Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Ordering of the selections

Since I am one percent or so of my way threw my list I now consider myself an expert, so I am going to make the following suggestion. Read Gilgamesh as the first selection. My reasoning is that sibce Geneisis and some of the greek legends seem to draw on it get it out of the way early and have the basis of comparison.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Selection 7 - Thucydides "The History of the Peloponnesian War"

References: Thucydides Wikipedia Entry, History of the Peloponnesian War Wikipedia Entry

Selection: Online at Project Gutenberg or available at

Audio: Librivox

Background: After the Persian wars (chronicled by Herodotus who will appear as a reading later) Athens established the Delian league to fund a permanent navy that would protect Greece against further aggression. Kind of a Antiquarian NATO or UN. Over time the league was slowly converted into an Athenian empire to the detriment of it's other members. As money was bled off by the Athenians resentment grew and then finally a series of sanctions against Spartan allies / proxies led Sparta to form the Peloponnesian league and attack Athens. The war lasted 27 years and eventually ended with the capitulation of Athens.

7/25/06 - Finally finished Book 1. Thucydides spends most of this book outlining the history leading up to the outbreak between the Delians and the Peloponessians. I am not very far into the reading but so far it appears that the Athenians were the much more aggressive of the two major powers.

It also seems that the Corinthians really went out of their way to manipulate the two powers into a war. Probably because they didn't want their colonies paying tribute to Athens. Athens on the other hand didn't really go out of it's way to avoid war.

In a way I am reminded a lot of the Cold War. You have two powers one of which is openly expansive and the other that is more contained in its use of power. Both are trying to expand their influence and they both realize that coexistence is no longer an option. The battle scenes describing the Battle of Sybotha(?) and Potidea were fairly interesting.

8/2/2006: Completed Book Two. The two major are the Plague of Athens and the death of Pericles (although not specifically described).

Both of theses events seem to augur poorly for the Athenians. The plague due to lack of manpower. A huge loss that should have been devastating. And the death of Pericles loss of leadership. This could have been the smaller blow but according to the accounts those who followed were not able to follow the same conservative path that Pericles had.

Pericles's speech in the early part of the book was outstanding and highly appropriate for today's world:

They began to find fault with Pericles, as the author of the war and the cause of
all their misfortunes, and became eager to come to terms with
Lacedaemon, and actually sent ambassadors thither, who did not however
succeed in their mission. Their despair was now complete and all
vented itself upon Pericles. When he saw them exasperated at the
present turn of affairs and acting exactly as he had anticipated, he
called an assembly, being (it must be remembered) still general,
with the double object of restoring confidence and of leading them
from these angry feelings to a calmer and more hopeful state of
mind. He accordingly came forward and spoke as follows:

"I was not unprepared for the indignation of which I have been the
object, as I know its causes; and I have called an assembly for the
purpose of reminding you upon certain points, and of protesting
against your being unreasonably irritated with me, or cowed by your
sufferings. I am of opinion that national greatness is more for the
advantage of private citizens, than any individual well-being
coupled with public humiliation. A man may be personally ever so
well off, and yet if his country be ruined he must be ruined with
it; whereas a flourishing commonwealth always affords chances of
salvation to unfortunate individuals. Since then a state can support
the misfortunes of private citizens, while they cannot support hers,
it is surely the duty of every one to be forward in her defense, and
not like you to be so confounded with your domestic afflictions as
to give up all thoughts of the common safety, and to blame me for
having counseled war and yourselves for having voted it. And yet if
you are angry with me, it is with one who, as I believe, is second
to no man either in knowledge of the proper policy, or in the
ability to expound it, and who is moreover not only a patriot but an
honest one. A man possessing that knowledge without that faculty of
exposition might as well have no idea at all on the matter: if he
had both these gifts, but no love for his country, he would be but a
cold advocate for her interests; while were his patriotism not proof
against bribery, everything would go for a price. So that if you
thought that I was even moderately distinguished for these qualities
when you took my advice and went to war, there is certainly no
reason now why I should be charged with having done wrong.

"For those of course who have a free choice in the matter and
whose fortunes are not at stake, war is the greatest of follies. But
if the only choice was between submission with loss of independence,
and danger with the hope of preserving that independence, in such a
case it is he who will not accept the risk that deserves blame, not he
who will. I am the same man and do not alter, it is you who change,
since in fact you took my advice while unhurt, and waited for
misfortune to repent of it; and the apparent error of my policy lies
in the infirmity of your resolution, since the suffering that it
entails is being felt by every one among you, while its advantage is
still remote and obscure to all, and a great and sudden reverse having
befallen you, your mind is too much depressed to persevere in your
resolves. For before what is sudden, unexpected, and least within
calculation, the spirit quails; and putting all else aside, the plague
has certainly been an emergency of this kind. Born, however, as you
are, citizens of a great state, and brought up, as you have been, with
habits equal to your birth, you should be ready to face the greatest
disasters and still to keep unimpaired the lustre of your name. For
the judgment of mankind is as relentless to the weakness that falls
short of a recognized renown, as it is jealous of the arrogance that
aspires higher than its due. Cease then to grieve for your private
afflictions, and address yourselves instead to the safety of the

"If you shrink before the exertions which the war makes necessary,
and fear that after all they may not have a happy result, you know the
reasons by which I have often demonstrated to you the groundlessness
of your apprehensions. If those are not enough, I will now reveal an
advantage arising from the greatness of your dominion, which I think
has never yet suggested itself to you, which I never mentioned in my
previous speeches, and which has so bold a sound that I should
scarce adventure it now, were it not for the unnatural depression
which I see around me. You perhaps think that your empire extends only
over your allies; I will declare to you the truth. The visible field
of action has two parts, land and sea. In the whole of one of these
you are completely supreme, not merely as far as you use it at
present, but also to what further extent you may think fit: in fine,
your naval resources are such that your vessels may go where they
please, without the King or any other nation on earth being able to
stop them. So that although you may think it a great privation to lose
the use of your land and houses, still you must see that this power is
something widely different; and instead of fretting on their
account, you should really regard them in the light of the gardens and
other accessories that embellish a great fortune, and as, in
comparison, of little moment. You should know too that liberty
preserved by your efforts will easily recover for us what we have
lost, while, the knee once bowed, even what you have will pass from
you. Your fathers receiving these possessions not from others, but
from themselves, did not let slip what their labour had acquired,
but delivered them safe to you; and in this respect at least you
must prove yourselves their equals, remembering that to lose what
one has got is more disgraceful than to be balked in getting, and
you must confront your enemies not merely with spirit but with
disdain. Confidence indeed a blissful ignorance can impart, ay, even
to a coward's breast, but disdain is the privilege of those who,
like us, have been assured by reflection of their superiority to their
adversary. And where the chances are the same, knowledge fortifies
courage by the contempt which is its consequence, its trust being
placed, not in hope, which is the prop of the desperate, but in a
judgment grounded upon existing resources, whose anticipations are
more to be depended upon.

"Again, your country has a right to your services in sustaining
the glories of her position. These are a common source of pride to you
all, and you cannot decline the burdens of empire and still expect
to share its honours. You should remember also that what you are
fighting against is not merely slavery as an exchange for
independence, but also loss of empire and danger from the
animosities incurred in its exercise. Besides, to recede is no
longer possible, if indeed any of you in the alarm of the moment has
become enamoured of the honesty of such an unambitious part. For
what you hold is, to speak somewhat plainly, a tyranny; to take it
perhaps was wrong, but to let it go is unsafe. And men of these
retiring views, making converts of others, would quickly ruin a state;
indeed the result would be the same if they could live independent
by themselves; for the retiring and unambitious are never secure
without vigorous protectors at their side; in fine, such qualities are
useless to an imperial city, though they may help a dependency to an
unmolested servitude.

"But you must not be seduced by citizens like these or angry with
me--who, if I voted for war, only did as you did yourselves--in spite
of the enemy having invaded your country and done what you could be
certain that he would do, if you refused to comply with his demands;
and although besides what we counted for, the plague has come upon
us--the only point indeed at which our calculation has been at fault.
It is this, I know, that has had a large share in making me more
unpopular than I should otherwise have been--quite undeservedly,
unless you are also prepared to give me the credit of any success with
which chance may present you. Besides, the hand of heaven must be
borne with resignation, that of the enemy with fortitude; this was the
old way at Athens, and do not you prevent it being so still. Remember,
too, that if your country has the greatest name in all the world, it
is because she never bent before disaster; because she has expended
more life and effort in war than any other city, and has won for
herself a power greater than any hitherto known, the memory of which
will descend to the latest posterity; even if now, in obedience to the
general law of decay, we should ever be forced to yield, still it will
be remembered that we held rule over more Hellenes than any other
Hellenic state, that we sustained the greatest wars against their
united or separate powers, and inhabited a city unrivalled by any
other in resources or magnitude. These glories may incur the censure
of the slow and unambitious; but in the breast of energy they will
awake emulation, and in those who must remain without them an
envious regret. Hatred and unpopularity at the moment have fallen to
the lot of all who have aspired to rule others; but where odium must
be incurred, true wisdom incurs it for the highest objects. Hatred
also is short-lived; but that which makes the splendour of the present
and the glory of the future remains for ever unforgotten. Make your
decision, therefore, for glory then and honour now, and attain both
objects by instant and zealous effort: do not send heralds to
Lacedaemon, and do not betray any sign of being oppressed by your
present sufferings, since they whose minds are least sensitive to
calamity, and whose hands are most quick to meet it, are the
greatest men and the greatest communities."

Update 9/5/06: Finally completeed Books 3 and 4. I know what your thinking "Oh My God, could you read any slower?" Actually, yes I could.

Book 4 was incredibly hard to finish for some reason, even though the Athenians were getting their butts kicked up and down Greece.

In Book 3 we are starting to see some of the realpolitik that this book is known for peeking through. This is seen in the recounting of the civil war in Corcyra (the city which started this whole mess back in book 1). The oligarchs, backed by Sparta, are trying to overthrow the commons, backed by Athens and break the alliance with Athens which was formed during the original dispute with the Corinthians. This was a typical civil war lots of revenge being played out. The Athenians try to impose a peace, but it doesn't hold and finally the democrats begin to slaughter the oligarchs putatively for "attempting to put down democracy" but a lot of it was just private revenge.

This example spread to other polises and civil wars broke out their also expanding the conflict between Sparta and Athens . Again we can see an echo of the Cold War, with the proxy battles reflecting the situations in Africa and Southeast Asia in the 70's and 80's.

I believe the behaviors shown at Corcyra (and the other states in revolt) are echoed in book 4 when Brasidas enters into an armistice with Athens which he then promptly ignores, while accusing the Athenians of breaking the peace.

Update: 10/2/06 - Book 5
The most important part of book 5 is the Melian Dialogue. It is here that the Athenians abandon all pretense of justification for their actions and tell the Melians. We are attacking and will rule you because we can. After the attack on and defeat of the Melians every man of military age is killed as an example to others. This is a signifigant shift in attitude and it leads to the events in books 6 and 7, specifcally the invasion of Sicily. The dialogue is presented below:

431 BC
by Thucydides

Sixteenth Year of the War - The Melian Conference - Fate of Melos

THE next summer Alcibiades sailed with twenty ships to Argos and seized the suspected persons still left of the Lacedaemonian faction to the number of three hundred, whom the Athenians forthwith lodged in the neighbouring islands of their empire. The Athenians also made an expedition against the isle of Melos with thirty ships of their own, six Chian, and two Lesbian vessels, sixteen hundred heavy infantry, three hundred archers, and twenty mounted archers from Athens, and about fifteen hundred heavy infantry from the allies and the islanders. The Melians are a colony of Lacedaemon that would not submit to the Athenians like the other islanders, and at first remained neutral and took no part in the struggle, but afterwards upon the Athenians using violence and plundering their territory, assumed an attitude of open hostility. Cleomedes, son of Lycomedes, and Tisias, son of Tisimachus, the generals, encamping in their territory with the above armament, before doing any harm to their land, sent envoys to negotiate. These the Melians did not bring before the people, but bade them state the object of their mission to the magistrates and the few; upon which the Athenian envoys spoke as follows:

Athenians. Since the negotiations are not to go on before the people, in order that we may not be able to speak straight on without interruption, and deceive the ears of the multitude by seductive arguments which would pass without refutation (for we know that this is the meaning of our being brought before the few), what if you who sit there were to pursue a method more cautious still? Make no set speech yourselves, but take us up at whatever you do not like, and settle that before going any farther. And first tell us if this proposition of ours suits you.

The Melian commissioners answered:

Melians. To the fairness of quietly instructing each other as you propose there is nothing to object; but your military preparations are too far advanced to agree with what you say, as we see you are come to be judges in your own cause, and that all we can reasonably expect from this negotiation is war, if we prove to have right on our side and refuse to submit, and in the contrary case, slavery.

Athenians. If you have met to reason about presentiments of the future, or for anything else than to consult for the safety of your state upon the facts that you see before you, we will give over; otherwise we will go on.

Melians. It is natural and excusable for men in our position to turn more ways than one both in thought and utterance. However, the question in this conference is, as you say, the safety of our country; and the discussion, if you please, can proceed in the way which you propose.

Athenians. For ourselves, we shall not trouble you with specious pretences- either of how we have a right to our empire because we overthrew the Mede, or are now attacking you because of wrong that you have done us- and make a long speech which would not be believed; and in return we hope that you, instead of thinking to influence us by saying that you did not join the Lacedaemonians, although their colonists, or that you have done us no wrong, will aim at what is feasible, holding in view the real sentiments of us both; since you know as well as we do that right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they canand the weak suffer what they must.

Melians. As we think, at any rate, it is expedient- we speak as we are obliged, since you enjoin us to let right alone and talk only of interest- that you should not destroy what is our common protection, the privilege of being allowed in danger to invoke what is fair and right, and even to profit by arguments not strictly valid if they can be got to pass current. And you are as much interested in this as any, as your fall would be a signal for the heaviest vengeance and an example for the world to meditate upon.

Athenians. The end of our empire, if end it should, does not frighten us: a rival empire like Lacedaemon, even if Lacedaemon was our real antagonist, is not so terrible to the vanquished as subjects who by themselves attack and overpower their rulers. This, however, is a risk that we are content to take. We will now proceed to show you that we are come here in the interest of our empire, and that we shall say what we are now going to say, for the preservation of your country; as we would fain exercise that empire over you withouttrouble, and see you preserved for the good of us both.

Melians. And how, pray, could it turn out as good for us to serve as for you to rule?

Athenians. Because you would have the advantage of submitting before suffering the worst, and we should gain by not destroying you.

Melians. So that you would not consent to our being neutral, friends instead of enemies, but allies of neither side.

Athenians. No; for your hostility cannot so much hurt us as your friendship will be an argument to our subjects of our weakness, and your enmity of our power.

Melians. Is that your subjects' idea of equity, to put those who have nothing to do with you in the same category with peoples that are most of them your own colonists, and some conquered rebels?

Athenians. As far as right goes they think one has as much of it as the other, and that if any maintain their independence it is because they are strong, and that if we do not molest them it is because we are afraid; so that besides extending our empire we should gain in security by your subjection; the fact that you are islanders and weaker than others rendering it all the more important that you should not succeed in baffling the masters of the sea.

Melians. But do you consider that there is no security in the policy which we indicate? For here again if you debar us from talking about justice and invite us to obey your interest, we also must explain ours, and try to persuade you, if the two happen to coincide. How can you avoid making enemies of all existing neutrals who shall look at case from it that one day or another you will attack them? And what is this but to make greater the enemies that you have already, and to force others to become so who would otherwise have never thought of it?

Athenians. Why, the fact is that continentals generally give us but little alarm; the liberty which they enjoy will long prevent their taking precautions against us; it is rather islanders like yourselves, outside our empire, and subjects smarting under the yoke, who would be the most likely to take a rash step and lead themselves and us into obvious danger.

Melians. Well then, if you risk so much to retain your empire, and your subjects to get rid of it, it were surely great baseness and cowardice in us who are still free not to try everything that can be tried, before submitting to your yoke.

Athenians. Not if you are well advised, the contest not being an equal one, with honour as the prize and shame as the penalty, but a question of self-preservation and of not resisting those who are far stronger than you are.

Melians. But we know that the fortune of war is sometimes more impartial than the disproportion of numbers might lead one to suppose; to submit is to give ourselves over to despair, while action still preserves for us a hope that we may stand erect.

Athenians. Hope, danger's comforter, may be indulged in by those who have abundant resources, if not without loss at all events without ruin; but its nature is to be extravagant, and those who go so far as to put their all upon the venture see it in its true colours only when they are ruined; but so long as the discovery would enable them to guard against it, it is never found wanting. Let not this be the case with you, who are weak and hang on a single turn of the scale; nor be like the vulgar, who, abandoning such security as human means may still afford, when visible hopes fail them in extremity, turn to invisible, to prophecies and oracles, and other such inventions thatdelude men with hopes to their destruction.

Melians. You may be sure that we are as well aware as you of the difficulty of contending against your power and fortune, unless the terms be equal. But we trust that the gods may grant us fortune as good as yours, since we are just men fighting against unjust, and that what we want in power will be made up by the alliance of the Lacedaemonians, who are bound, if only for very shame, to come to the aid of their kindred. Our confidence, therefore, after all is not so utterly irrational.

Athenians. When you speak of the favour of the gods, we may as fairly hope for that as yourselves; neither our pretensions nor our conduct being in any way contrary to what men believe of the gods, or practise among themselves. Of the gods we believe, and of men we know, that by a necessary law of their nature they rule wherever they can. And it is not as if we were the first to make this law, or to act upon it when made: we found it existing before us, and shall leave it to exist for ever after us; all we do is to make use of it, knowing that you and everybody else, having the same power as we have, would do the same as we do. Thus, as far as the gods are concerned, we have no fear and no reason to fear that we shall be at a disadvantage. But when we come to your notion about the Lacedaemonians, which leads you to believe that shame will make them help you, here we bless your simplicity but do not envy your folly. The Lacedaemonians, when their own interests or their country's laws are in question, are the worthiest men alive; of their conduct towards others much might be said, but no clearer idea of it could be given than by shortly saying that of all the men we know they are most conspicuous in considering what is agreeable honourable, and what is expedient just. Such a way of thinking does not promise much for the safety which you now unreasonably count upon.

Melians. But it is for this very reason that we now trust to their respect for expediency to prevent them from betraying the Melians, their colonists, and thereby losing the confidence of their friends in Hellas and helping their enemies.

Athenians. Then you do not adopt the view that expediency goes with security, while justice and honour cannot be followed without danger; and danger the Lacedaemonians generally court as little as possible.

Melians. But we believe that they would be more likely to face even danger for our sake, and with more confidence than for others, as our nearness to Peloponnese makes it easier for them to act, and our common blood ensures our fidelity.

Athenians. Yes, but what an intending ally trusts to is not the goodwill of those who ask his aid, but a decided superiority of power for action; and the Lacedaemonians look to this even more than others. At least, such is their distrust of their home resources that it is only with numerous allies that they attack a neighbour; now is it likely that while we are masters of the sea they will cross over to an island?

Melians. But they would have others to send. The Cretan Sea is a wide one, and it is more difficult for those who command it to intercept others, than for those who wish to elude them to do so safely. And should the Lacedaemonians miscarry in this, they would fall upon your land, and upon those left of your allies whom Brasidas did not reach; and instead of places which are not yours, you will have to fight for your own country and your own confederacy.

Athenians. Some diversion of the kind you speak of you may one day experience, only to learn, as others have done, that the Athenians never once yet withdrew from a siege for fear of any. But we are struck by the fact that, after saying you would consult for the safety of your country, in all this discussion you have mentioned nothing which men might trust in and think to be saved by. Your strongest arguments depend upon hope and the future, and your actual resources are too scanty, as compared with those arrayed against you, for you to come out victorious. You will therefore show great blindness of judgment, unless, after allowing us to retire, you can find some counsel more prudent than this. You will surely not be caught by that idea of disgrace, which in dangers that are disgraceful, and at the same time too plain to be mistaken, proves so fatal to mankind; since in too many cases the very men that have their eyes perfectly open to what they are rushing into, let the thing called disgrace, by the mere influence of a seductive name, lead them on to a point at which they become so enslaved by the phrase as in fact to fall wilfully into hopeless disaster, and incur disgrace more disgraceful as the companion of error, than when it comes as the result of misfortune. This, if you are well advised, you will guard against; and you will not think it dishonourable to submit to the greatest city in Hellas, when it makes you the moderate offer of becoming its tributary ally, without ceasing to enjoy the country that belongs to you; nor when you have the choice given you between war and security, will you be so blinded as to choose the worse. And it is certain that those who do not yield to their equals, who keep terms with their superiors, and are moderate towards their inferiors, on the whole succeed best. Think over the matter, therefore, after our withdrawal, and reflect once and again that it is for your country that you are consulting, that you have not more than one, and that upon this one deliberation depends its prosperity or ruin.

The Athenians now withdrew from the conference; and the Melians, left to themselves, came to a decision corresponding with what they had maintained in the discussion, and answered: "Our resolution, Athenians, is the same as it was at first. We will not in a moment deprive of freedom a city that has been inhabited these seven hundred years; but we put our trust in the fortune by which the gods have preserved it until now, and in the help of men, that is, of the Lacedaemonians; and so we will try and save ourselves. Meanwhile we invite you to allow us to be friends to you and foes to neither party, and to retire from our country after making such a treaty as shall seem fit to us both."

Such was the answer of the Melians. The Athenians now departing from the conference said: "Well, you alone, as it seems to us, judging from these resolutions, regard what is future as more certain than what is before your eyes, and what is out of sight, in your eagerness, as already coming to pass; and as you have staked most on, and trusted most in, the Lacedaemonians, your fortune, and your hopes, so will you be most completely deceived."

The Athenian envoys now returned to the army; and the Melians showing no signs of yielding, the generals at once betook themselves to hostilities, and drew a line of circumvallation round the Melians, dividing the work among the different states. Subsequently the Athenians returned with most of their army, leaving behind them a certain number of their own citizens and of the allies to keep guard by land and sea. The force thus left stayed on and besieged the place. About the same time the Argives invaded the territory of Phlius and lost eighty men cut off in an ambush by the Phliasians and Argive exiles. Meanwhile the Athenians at Pylos took so much plunder from the Lacedaemonians that the latter, although they still refrained from breaking off the treaty and going to war with Athens, yet proclaimed that any of their people that chose might plunder the Athenians. The Corinthians also commenced hostilities with the Athenians for private quarrels of their own; but the rest of the Peloponnesians stayed quiet. Meanwhile the Melians attacked by night and took the part of the Athenian lines over against the market, and killed some of the men, and brought in corn and all else that they could find useful to them, and so returned and kept quiet, while the Athenians took measures to keep better guard in future.

Summer was now over. The next winter the Lacedaemonians intended to invade the Argive territory, but arriving at the frontier found the sacrifices for crossing unfavourable, and went back again. This intention of theirs gave the Argives suspicions of certain of their fellow citizens, some of whom they arrested; others, however, escaped them. About the same time the Melians again took another part of the Athenian lines which were but feebly garrisoned. Reinforcements afterwards arriving from Athens in consequence, under the command of Philocrates, son of Demeas, the siege was now pressed vigorously; and some treachery taking place inside, the Melians surrendered at discretion to the Athenians, who put to death all the grown men whom they took, and sold the women and children for slaves, and subsequently sent out five hundred colonists and inhabited the place themselves.

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Friday, July 14, 2006

Selection 6 - The Epic of Gilgamesh

Reference: Wikipedia "Epic of Gilgamesh" Entry

Selection: Online at

A comparison of the Biblical and Sumerian flood stories. The author notes 20 items of similarity and I think 9 signifigant differences.

Update: I have decided to start posting my take on the selections in the main posts rather than in the comments section.

I just finished the Stephen Mitchell "translation" of Gilgamesh. It was the only one available when I bought it a few weeks ago. I have the feeling I should have held off the feel of the work wasn't right to me.

Overall this read like some homoerotic fantasy, two giant men fighting and then becoming soul-mates. I don't have a real problem with that but it just feels like something injected into the story. I didn't find the story itself very compelling although there did seem to be some foreshadowing of both Greek and Eygtian myths as well as the similarities that have been noted in the old testament. You could probably make this into a fairly decent movie, defiantely a better one than either Troy (the Iliad) or the Odyessy. I amy go back and read a deifferent version when I have the time.

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