Bryn Mawr Classical Review 98.2.11


Charles D. Hamilton and Peter Krentz (edd.), Polis and Polemos: Essays on Politics, War, and History in Ancient Greece in Honor of Donald Kagan. Claremont, CA: Regina Books, 1997. Pp. xviii, 368. $39.50 (hb), $19.50 (pb). ISBN 0-0941690-76-8.

Contributors: R.P. Legon, E.A. Meyer, P. Krentz, B. Manville, J. Hale, J.E. Lendon, B. Strauss, P. Rahe, W.J. McCoy, C.D. Hamilton, D. Rice, V. French, A. Bernstein, K.W. Harl, J. Williams, J. Bregman.


Reviewed by Janice J. Gabbert, Wright State University, Dayton, OH 45435, jgabbert@desire.wright.edu.

Collections of essays are often disappointing because the contributions are uneven, and frustrating because they often lack a common theme. This book shatters those objections and excels in other respects as well.

The organization of the book is laudable. If any reader does not know of Donald Kagan, he is immediately greeted with a fine full-page photograph, a short informative preface by Hamilton, a biography of Kagan, and a complete bibliography of his works.

The sixteen contributors are all former students of Donald Kagan and their relationship to the honoree is made clear at the beginning of each essay. Donald Kagan's interests are wide, but his special concern has always been Athens and the Peloponnesian War. The essays here reflect that; the first ten of the sixteen essays aptly fit the title of Part I: "Thucydides and the Peloponnesian War." The final six essays in Part II: "After the Peloponnesian War," adhere closely to the subjects of Athens, Sparta, war, and political behavior.

Like their mentor, the contributors have not forgotten that they are not only "ancient historians" but historians-without-adjective who can, should, and do make connections with later periods of history, including the present. That wide-ranging intellectual openness makes these essays valuable beyond the appeal to the specialist.

The pattern of organization of each essay is the same: an opening tribute to Kagan, an introduction stating the thesis of the essay, the argument, a conclusion. The arguments are very rigorous and well-documented (this is not light reading). The reader is assumed to have a good knowledge of ancient history, especially fifth and fourth century Greece, but the Greek is almost always translated; in those few cases where a word or phrase is not translated, the discussion makes the meaning clear. These essays are thus accessible even to advanced under-graduates who may have little or no knowledge of Greek.

This is serious scholarship, and will no doubt generate some disagreement here and there. I will not attempt a detailed analysis and critique of each article (which might make this review almost as long as the book), but indicate only the subject matter so that the reader will know what is contained herein:

1. The first essay by Ronald Legon, "Thucydides and the Case for Contemporary History," argues that T. had been a serious student of history for some time when the war began and fully intended to write a history in the way he thought it should be written. The summaries in Book I are evidence of his prior research. The outbreak of the war gave him an opportunity to apply better standards of evidence, which would be available in a contemporary event. The speeches are not merely for dramatic effect; they indicate the options available to participants in each case, and why certain choices were made.

2. Elizabeth Meyer in "The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War After 25 Years" summarizes the scholarly opinions as to the cause(s) of the war, beginning with Kagan in 1969. All opinions are carefully analyzed and criticized; she attaches a copious bibliography.

3. Peter Krentz in "The Strategic Culture of Periclean Athens" argues against the agonistic nature of warfare in the fifth century and considers the strategic expectations of both sides and in what way the Spartans might have followed a different strategy.

4. Brooks Manville in "Pericles and the 'both/and' Vision for Democratic Athens" explains the success of Pericles by his ability to avoid 'either-or' thinking both in his leadership of the democracy and in his war strategy. A detailed analysis of the Funeral Oration reveals a consistent embrace of paradox: the Athenians are ... [lovers of beauty] ... but not ... [soft].

5. In "General Phormio's Art of War: A Greek Commentary on a Chinese Classic," John Hale compares aphorisms of Sun Tzu in his famous fifth century B.C. handbook on the Art of War to the actual practices of the contemporary Athenian general Phormio and finds striking similarities. If Phormio had written a manual on warfare, it would have looked a lot like Sun Tzu. The historical realities were similar in both places, and produced similar attitudes and behavior. Both believed in "the ultimate power of knowledge" and "view[ed] the art of war as resting on the mental power of the individual leader" (102).

6. J. E. Lendon offers an analysis of "Spartan Honor" viewed through an anthropological lens of "shame culture." The Spartan emphasis on obedience seems at odds with the agonistic culture which they otherwise fully embraced. The explanation is that the Spartans were competitive not only in bravery and honor, but also in obedience: it was an honor to be braver than the others, also to be more obedient than others.

7. In a wide-ranging essay, "The Art of Alliance and the Peloponnesian War," Barry Strauss notes that the freedom and autonomy cherished by Greeks made alliance difficult and hegemony temporary, and offers historical parallels over nearly five millennia -- from Sumer and Akkad to Republican Rome and the current twentieth century.

8. Paul Rahe in "Thucydides and Ancient Constitutionalism" notes a difference of emphasis between ancient and modern ideas of the purpose and role of government. The ancients practiced a "politics of trust" (151) based on 'paideia': Governments must be structured so that the citizens will be properly educated, especially in character formation, and with widespread good character, people can be trusted to use 'logos' to share in the power of the state. Modern ideas of constitutionalism are based on a "politics of distrust" (152) in that proper institutions to control inevitably wicked behavior are more important than character formation. Close attention to the text of Thucydides reveals some skepticism on the part of T. about the ancient model.

9. Theramenes has long been a controversial character in late fifth century Athens. In "The Political Debut of Theramenes," W.J. McCoy argues that Theramenes was young and naive in 412 when he was brought into the oligarchic revolution because of his family connections. He learned the art of politics the hard way, by being badly used. He eventually learned to play the game rather well himself, and was ultimately a patriot.

10. C. D. Hamilton in "Thucydides on the End of the Peloponnesian War" poses the intriguing question, What if Thucydides had finished his history? H. offers a careful analysis of all extant sources for the events from 411 to 404, as well as the style and methodology of Thucydides, to essentially give us a good end to Thucydides' history!

11. In the first essay of Part II, which deals with the period after the Peloponnesian War, "Litigation as a Political Weapon: The Case of Timotheus of Athens," David Rice analyzes the political factions in Athens and the personal rivalry of the pro-Theban Timotheus, against Iphicrates and Callistratus in the first few decades of the fourth century.

12. Valerie French looks at Sparta in the years after the battle of Leuctra in "The Spartan Family and the Spartan Decline: Changes in Child-Rearing Practices and Failure to Reform." The decline in manpower resulted in a change in the role of women and their attention to child-rearing, with consequent changes in the children and their values and attitudes. She includes a useful appendix on the major sources (Xenophon, Aristotle, and Plutarch).

13. Alvin Bernstein offers a comparison of fourth century Sparta and the twentieth century A.D. Soviet Union in "Imperialism, Ethnicity & Strategy: The Collapse of Spartan (and Soviet) Hegemony." He has very little specific to say about the fall of the Soviet Union, but a very good summary of fourth century Sparta, with the pertinent observation that autarchy and empire are not compatible (296); the reader is left to draw his own conclusions.

14. "Alexander's Cavalry Battle at the Granicus" by Kenneth Harl takes a fresh look at this battle with the advantage of personal autopsy of the battlefield site. There are three maps, but one could wish for better topographical maps. Most scholars have concentrated on why the Persians lost; Harl investigates why Alexander won. The Persian deployment was not faulty, but rather sensible under the circumstances (though not brilliant). The Persians had sacrificed mobility for secure flanks; Alexander took advantage of their lack of mobility with speed and timing.

15. In "Ideology & The Constitution of Demetrius of Phalerum," James Williams argues in favor of ideology. The issue is to what degree Demetrius was a pragmatist and to what degree he was influenced by his philosophic studies. Williams copiously documents the apparent constitutional actions of Demetrius and compares them to theories of Plato and Aristotle; the bibliography is extensive, although his target is primarily the article of H. J. Gehrke in Chiron 1978.

16. Finally, moving far from Athens and the Peloponnesian War, Jay Bregman looks at "The Emperor Julian's View of Classical Athens." Julian was "above all a champion of Hellenism, which he understood ultimately in religious terms." (357) This article is an attempt to carefully define that mix of religion, philosophy, and culture. These essays are all thought-provoking, well-researched, and well-argued. They do have a common theme, very little stretched even at the end: Athens, Sparta, politics, and war. The technical production is good: I found only five typographical errors in the entire text, all of them quite minor (pages 6, 56, 202, 229, 236).