Week One – Thucydides

In my political science major for university one of my papers gives 20% of the grade for contributing weekly to an online discussion board. Kind of like a forum for pols geeks. I love it.

Each week you can gain up to 3 marks – 0 being ‘no contribution’ and 3 being ‘particularly insightful’, and you need to gain 24 marks for the full 20%.

We began with Thucydides – History of the Peloponnesian War

Overall I found the document – especially Thucydides rare interjections of personal opinion to be insightful, and strikingly valid not only for his time frame, but throughout history.

He warns in his opening paragraph to ‘not be misled by the exaggerated fancies of the poets’ and, although he feels his account will be an ‘account for all ages’ he recognizes that any mans writing will have flaws and gaps for ‘eye-witnesses of the same occurrences gave different accounts of them’. His point that any onlookers would be more interested in the actions of one side over another, and therefore will have recounted the same occurrence from an entirely different lens was such a simple point, yet so very very valid. How often do we get wrapped up in our own stories without stopping to think how it might be affecting other people.

Through Pericle’s Funeral Oration he makes the point that ‘mankind are tolerant of the praises of others so long as each hearer thinks he can do as well or nearly as well himself’. This same idea of ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome is still commented on as part of the New Zealand culture as well. (It is certainly something I have experienced and noticed growing up, particularly in rural areas). It does seem important that this strain of jealousy has been important enough in human culture and history to be commented on in some of the most lasting works of literacy throughout our written history both in works of fiction (Shakespeare’s Iago springs to mind) and non-fiction.

Yet in saying this, Pericles goes on the mention how Athens grows great in the image of it’s fallen warriors, and how it’s warriors grow great in the light of the state. It would seem he is commenting that it is not ok for a single man to become great on his own merits, but when done for the good of the state it is justifiable, and only those who were truly selfless in their devotion to Athens would be worthy of praise.

To link these points however, in his introduction, Thucydides mentioned he felt the true cause of the war was the Lacedaemonian’s fear/jealousy of Athens great power – Is tall poppy syndrome not merely confined to our individual interactions? Are then the actions of states pure representations of the realities of human nature? And in saying this, if humanity were more accepting of each others differences/points of weakness/points of strength on the domestic level, would that translate into less inter-state conflict? I guess what I am trying to say is that the state is merely the overarching expression of human nature – so rather that looking for causes of war and large scale conflict, perhaps we should be looking a little closer to home, looking at ourselves as individuals. Like Thucydides says, there are always other, publicly alleged reasons to justify conflict. Are these merely excuses to cover our own fear and jealousy?

If only it were that simple… if humanity learned to overcome fear/insecurity/jealousy there would be no more war and conflict….


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