considers the speeches in this part of Thucydides, including a note of the occasions when the narrative supports the authenticity of something said in a speech; the new device of Brasidas' "periodically adjusted manifesto", a full speech at Acanthus followed by notes of how that was modified at Torone and Scione (IV. 85-7 with 114. 3-5, 120. 3); and the extended exchange in indirect speech between the Boeotians and the Athenians after Delium (IV. 97-9).

§6 deals with epigraphic matters, in particular the reassessment of tribute in 425 about which Thucydides is notoriously silent (cf. above); the oriental documents which date the death of Artaxerxes I (IV. 50. 3: cf. above); and Thucydides' presentation of names, of Athenians and of others. §7 considers IV.1-V.24 "as a work of art -- innovative or merely incomplete?" Hornblower believes that in this part of his history Thucydides was experimenting, and (for instance) that the documents which he quotes here are not necessarily a sign of incompleteness but that he could have intended to retain them in his final version. In a paragraph unbroken for nearly three pages he suggests that the section on the Archidamian War was not published early, in a definitive sense, though parts of it might have had public or semi-public readings early. "The way is thus open for a view of IV-V. 24 as innovatory and exciting and late, though never wholly revised and at some points less than wholly satisfactory" (p. 122). I am not so sure of the lateness, and do not think it is necessitated by a degree of innovation in this part of the history.

As I said, this material is not in the normal sense introductory: the reader of the commentary who needs an explanation of narratologists' technical terms will have to look not here (e.g. pp. 18-19) but in Greek Historiography; §5 is a contribution to the problem of Thucydides' speeches, and §7 is a contribution to the problem of how much of the history was written when, but neither is an introduction to the problem in question. And (as Hornblower admits: p. v) there are some substantial repetitions in the Introduction of material in the commentary (in particular, 100-1 from IV. 50. 3 on the death of Artaxerxes; but 93-9 on Thucydides and tribute says much more than is said at IV. 50. 1). It is not an Introduction aimed at novices, as indeed the commentary is not aimed at novices, but, though the relationship of Introduction and commentary might have benefited from a little more editing, readers who are already familiar with Thucydides and with some of the scholarship on him will find it very useful to have this material put together.

This is not, then, the one companion which every reader of Thucydides will have to consult, and it is not one which says the last word on every Thucydidean problem. Nobody could write a commentary like that. It is, however, a splendid achievement, which will provide every reader of Thucydides who does consult it with a great deal of enlightenment and food for thought, and will provide academics working on Thucydides with a great deal of material to quarry in. I look forward eagerly to its completion, and hope that the "gap of some years" (p. v) will not be too long.