Thucydides 1.87.1-3, 1.23.6


[1] Things such as these said, [Sthenelaïdas] himself, being an ephor, proposed a vote (ἐπεψήφιζεν) in the assembly of the Lacedaimonians. [2] And he—for they judge by shout and not by vote (ψήφῳ)—said he did not discern (διαγιγνώσκειν) which shout of the two [was] greater, but, wanting to make [them] more zealous for warring through an apparent display of the decision (φανερῶς ἀποδεικνυμένους γνώμην), he said, “To whomever among you, Lacedaimonians, the treaty seems to be broken and the Athenians to do injustice, let him stand up in that place there,” displaying which place for them, “but to whomever they do not seem, in the [places] opposite the other of the two [places].” [3] And standing up, they stood apart (ἀναστάντες…διέστησαν), and they came to be more by many, [those] to whom the treaty seemed to be broken.


For, as regards the motive most true, but most unapparent in speech (ἀφανεστάτην…λόγῳ), I believe the Athenians’ coming to be great and the consequent fear of the Lacedaimonians to have compelled [them] into warring. But the reasons spoken in appearance (ἐς τὸ φανερὸν λεγόμεναι) by each of the two were these here,* from which, breaking the treaty, they set down into war.

*Thucydides means the ensuing discussion in 1.24-66 (cf. 1.66).

  1. The detail Thucydides gives the Spartan vote is peculiar, for the procedure could have been skipped and the outcome clearly stated: they decided for war (cf. 1.125.1). Of course, Sthenelaïdas’ purpose is to encourage the perhaps overly cautious Spartans. But the need for encouragement is by now obvious after the Spartan king Archidamos’ long speech advocating caution, to say nothing of the prior speeches by the Corinthians and Athenians. Why, then, include such a small deed, when the speeches thus far appear sufficient?
  2. In 1.24-66, Thucydides shows how split allegiances bring about the question of war between Athens and the Peloponnesos. While the cases of Epidamnos and Potidaia are clear, the most interesting example from Thucydides’ display is Corinth. Corinth is, of course, situated geographically between Sparta and Athens; but Thucydides also suggests it’s in the middle politically. For, by first aggressively provoking in deed the largely defensive Athenians at Corcyra and Potidaia and then invoking the treaty of peace in speech before the Spartans, the Corinthians prove to be a mixture of fearfully cautious Sparta and ambitiously imperial Athens.
  3. This duality, however, is not restricted to the Corinthians, but includes the Athenians and Spartans, as well. For, in the end, the Spartans are persuaded to enter an admittedly huge military endeavor. And, likewise, the Athenians signed the treaty in the first place and presently advocate arbitration. Thucydides thus suggests that war and peace, empire and security, and ambition and caution represent two sides of the same coin. The separation of two parties in a dispute, a visible faction or distinction, is an image of an invisible faction within each party and, by extension, each individual.
  4. In the episode of the Spartan vote, then, Thucydides gives us an image of how the invisible becomes visible. When circumstances demand action, when a vote is needed, people must take a stand and so distinguish themselves. The invisible, indiscernible mixture of voices becomes visible separation. And in so standing, we separate ourselves from ourselves, a deed Thucydides attributes to ὁρμή, zeal.
  5. More generally, Sthenelaïdas’ deed resembles that of Thucydides. For Thucydides’ whole purpose is to bring to appearance in speech what is unapparent in speech, the motive for the war rather than the causes. Thucydides gives himself the paradoxical, if not impossible task of making apparent, φανερός, what is on the way to appearance, πρόφασις.
  6. To accomplish this difficult task, Thucydides uses images—in particular, the image of “this war.” The war offers Thucydides an image of how circumstances force us to define the indefinite by speaking on behalf of either caution or enterprise. Beneath the ambition of the Athenians and the fear of the Spartans lies in each a peculiar and indiscernible mixture of both fear and ambition. By constantly pointing—and only ever pointing—to this elusive mixture, Thucydides shows that any attempt to make the unapparent apparent results not in reality, but in images. And in so pointing he proves successful in making apparent the recalcitrance of the unapparent to appearance.
  7. Thus in the war between the homebound Spartans and the imperialistic Athenians, Thucydides sees an image of the ever-surprising interplay of the human interior and exterior. Speech may master deed, but deeds in time betray the pretenses of speech (cf. 1.69.5). In his ἱστορίαι, Thucydides shows soul’s zeal to be half-hearted.