Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2000.03.05

P.J. Rhodes (ed.), Thucydides: History IV.1-V.24.   Warminster:  Aris & Phillips, 1999.  Pp. xv + 343.  ISBN 0-85668-710-4 (hb).  $59.95.  

Reviewed by Kevin K. Carroll, Department of History, Arizona State University (
Word count: 957 words

This is the third and final volume in Mr. Rhodes' study of Thucydides and the Archidamian War.1 As in the previous two books, Rhodes gives an Introduction, a Greek text with a facing English translation, and a commentary.

The introduction is basically a repeat of that in the other volumes. Rhodes explains that is because a reader may not have seen the other volumes (p. v). The introduction gives a brief biography of Thucydides, comments on the history, a summary of the entire Peloponnesian War, and a discussion of the Archidamian War. Rhodes vouches for Thucydides' general accuracy but does point out that he is not infallible (p. 6). His section on the speeches is good (pp. 7-8); but, like most, he cannot give a final answer to the problem. One point: Rhodes comments that "we may suspect that the amount of attention devoted to the nature of Athenian power in Thucydides' speeches reflects his own obsession with the subject rather than the amount of attention devoted to it in speeches actually delivered" (p. 7). I would suggest that at the time it would have been an obvious point to bring up in speeches, especially if Thucydides is right on the 'truest cause.' The commentary should be consulted on particular speeches.

Rhodes also makes the point that things which Thucydides doesn't tell us are an annoyance to modern readers (p. 8). Gomme in HCT (Introduction to volume 1) also mentions the problem. As Gomme states, there was no need to mention things which were common knowledge at the time. Also, many modern authors do not tell everything they know about a topic. Yet, Rhodes may well be correct is seeing that as another sign that Thucydides is not totally objective.2 Rhodes also has good comments on Thucydides' attitude toward the empire (p. 13). Thucydides seems to be proud of it, but ambivalent about the way it was acquired and maintained.

The Greek text is based on the OCT version by H. Stuart Jones. There is a brief apparatus with the text. Rhodes explains, in the commentary, where and why he differs from the OCT. He also comments on readings where he agrees but sees room for doubt. Most of differences are clearly explained in the commentary. He also discusses copyist errors. I do wonder whether it is a good practice to add to the Greek text where an error is suspected. E.g., there is a sensible note on 4.118.11 on a failure to mention the boule. I do not object to it being put in the translation, but question its addition to the text. There is a good discussion on the transmission of the text (pp. 16-17).

The translation will not surprise most readers. It is pretty straightforward. A. Keen, in his review of the second Rhodes book (see note 1), notes that there is some free translating and so a novice reader using "this book as a crib will have to use the volume with care." In fairness to Rhodes it should be mentioned that he explains individual parts of his translation in the commentary on the appropriate section (4.106.1 and many other places). At times he explains that he adds words to the translation to make the meaning clear (see for example his comments on 4.44.2 and 45.2). Rhodes is careful in his translation. His is the only English translation known to me that correctly translates the word 'autonomy' in the peace terms at. 5.18.5 (Rhodes discusses the word at 4.86.1). Rhodes is careful in his translation of the word eleutheria as well. The importance is clear in the speech given by Brasidas at Acanthus (4.85-87) where Brasidas uses both words. For example he says that he has come to liberate the Greeks and has made the Spartans take an oath to consider the allies he wins over as being autonomous. That has importance both for the meaning of the words and for future actions in the war. Rhodes is equally careful with the use of other words, such as nomos and demos, giving explanations in the commentary.

The commentary is good. It contains, at appropriate points, a discussion of Thucydides' dating (4.1.1; but without mentioning eclipses which are used in the commentary, e.g. 4.52.1; though astronomical events are mentioned in his discussion of the dating in his comments on 3.1.1), gives biographies when an individual first appears (e.g. Brasidas at 4.11.4), comments on the length of a stade (4.3.2 and many other places), as well as other points. All of it helpful to a beginner. The commentary is necessarily brief, but contains references to Gomme where appropriate, as well as to Hornblower. There is a good discussion of disputed points with adequate references to the literature. His detailed analysis of some passages is very useful (e.g. 4.3.1). A review is not the place to go through this commentary section by section. I will say that no one will find it perfect. It deals with all the major points. All readers will find it useful. Cross references are plentiful.

I will mention only a few points. Rhodes cites Westlake at 4.104.4, for Thucydides' account of the capture of Amphipolis by Brasidas. I would have liked a mention of Westlake's view that the section reads like a skillful defense of Thucydides' actions. Rhodes frequently mentions the poor treatment of Cleon. Perhaps some explanation of the political and personal reasons for Thucydides' view should have been given, as well as a clearer statement of how strong the dislike is.

In sum, Rhodes has written a book that all students of Thucydides will find useful. Those familiar with the topic will find much of interest and the work will also serve as a useful start for a beginner.


1.   Thucydides: History II (1988); Thucydides: History III (1994) (reviewed by Antony G. Keen, BMCR 95-8.5).
2.   Rhodes mentions V. J. Hunter, Thucydides, the Artful Reporter, regarding this.

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