Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2011.11.67

Juan Carlos Iglesias-Zoido, El legado de Tucídides en la cultura occidental: discursos e historia. Humanitas supplementum, 10.   Coimbra:  Centro de Estudos Clássicos e Humanísticos da Universidade de Coimbra, 2011.  Pp. 300.  ISBN 9789898281753.  €30.00.  

Reviewed by Immacolata Eramo, Università degli Studi di Bari (

Juan Carlos Iglesias-Zoido’s book represents a useful work for scholars of Thucydides’ Fortleben.1 It is the latest contribution made by Iglesias-Zoido in fifteen years of studies on speeches included in historical works, and in particular protreptic speeches. The book distinguishes itself from other works on the topic because of the attention the author devotes to the speeches as a specific aspect of the History. It is well known that the speeches have a prominent place in Thucydides’ work as can be seen in the much studied methodological chapter (I,22.1), where Thucydides takes his place in Greek tradition - a tradition which is already rooted in Homeric epic - according to which logoi and praxeis together represent the essence of prachthenta.2 The speeches in Thucydides’ work have been the subject of vehement and sometimes heated debate on a series of topics, in particular their relationship to the narration, and the problem of their veracity. Iglesias-Zoido seems to have a good knowledge of these matters and this debate, but instead prefers to concentrate on the role which the speeches in Thucydides’ History had on Thucydides’ reception.

The volume is divided into two parts: the first is an introduction to the work; the second (which is, in turn, divided into two sections) chronologically analyses all the materials regarding the heritage of Thucydidean speeches, dividing the material into time, culture, contexts and readers. The work is completed by a conclusion, a rich and well- informed bibliography, an appendix with a synopsis of Thucydidean addresses (deliberative speeches, harangues, speeches of different types), an index nominum, an index locorum (Greek and Latin authors), an index rerum.

Thucydides’ speeches were, already in ancient times, a “chrestomathy of political and military eloquence”: this is the main focus of the Introduction (pp. 7-31). Iglesias-Zoido sets out the structure of his work, as well as the scope and the method he adopts. He then briefly reviews previous studies which are the essential point of reference for anyone wishing to study the reception of the Thucydidean text over the centuries, beginning with the entry by Otto Luschnat in Pauly-Wissowa (Supplb. XII, 1970, in particular coll. 1266-1323), without forgetting the section by Marianne Pade in Catalogus Translationum et Commentariorum, up to the last part (After Thucydides) of Brill’s Companion to Thucydides by Antonios Rengakos and Antonis Tsakmakis and Modernidades Tucidideanas by Francisco Murari Pires, a work still in progress. Finally, Iglesias-Zoido provides an annotated overview of studies which are specifically devoted to single aspects of the reception of the History.

The first part (La Historia de Tucídides y el papel desempeñado por los discursos, pp. 33-73) is most informative. It gives an outline of the History to an audience of general readers: basic information on the author, the subject of the work, the relationship between Thucydides’ historical method and that of previous historians, first of all Herodotus. Iglesias-Zoido naturally devotes most of his attention to the speeches, starting from the statements at I,22.1. In this chapter, Iglesias-Zoido participates in the debate between Thucydidean scholars, arguing that the speeches of the History are intended to be useful by serving a pragmatic purpose: in his opinion, they are an essential and intrinsic complement to the narration, the only part of the text which is interwoven in the narrative process but at the same time can be removed from it, in this respect sharing some of the characteristics of exempla.

As regards the second part: in the chapter Antigüedad Grecorromana (pp. 77-119), Iglesias-Zoido focuses on the spread of the History in Greece and Rome, highlighting the two fields in which the work took its place: on the one hand it was an unavoidable point of reference for historians – already for Xenophon, the first editor of History.3 On the other it was the prime model for authors interested in rhetoric, as the detailed attention of Dionysius of Halicarnassus testifies. Papyrus discoveries have enabled us to know more about the spread and use of the History in rhetorical schools, through excerpta and syllogai, all materials which also enriched the repertory of the progymnasmata.

In the chapter Bizancio (pp. 121-133) Iglesias-Zoido shows that the “culture of sylloge,"4 which is typical of the Byzantine period, represents a necessary starting and reference point for Thucydides’ work too. A series of data show that also from the 5th to the 14th centuries the History had a double circulation: both the complete History and syllogai, which collected the parts considered to be the most interesting, useful or easiest were in circulation; it seems that the syllogaiwere more frequently circulated; among these parts, there were the speeches. The evidence which Iglesias-Zoido adduces is illuminating: on one hand the manuscript tradition testifies the spread of the complete work – a manuscript transliterated in the 9th century from which two families derive – on the other the excerpta Constantiniana represent and encourage a spreading of Thucydidean excerpts in florilegia. As regards the speeches, Iglesias-Zoido rightly finds a valuable parallel in the selection of Ambrosianus B-119-sup., which helps us to understand what people read in this period. In this manuscript, 17 protreptic speeches, from Xenophon, Flavius Josephus and Herodian, and two epistles by Constantine VII were used by the editor in order to give an up-to-date and practical example of the theories exposed in the rhetorical manual which was copied immediately before.

The next chapter (Edad Media: El Tucídides de Heredia, pp. 135-154) focuses on Juan Fernández de Heredia (1310-96), to whom we owe the first translation of the History into a modern language. In this Spanish context (the author himself is Spanish), but also in Italian and European scholarly circles, in those times Greek works are known only indirectly, through Latin translations, and generally in the form of excerpta. Accordingly, Heredia does not translate all Thucydides’ work, but only the speeches. The characteristics of his work, as well as the existence of other analogous collections (for example Neapolitanus III-B-8), lead Iglesias-Zoido to the plausible conclusion that Heredia’s translation was not made on a complete text, but on a previous selection, which in turn, was a translation from ancient Greek. This conclusion is supported by other evidence, for example the spread of corpuscula of speeches drawn from Sallust’s Historiae or Leonardo Bruni’s Orationes Homeri or Matteo de’ Libri’s Arringhe: according to Iglesias-Zoido, the speeches were considered to be the most fruitful and vital part of Thucydides’ work, the part which deserved to be read and known above all for its value as providing exempla.

Pp. 155-189 deal with the knowledge and spread of Thucydides’ work during the Renaissance. Iglesias-Zoido emphasizes that Thucydides attracted interest during this period not so much as an historical work, but rather as a text which met the needs of mimesis and rhetorical interests of Humanists. From this point of view the first Latin translation by Lorenzo Valla has great value too, above all if we consider the way that these scholars worked. Valla, in fact, used to identify with rubrics the parts of Thucydidean text which he considered as important or significant; among these the speeches were prominent. Again, the preface to the French translation by Claude de Seyssel (1512) can be considered, according to Iglesias-Zoido, a clear indication of the tastes and interests of this epoch: the speeches are considered the most representative part of the History; therefore de Seyssel hopes that his translation will be helpful both in order to spread the knowledge of oraisons et concions and for rhetorical purposes.

Iglesias-Zoido devotes pp. 199-225 to Thucydides’ influence during the 17th and 18th centuries. It was during this period that Thucydidean work was read for its historical method or political interpretation. In this period, Gabriel Bonnot de Mably’s De la manière d’écrire l’histoire was the last author to appreciate the educative and cognitive value of Thucydides’ speeches: according to de Mably, history has a didactic role and performs it thanks to the presentation of these speeches, which make the reader an eyewitness to the acts narrated. Iglesias-Zoido provides only a brief review of the Thucydidean imitations written with a historical and political purpose; instead, he concentrates on the way in which the introduction of speeches in historical narrative was judged by thinkers of that period (first of all Hobbes). Indeed, he judges the French translation by Nicolas Perrot d’Ablancourt to be remarkable for its re-interpretation of Thucydides’ speeches, in this respect d’Ablancourt’s view ran contrary to the general opinion of that time. Ablancourt’s own aim is delectare, and for this reason the speeches acquire in his eyes a greater worth, since they are considered a divertissement useful in making the narration more agreeable and the reading easier.

The last chapter (Edad Contemporánea, pp. 227-244) deals with the history of the reception of Thucydides’ work from Positivism to the present day. Iglesias-Zoido discusses key figures in the tradition and above all considers the questions which are still open to debate: especially the problem of the historical method used by Thucydides and its relevance today, the question of the topicality of Thucydidean speeches in the modern world, and the status of the History as a political, pragmatic and military work. This section would seem a little scanty if it were not for the number and comprehensiveness of its bibliographical references. In the years from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address to Memorial Services in September 2002 and the latest presidential addresses by Barack Obama, the length of the period under review, the complexity of the events, and their differing historical and political dynamics make it hard, if not impossible, to extract the Ancient Lessons for the 21st Century. 5 He concludes that the subjects, the motifs and the topoi expressed in the speeches of the History are of great relevance to the present day.

The last part (Conclusiones, pp. 245-248) is a clear and concise summary . Iglesias-Zoido begins from a paradox: in ancient times the speeches were the most admired and imitated part of Thucydides’ work, but at the same time the part which was considered hardest to understand. There is another paradox at the end of the book: the History has always been unanimously considered to be a difficult and complex work. However, in every period it has proved itself admirably suited to the needs and interests: truly a ktema es aei.

Iglesias-Zoido’s work is serious, well argued and scientifically rigorous. It is also conspicuous for its clarity and easy readability, even for a reader who does not know Spanish well. The number and variety of the materials examined and also the number of studies on this subject could have made the book lack focus. It is to Iglesias-Zoido’s credit that he avoids this problem. He goes well beyond a mere accumulation of material. Instead, he contextualizes the state of knowledge of Thucydides’ work over the centuries. He sticks closely to his line of argument, without ever losing sight of his subject, focusing almost exclusively on the speeches. These scholarly qualities do not deprive the study of a general appeal. In fact, the book is of interest not only to the scholars of Thucydides but even more so to the general reader.

The book is available online at Classica Digitalia.


1.   See, for example, the Acts of the Congress at Bordeaux and Toulouse edited to coincide with Iglesias-Zoido’s volume: Ombres de Thucydide. La réception de l’historien depuis l’Antiquité jusqu’au début du XXe siècle, textes réun. par V. Fromentin, S. Gotteland, P. Payen, Bordeaux 2010.
2.   See, e.g., Ilias XI,703.
3.   Diog. L. II,57.
4.   Iglesias-Zoido borrows this expression from P. Odorico, “Byz. Zeit.” 83, 1990.
5.   Ancient Lessons for the 21st Century is the subtitle of Stephan Haid’s study Why President Obama should read Thucydides (Dias-Analysis no. 34, Nov. 2008, pp. 1-11)

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