Article Summary

  • In the article “ Cleon and Pericles: Sphacteria” M.H.B. Marshall comes to some interesting conclusions about Pericles’ and Cleon’s speeches, more specifically how Thucydides is biased in his feelings and opinions of the speeches. Marshall analyzes Thucydides with a very critical eye, accusing him multiple times of having a “general dislike” for Cleon and that that dislike showed in his writing. In one instance, the author says that Thucydides agreed with Pericles’ argument because it was Pericles and disagreed with Cleon because it was Cleon, despite the fact that their policies are quite similar.

Analytical Techniques

  • This article analyzes Thucydides’ tone in addition to his words to come to these conclusions. Marshall points out some instances where Thucydides, maybe unnecessarily, comments on Cleon’s policies or actions. One example the author uses is “Each side retired homeward, and Cleon’s promise, mad though it was, was fulfilled.” Marshall remarks about how the word “mad” becomes a focal point of the sentence when, if he were unbiased, Thucydides did not need to add that segment. Although he has been regarded as a very objective historian, this article proves that, in many cases, Thucydides is just the opposite. The author of this article pays close attention not just to the speeches in the History, but more so to the words following the speeches in which Thucydides lets out some emotion and feelings toward what was said. But after reading much of Thucydides’ writing, it becomes clear that he doesn’t always add these remarks after a speech. He almost always adds one after Cleon speaks, though. Noticing these miniscule details and remarks, in relation to the rest of the body of work and its purpose, is very helpful in deciding how the historian was thinking, feeling and possibly how a lot of others felt at the time as seen in this passage. “There fell upon laughter at this irresponsible talk,” speaking about one of Cleon’s speeches, “but the sensible men among them were glad, for they calculated that they would get one of two benefits- either they would be rid of Cleon…or, he would subdue the Spartans for them.” (Thuc 4.28) (Marshall 22). This passage not only lets the reader into Thucydides’ mind but the men of the Athenian assembly as well. Thucydides’ opinion is felt here because of one word, “sensible”. This word ensures that the reader sees Cleon as the writer does because it lets he or she know that the “sensible” men want Cleon gone. Thucydides could quite easily have changed this biased phrase to “some men” to rid the passage of any persuading undertones. However, his distatste for Cleon shows through once more. The article also speaks on Thucydides’ apparent favor for Pericles. It even goes so far as to remark that no other real politicians are mentioned. When there is a political uprising, Pericles’ opponents are described in the masses, not individually. Could this be part of Thucydides’ plan for a “history” to revolve around one politician? To bring favor of his future readers to one man over all others? It is definitely possible considering all the praise he gives Pericles in contrast to all the negative attitudes derived from his remarks of Cleon. Two men with very similar policies, are portrayed as polar opposites like good and evil.

Using the Author's Techniques to My Advantage

  • Using this close analytical tactic on Thucydides’ writing can be very useful in finding out what Thucydides felt and how we should regard him as a historian. He is without any doubt an incredible artist and will continue to be regarded as one for ages to come. However, will he be regarded as the unbiased historian who remains completely neutral, as is necessary when telling a history so as not to persuade or dissuade the reader from one side or the other? Using the technique of analyzing Thucydides’ remarks after a speech helped me see that Thucydides does have a very biased view of Cleon and of Pericles. It also helped me realize that Thucydides is not consistent with these remarks, especially when Cleon’s remarks echo those of Pericles as is evident when cross referencing Pericles’ funeral oration and Cleon’s speech to the assembly about democracy. After reading this article, I started to look back at all of Cleon’s speeches and noticed exactly what Marshall was talking about with the side remarks that Thucydides makes after a speech. But I also noticed that He did not make one after Cleon spoke to the assembly about what they should do in regards to the Mytileneans. Cleon’s opening paragraphs he ridicules the Athenians for running their democracy like a tyranny. He goes on to say that the greatest danger to the Athenians would be to not stand by their laws, even if the law seems unfit for the situation. He says that a city that stands by worse laws is better of than one that has good laws that are not binding (Thuc. 3.37). Pericles uses similar rationale to defend himself in his speech. In this speech he is trying to apologize to the Athenian people, but also states that his position has not changed, it is the people’s opinions that have changed because of the outcome (Thuc. 2.61). The two men clearly believe the same thing in regards to this debate. I believe that this may be the reason that Thucydides does not make any remarks about Cleon’s speech. He may disagree with going to war as Cleon wants to do, but he makes no remark about Cleon because his ideas match those of Pericles, who we have seen Thucydides hold in high regard. Using the technique that Marshall demonstrates in “Cleon and Pericles: Sphacteria” I was able to shed new light on the rivalry between two men whom I thought were completely opposing. Paying close attention to the remarks after a speech made by Cleon lead me to find that there was none after the one speech where Cleon’s ideas echoed those of Pericles. Could this be a coincidence? Perhaps, or it could even be that Thucydides did it subconsciously because Cleon’s ideas in this speech are not as “ridiculous” or “absurd” as ideas of his other speeches. But , given the evidence of his favor towards Pericles and his dislike for Cleon, it seems evident that Thucydides keeps out of this one because the two men have matching ideas, at least this time. This Author’s work showed me a bias in Thucydides’ writing, which, in turn, allowed me to find a parallel between two political rivals’ ideas. Close reading techniques such as this one can open up new doors of realization and allow us to reveal to ourselves what the historians don’t come out and say.