Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.05.38

Lisa Kallet, Money and the Corrosion of Power in Thucydides: The Sicilian Expedition and its Aftermath.   Berkeley:  University of California Press, 2001.  Pp. xiii + 347.  ISBN 0-520-22984-3.  

Reviewed by Tim Rood, St Hugh's College, Oxford (
Word count: 2518 words

Lisa Kallet has followed her extremely valuable earlier work on Thucydides, Money, Expense, and Naval Power in Thucydides' History, 1-5.24 (1993), with an even more impressive book. In her earlier book, Kallet combined historical and historiographical approaches. She offered a linear treatment of Thucydides' presentation of the Archidamian War, focussing above all on his view of the financial basis of naval power; and alongside this analysis, she explored, with a notable scepticism about received opinions, the inscriptional evidence for Athenian finances during the war. In this book, Kallet has separated the literary analysis from the study of inscriptions, and it is the literary analysis which dominates. The reason why literary analysis has become more prominent is, Kallet suggests, that Thucydides' techniques for dealing with financial themes become more complicated in the later stages of the war. It is not that the earlier Thucydides lacked sophistication: Kallet's analysis in her first book of the problematic 3. 17 showed that well. Rather, Kallet shows how Thucydides resorted to more complex narrative strategies as part of his overall analysis of the role played by finance during the war. In the first half, the Athenians under Pericles present a positive image of how to spend so as to gain power. In the second half, expenditure becomes problematic as the Athenian politicians lack the Periclean gnome; and Thucydides develops his analysis through techniques such as juxtaposition, careful structuring, temporal dislocation, inter- and intratextual patterning, and the bold application of metaphors to the world of finance.

In her introduction, Kallet passes over in a long footnote Thucydides' treatment of financial themes in his account of the uneasy peace. She justifies this on the grounds that the financial material here does not relate to Thucydides' main themes. Yet it is precisely because the narrative of this section of the History is so unusual that one would have liked a closer analysis of, say, the dispute over money at the Olympia of 420 B.C. -- even if this would only have served as a foil to the treatment of financial themes elsewhere. As it is, Kallet deals in her prelude with 'The Demonstration of Power and the Ambiguity of Expense in the Melian Dialogue'. The links between the Melian Dialogue and the Sicilian narrative have of course often been discussed, but Kallet's focus on financial aspects (e.g. the description of hope as δάπανος) helps her to make some fresh and illuminating points.

After this prelude, Kallet deals first with 'Optical Illusions: Wealth and the Display of Power in the Beginning of the Sicilian Narrative'. Her main theme here is 'the inappropriate role accorded to display, both public and private, in relation to polis power' (p. 82) -- the dangerously seductive display of unreal power as it is practised by Alcibiades in his speech at Athens, by the Athenians in the equipping of their fleet for Sicily, and by the Egestans when they deceive the Athenians as to the extent of their wealth. She makes excellent remarks on narrative features such as the delayed narration of that Egestan trick at 6. 46. She also uses passages from the first half of the History well: notably 1. 10, with its focus on appearance as a misleading criterion of power; and Pericles' precise, prosaic, and unpretentious enumeration of Athenian power at 2. 13, which she contrasts with the bold vagueness of 'many talents' at 6. 31.

In Chapter 2, Kallet turns to 'Intra- and Intertextual Patterns of Failure: Herodotos, Homer, and Thucydides'. Several scholars have noted how Thucydides evokes Herodotus' account of the Persian expedition in his own account of the Sicilian expedition. Kallet points to some intriguing, and previously unnoticed, links with Herodotus' accounts of the Ionian revolt. This has a financial aspect: Aristagoras' promise of ready money to Artaphernes matches the Egestan promise of ready money to the Athenians. (Elsewhere she draws some other interesting links with Herodotus: see, e.g. p. 78 on how Thucydides outdoes Herodotus at 6. 46.) In the rest of the chapter, Kallet develops Virginia Hunter's analysis of how the presentation of the Trojan War in the Archaeology is shaped by the experience of the Athenians in Sicily. Kallet's discussion of the problem caused by a lack of adequate funding for supplies is very convincing. Yet the chapter as a whole does not quite cohere. As Kallet notes, there has been a fair amount of scholarship attempting to trace specific intertextual links between Thucydides 6 and 7 and Homer, but her own account is concerned rather with Thucydides' use of the Trojan War than with his use of specific Homeric intertexts like the Herodotean ones discussed in the first part of the chapter.

Chapter 3, 'Money, Disease, and Moral Responsibility: The Economic Digression and the Massacre at Mykalessos, 7. 27-30', is a revision of an article originally published in the American Journal of Philology 120 (1999) -- an article that (Kallet modestly omits to mention) was winner of the Gildersleeve Prize for the best article printed in AJPh that year (see AJPh 121. 3). Here Kallet tackles a key passage with the attention it deserves: particularly notable is her analysis of medical metaphors and of the links between the economic digression and the pathetic account of the Mycalessus massacre. She also brilliantly relates Thucydides' remark about how the Athenians' power and daring astonished the other Greeks to his comments at 1. 23 on the astonishing pathemata of the Peloponnesian War.

In Chapter 4, Kallet turns to 'Periousia Chrematon, Gnome, and Leadership'. She argues that Thucydides criticizes the initial decision to invade Sicily as well as the inadequate support; and she discusses in particular his focus on Nicias, 'who was particularly useful for Thucydides precisely because of his concern about, and presumed knowledge of, war finance', and who emerges as 'the antithesis of Perikles' (p. 182). Kallet makes many fine points about Nicias' failure to use his insights well, but a problem is that she does not always pay adequate attention to the context of speeches. Even when she notes that Nicias' formulation at 7. 77. 7 ('men are the city') is 'the only one likely to have any force in this context', she still argues that Nicias inverts the Periclean vision. Yet much that Nicias says towards the end of book 7 echoes Periclean sentiments rather closely. I have the same reservation about Kallet's reading of Nicias's argument at 6. 9. 2: 'I myself am honoured from it, and less than others fear for my own person -- although I think that a man who takes some thought both for his personal safety and his property is just as good a citizen, for such a man is more likely than anyone else to want his country's enterprises to succeed, for his own sake.' Nicias is trying to undermine any notion that he opposes the Sicilian expedition through cowardice. So he stresses his personal honour to highlight how much honour he would be losing if he succeeded in overturning the decision to sail. Next, he suggests that he does not care what happens to him -- while acknowledging, for the sake of all those who do have a concern for their own safety and wealth, that some such concern is compatible with patriotism. Nicias certainly does not argue that 'concern for one's individual body and wealth can justly take precedence over the collective health and wealth of the state', as Kallet glosses his speech (p. 80).

Kallet also makes unnecessarily heavy weather of the terms of surrender suggested by Nicias at 7. 83. 2 (an offer to refund Syracuse's expenses, and to give hostages until the money was paid, a talent for every man). Kallet seems to suggest that Nicias is devaluing the men, and also that he is (like Agamemnon in Iliad 9) perversely reconfiguring a ransom exchange. But the offer is not a sign that Nicias thought that money was worth more than men. On the contrary: it shows that he was thinking of preserving as many of the men as possible (cf. 7. 77. 7), and hoping that the Syracusans, whose own expenditure in the war had been great, would agree to his offer. Nor does Thucydides say that Nicias thought that his offer would succeed. Kallet may well be right that Nicias made a misjudgement by not surrendering: as she notes, the slaughter of men at the Assinarus followed. But, if so, it was a misjudgement, not a sign that Nicias was dispensing with traditional values of honour and justice. It is not long after recording Nicias' offer to the Syracusans that Thucydides praises Nicias for his arete (or even, as some have thought, his conventional arete) -- a passage that Kallet does not discuss.

Kallet's inscriptional expertise comes to the fore in Chapter 4, 'The Financing of the Sicilian Expedition and the Economic Nature of the Arche'. Here, she shows the same refusal to bow down to conventional opinion as in her earlier book. First, she examines the inscriptions that have been thought to relate to the initial decision to send an expedition to Sicily (IG i3 93 = ML 78), and shows just how problematic that traditional assumption is. Next, she looks at the inventories of Athena, and shows the paucity of evidence for large-scale spending in Sicily, concluding that 'we cannot find any evidence of major funding from Athens for the expedition' (p. 195). Here Kallet does, tentatively, try to use the inscriptional evidence to support her reading of Thucydides' narrative, with its suggestions of inadequate funding. Finally, Kallet makes the interesting speculation that the imposition of the eikoste (7. 28. 4) should be associated with IG i31453, the 'Standards Decree' (her rejection of the term 'Coinage Degree' is significant). Whether or not one is convinced by this speculation (and her treatment of epigraphic evidence is so valuable precisely because she always makes explicit how much is uncertain), her general discussion of the rather neglected eikoste is extremely helpful. She sees in it a sign that the Athenians were rethinking their empire in terms of economic domination; she also discusses its significance for non-citizens, and the issue of land -- versus trade-based taxation. On one historiographical point, however, I found Kallet's argument less convincing. She argues that Thucydides was critical of the Athenians' decision to replace the tribute with the eikoste. But while he certainly hints that it was a mistake when he says that they 'thought' that the new tax would increase their income, he does seem to suggest that they were responding to a genuine difficulty. (Against Kallet, p. 138, I would not put much emphasis here on the presentation by negation, 'instead of the tribute', at 7. 28. 4; so too, on different points, at pp. 92-3 and 106 n. 93.) Kallet also argues that Thucydides saw the Athenians' decision to use their reserve fund at 8. 15. 1 as misguided (pp. 248-50). She seems, indeed, inclined to see a connection between the negative presentation of the Athenians' passionate greed at 6. 24 and these two later decisions. But perhaps Thucydides merely implies that it was the misguided decision to invade Sicily that imposed on the Athenians those two later decisions.

The final chapter, which covers 'The Problem of Money in the Ionian War', is bolstered by an Appendix on three key terms in Book 8: τροφή, μισθός, χρήματα. The close analysis provided by the chapter and the appendix well shows the coherence of Thucydides' presentation of financial themes in a section of the work that has often been thought problematic. Kallet brings out well the main strands of Thucydides' analysis: the Spartans fail to appreciate the financial demands of naval warfare, the Athenians in turn are again deluded by the promise of financial gain, and stalemate results. Her explanation of why financial details paradoxically become less prominent when the tempo of the naval war increases towards the end of the book is excellent. It well shows the value of detailed analysis of the precise terms of Thucydides' narrative. One reservation: Kallet discusses the end of book 8 as if the book divisions were themselves Thucydidean (cf. her comment on p. 277: 'If we had the conclusion of book 8, we might well find an even more elegant closure'; also pp. 281 and 282-3).

I close with three comments on particular passages:

pp. 42-3, on the translation of οὐ ναυτικῆς καὶ φαύλου στρατιᾶς at 6. 21. 1: Kallet translates 'Against such a power as this the navy and paltry army are not enough; we need also to sail with a sizable infantry', and (p. 42 n. 77) writes that 'Crawley's translation wrongly takes φαύλος with ναυτικόν'. Kallet's translation agrees with those of Hobbes ('we shall therefore need not a fleet only, and with it a small army') and Lattimore ('there is need not simply of a fleet and a meager army'). But her criticism of Crawley is wrong. ναυτικῆς is an adjective, not a noun; like φαύλου, it goes with στρατιᾶς . Cf. Dover (ed. of Book 6): 'there is need not simply of a naval and [otherwise] inadequate force'; Bodin and de Romilly: 'il ne suffit pas d'une armée navale et quelconque'. The correct translation makes Kallet's stylistic point all the more pointed: 'The word order, juxtaposing dunamin and ou nautikes at the beginning of the sentence, would have been unexpected to Athenians accustomed to think of their navy as invincible.' Nicias is perhaps implying that a mere naval force is itself paltry against the Sicilians' power: the καί is almost epexegetic. (Dover's gloss 'naval and <otherwise> inadequate force' perhaps obscures this; so too do Jowett's 'more is needed than an insignificant force of marines' and the Loeb edition's 'we need not only a naval armament of such insignificant size'.)

p. 44: The nominative form of Thucydides' phrase is wrongly given as ὀχλώδης rather than τὸ ὀχλώδες.

p. 64 n. 139, on the meaning of πρὸς οὓς ἐπῇσαν at 6. 31. 6: 'Rood translates the clause . . . "relative to the number who actually participated" (131). While this is attractive, . . . it makes no sense when considered with the preceding clause. . .' For 'Rood', read 'Lugenbill': cf. my own objections to Luginbill's interpretation in my review of his Thucydides on War and National Character (BMCR 2000.02.20).

Overall, this is a rich and stimulating book of great importance both for students of Thucydides' historical thought and for historians interested in the Peloponnesian War or in ancient economic history. Kallet has shown the rewards to be reaped from a detailed study of Thucydides' handling of money, and she has shown this by analysing the nuances of Thucydides' narrative with the care that has tended only to be bestowed on his speeches. Not all of her arguments convince, but there is a wealth of important observations in this book, and her analysis consistently provokes further reflection. (And who else would have thought of trying to work out how many coins would be needed to fill four upturned shields?) The book is well-produced, with a good index and an excellent index locorum.

Read Latest
Index for 2002
Change Greek Display
Books Available for Review

HTML generated at 13:27:56, Friday, 03 April 2009