HIS580: Herodotus and Thucydides - New Saint Andrews College

HIS580: Herodotus and Thucydides


Fall Term 2014-15: September 15-December 19, 2014
Instructor: Christopher Schlect

Course Description

This course introduces two of antiquity’s most influential teachers of the past, Herodotus and Thucydides. Cicero famously gave Herodotus the title pater historiae (“father of History”), and David Hume remarked, “the first page of Thucydides is, in my opinion, the commencement of real history.” Why did ancient and early modern scholars elevate these two Greeks above all others, and reckon them as the standard-bearers of the historian’s craft? Is it even too limiting to categorize Herodotus and Thucydides as historians?—are they not also philosophers? literary artists? theologians? anthropologists? geographers? strategists?

Students in this course will read and discuss Herodotus and Thucydides in unabridged English translations. They will situate both writers within their ancient contexts, identify the unique ways they imagined the events they narrated, and assess their achievements and limitations. Students will also interact with leading interpretive approaches to these important works in order to better understand and appreciate their significance in the western tradition of historical writing.

This course will be conducted primarily in a seminar format. In online forums, students will interact with one another in focused discussions about our two primary texts. In addition, students will prepare an informed paper that draws Herodotus and Thucydides into conversation in a meaningful way.


1. Students will read and interrogate the writings of Herodotus and Thucydides; identify their contexts, concerns, and insights; and form their own assessment of the authors’ achievements;

a. Students will outline the main developments in the history of ancient Greece from the Bronze Age through the Macedonian period;
b. Read the works of Herodotus and Thucydides in their entirety;
c. Summarize the main events of the 5th century b.c., especially the Persian Wars, the pentakontaetia, and the Peloponnesian War;
d. Situate Herodotus’ work within the context of the Ionian Enlightenment;
e. Situate Thucydides’ work within the context of Athenian intellectual milieu; and
f. Compare and contrast Herodotus and Thucydides in regard to their notions of historical causation and historical agency, their attitudes toward the epic tradition, their approaches to religion, and also in their narrative styles.

2. Students will converse meaningfully with leading scholars or schools of thought and with their interpretive approaches to these primary texts, and will express their own voice into this conversation;

a. Students will assess Herodotus and Thucydides as they relate to orality and literacy;
b. Identify and evaluate Thucydides’ contribution to early modern and modern political theory;
c. Contrast modern and contemporary approaches to understanding Herodotus and Thucydides; and
d. Evaluate whether it is helpful to characterize Herodotus and Thucydides as historians.

3. Students will position these primary texts within the western intellectual tradition, compare them to other literatures, and relate them to our contemporary world

a. Students will bring Herodotus and Thucydides to bear upon contemporary questions about interpretive scale, ethnic and racial identity, and the relationship of political life to culture; and
b. Apply Thucydides’ insights to contemporary situations in international relations.

4. Students will communicate their engagement with these primary texts in writing.

a. Students will actively contribute to all class discussions online, expressing their own ideas while grounding them in the course readings; and
b. Will compose a thoughtful, well-argued paper at the end of the term.



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