Thucydides

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Historian, Statesman, General (c.460BC – 395 BC)

The greatest historian of the ancient world and the first to write down history as a science. Thucydides wrote the History of the Peloponnesian War, which recounts the 30-year conflict between Athens and Sparta during the 5th century BC. He is, to date, the most widely and extensively studied historian of all time. He is the one who set the scientific principles of history.

Thucydides was born in Athens and came from a wealthy family. As a young man he was a student of philosopher Anaxagoras and rhetorician Antiphon. Thucydides became a general of Athens and participated in the Peloponnesian War. In 424 BC, having failed to save the city of Amphipolis from the Spartans, led by general Vrasidas, he was exiled by the Athenians. During his 20 years of exile, Thucydides devoted full time to collecting data from both opposing sides and compile The History of the Peloponnesian War.

Thucydides was the first to use research as a scientific method to write history. He set the foundation on how modern history is written down, examined and studied. Before him, history was based on observation and mere conjecture. In antithesis to Herodotus, for example, who relies on sentiments and admiration, Thucydides’ only tool is strict logic. He dismisses any information that is unreliable, discredited or without sources, uses first-hand knowledge and primary sources to express the true, the exact, the precise. He clarifies every cause he presents with logical aetiology, stripped of his own psychological influence and self-benefit. His writing is exemplary subjective. His thought runs in the context of reality, with the ultimate aim to document the truth using nothing but facts. For him, truth and prognosis are the two factors that guide him to writing his treatise.

Thucydides possessed first-hand experience in the military affairs. He acknowledged the importance that economics played in the war and recognized the significance of key players of the events, such as Themistocles’ and Pericles’ contributions for Athens. He was an avid proponent of the Athenian democracy, which he attributed to the “power of the first man (of Athens)”. In his work Epitaph or Pericles’ Funeral Oration, Thucydides underlines the importance of the one man, the aristos that governs the state in the name of democracy.

The History of the Peloponnesian War was written with the intention that the war would be more worthy of relation than any other that had occurred in the past. The treatise was later divided into 8 books. The first book opens with an introduction to the war, the external factors that led to it and the diplomatic movements of the two opposing forces prior to the outbreak. Thucydides’ last book closes with the events of 411 BC, 7 years before the end of the Peloponnesian War. Even though he had lived through the entirety of the war, Thucydides left his work incomplete because of his death in 395 BC.

Thucydides’ influence was immediate right after his death. Ancient Greeks and Romans alike were drawn to his work, some of which continued it, such as Xenophon, and others who proceeded in writing their own historical treatises, namely Polybius, Sallustius and Tacitus. It is said that the Athenian rhetorician Demosthenes was a fanatic reader of Thucydides’ work. Modern scholars from England, France and Germany have meticulously studied his works, most notably Leopold von Ranke and Jacqueline de Romilly. Already from antiquity, Thucydides had secured his place among the giants of Western thought and civilization. He is recognized worldwide as the father of scientific history.

Bibliography:

  1. Arnold Wycombe Gamme. Thucydides. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Britannica.com Web. February 8, 2018.
  2. “Thucydides”. Helios New Encyclopaedic Dictionary. Passas, I. Athens: 1946. Print.
  3. Διαλησμά, Δρουκόπουλος, Κουτρουμπέλη, Χρυσάφης. Αρχαίοι Έλληνες Ιστοριογράφοι. Ινστιτούτο Τεχνολογίας Υπολογιστών και Εκδόσεων «Διόφαντος». Αθήνα. Υπουργείο Παιδείας και Θρησκευμάτων, Ινστιτούτο Εκπαιδευτικής Πολιτικής.
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Thucydides

Phocion

ΦΩΚΙΩΝ

General, Statesman (c.402 BC – 317 BC)

Phocion was an Athenian general and statesman, widely renowned for his bravery, prudence and sophrosyne, which earned him the nickname “The Good” ( χρηστὸς). A man of humble descent, Phocion was a student of Plato and Xenocrates at the Academy of Athens. He believed strongly in the unification of the Greeks as a common force and placed the good of Greece above his own. His virtues and military excellence frequently made him the opposition of Demosthenes, who drew the Athenians on his side with his captivating rhetoric speeches.

Phocion came from a poor family and had thus learned to live his life as a poor, as he considered simplicity a virtue. Alexander the Great thought that it was shameful for a king to have Phocion as a friend and thus one day sent him a large sum of money. When Phocion asked Alexander what they were for, the latter told him that he gave him the money because Phocion was just.

At the age of 26, Phocion began participating in military campaigns. In the Battle of Naxos, where the Athenians won against the Spartains during the Peloponnesian War, Phocion was in charge of the left division of the fleet. Like Isocrates and Aristotle, Phocion, in spite of being a skilled general, was against wars and civil conflicts between the Greeks. He had expressed the need of Pan-hellenism, where all Greeks would stand united against their common enemy. This, however, placed him in the epicenter of the political scene, clashing with the demagogues of Athens, most importantly, Demosthenes, who enticed the Athenians to oppose Philip.

Phocion had been elected general of Athens 45 times in his lifetime. He is the only one in history to have defeated Philip II of Macedon in battle. Phocion prevented the siege of Perinthos and Byzantium by Philip and later defeated the Macedonians in the Battle of Ramnous, close to Marathon. He was one of the generals and rhetoricians who negotiated terms of peace with Philip after Athens’ defeat in the Battle of Chaeroneia.

Throughout his career as a statesman, Phocion managed to maintain stability in Athens and prevent the anti-Macedonian division from taking over and revolting against Alexander the Great. Following the devastating destruction of Thebes, Phocion struggled to keep Athens out of danger from destroying itself. Disciplined, strict and righteous, he served his state more than any other statesman of his times with paradigmatic patriotism and prudence. His disregard of public opinion and his battle against the city’s most powerful demagogues was enough to make him a much detested individual among the masses, who never forgave him.

Phocion was ultimately accused of treason, trialed in a parody trial and sentenced to death by hemlock at the age of 85. His body was thrown outside of Athens where it was found by a woman, who burnt it, according to the ancient traditions. It was not long before the Athenians in an act of remorse, sentenced Phocion’s accuser Agonides to death and built a statue of him, the same they had done to Socrates almost 100 years ago.

Bibliography:

  1. “Phocion”. Helios New Encyclopaedic Dictionary. Passas, I. Athens, 1946. Print.
  2. Pleures, Konstantinos. The persecution of the best elements of society. Athens: Hilektron publications, 2013. Print.
  3. Pleures, Konstantinos. Faces and Events. Athens: Hilektron publications, 2015. Print.
Phocion

Anacreon

anacreon

Lyric Poet (c.582 BC – c.485 BC)

A lyric poet from Teos of Asia Minor and one of the nine lyric poets of Ancient Greece. Though not as popular as the rest of the lyric poets, Anacreon remained in history as a musician and as the last lyric poet of Ancient Greece.

When Teos was conquered by the Persians in 545 BC, Anacreon moved to Abdera, Thrace. He spent a considerable amount of his life in Athens, where he was influenced by Aeschylus’ work, who at the time was at the beginning of his career. There, he also formed friendships with Pericles’ father Xanthippus, Critias and Simonides of Ceos, another one of the nine lyric poets.

Anacreon’s poetry is primarily centered on love. Even though a representative of the Aeolic School, his works feature elements of the Ionian School. It is said that most of his poems started with an invocation to Aphrodite. They were frequently accompanied by music from a barbiton in an erotic tone. He used three musical modes. Out of his entire work today only fragments survive of the following: 3 books on erotic poetry, sympotics, and hymns to Gods, 1 book on iambs and 1 book on elegies.

Anacreon became highly successful throughout Greece. His poems were widely read and acclaimed, especially by Critias, who characterized him as “soul of the symposia” and “masterful singer of the lyre”. He inspired many poets throughout history, expanding his influence up until the Byzantine era. Many amateurs attempted to imitate him. 60 of his surviving poems were found in the Palatine Anthology, discovered in 1606. The Palatine Anthology significantly influenced European poetry, including Goethe, who studied Anacreon’s works.

When Anacreon died, his compatriots minted coins depicting him. In Athens, a bronze statue of him was sculpted that stood on the Acropolis, right next to the statue of Xanthippus. Both were said to have been sculpted by Pheidias. Anacreon was subsequently portrayed in a number of potteries, as well in paintings, most notably by Jean-Leon Gerome, where he is playing his barbiton next to two cupids and Love.

Bibliography:

  1. “Anacreon”. Helios New Encyclopaedic Dictionary. Passas I. Athens, 1946. Print.
  2. Παλαιοθόδωρος, Δημήτρης. Ανακρέων. Εγκυκλοπαίδεια Μείζωνος Ελληνισμού. Asiaminor.ehu.gr. January 1, 2006. Web.
Anacreon

Theagenes

Theagenes_receiving_the_palm_of_honour_from_Chariclea

Athlete (5th century BC)

Theagenes of Thasos was one of the greatest Olympians of ancient Greece. A runner, boxer and pankratiast, Theagenes was a boxing champion in the 75th Olympiad in 476 BC, as well as champion in the pankration in the 76th Olympic Games. His legacy evolved to that of a divine therapist.

Theagenes was believed by locals to have been the son of a god, due to his incredible strength. He became famous all over Greece at the age of 9, when one day, when walking home from school, he took a bronze statue of a god from the marketplace with him. Some of the citizens saw this as a disrespectful act and demanded the child’s death. It was decided, however, that he should return the statue to its former position. Doing this, Theagenes’ life was spared and his name rose to fame.

His first victory was in the 75th Olympic Games in 476 BC in boxing and then in the 76th Olympic Games in the pankration. He went on to achieve numerous other victories in other sports events, namely 10 in the Isthmian Games, 9 in the Nemean Games and 3 in the Pythians. Furthermore, he won in a race in Phthia, a competition dedicated to Achilles, who descended from there. His ambition was to rival Achilles’ speed.

According to Pausanias the historian, Theagenes had accumulated a total of 1400 laurel wreaths by the end of his lifetime from his victories. His compatriots, who once attempted to kill him, were very proud of him. Pausanias accounts that Glaucias had sculpted a statue of Theagenes that was positioned in Olympia, next to the statues of King Philip II and his son Alexander the Great.

After his death, a statue of his was erected in Thasos. In is said that an athlete who could never defeat Theagenes while he was alive went to the statue and flogged it every night. The statue collapsed one night and killed him. The statue was charged with murder and was thrown in the bottom of the ocean. However, drought struck the island causing a famine. When the citizens sought the Oracle of Delphi’s divination, the Oracle told them to replace the statue of Theagenes back to its original position. The Thasians did so, and the drought stopped. Since then, the Thasians started believing in Theagenes the divine God-Healer and offer him tributes.

Bibliography

  1. Θεαγένης από την Θάσο. Ίδρυμα Μείζωνος Ελληνισμού. Fhw.gr. Web.
  2. Karasavvas, Theodoros. Theagenes of Thasos: From Legendary Olympic Fighter to God-Healer. Ancient Origins. Ancient-origins.net. Web. January 17, 2017.
Theagenes

Arcesilaus

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Philosopher (316 BC – 240 BC)

Arcesilaus is the second most important representative of the Skeptic School of Philosophy, founded by Pyrrhon. A student of Theophrastus, Arcesilaus is said to have doubted everything, similar to Descartes’ skepticism. None of his works on philosophy survive. As such, what we know about his philosophy is based on others’ accounts.

He studied geometry and astronomy before settling in Athens. After studying next to Theophrastus, he joined Plato’s Academy, where he studied philosophy next to Crantor, Crates and Polemon. He succeeded Crates as the sixth headmaster of the Academy, a position which he held for 25 years until his own death.

Our understanding of Arcesilaus’ skepticism is incomplete because his philosophy is survived only from brief reports by other writers and their opponents. Hence, each one gives their own interpretation of Arcesilaus’ philosophical views. Philosophers have interpreted his philosophy in three different ways: the Academic, the Practical and the Socratic interpretations.

Arcesilaus believed that we should not give a definite opinion on anything and that we should have a suspension of judgment – a term he named universal epoche (εποχή) – when we cannot distinguish between truth and falsehood. Nevertheless, he did not deny the performance of deeds, as our actions come from our will, not from our knowledge. Arcesilaus also held another doctrine called akatalepsia (ακαταληψία), according to which nothing can be known. He was highly critical of all philosophical movements, most notably against the Stoics.

Arcesilaus’ statements that one should not form beliefs and that nothing can be known have long bewildered philosophers, who have attempted to shed light to his way of thinking. Regardless, Arcesilaus made an important step in Academic Skepticism, as a skilled dialectitian following the Socratic Method, influencing important figures in philosophy.

Biblography:

  1. Brittain, Charles. Arcesilaus. Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy. Plato.stanford.edu. January 14, 2005. Web.
  2. Pleures, Konstantinos. Greek Philosophers. Hilektron Publications. Athens: 2014. Print.
Arcesilaus

Xenophon

Xenophon-van-Athene

Philosopher, Historian, Economist, General (c.430 BC – 354 BC)

Xenophon of Athens made a name of himself as a multifarious individual. He was a historian, an economist and a political writer, who continued Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War. In addition to being a philosopher, Xenophon was an excellent general, who encompassed all the powers and values of Ancient Greece.

He was born in Athens during the Peloponnesian War. He was a student of Socrates. When the Athenians sentenced Socrates to death, Xenophon left Athens in disgust and settled in Sparta. He became a mercenary and served in the Army of the Ten Thousands, a part of King Cyrus’s army, as they ventured to Persia to dethrone Cyrus’ brother, Artaxerxes. Xenophon would later assume the leadership of this army and lead them to safety back to Asia Minor. Xenophon’s accounts are told in his book Anabasis, one of his greatest works written, which also accounts the Battle of Cunaxa.

Xenophon was a great admirer of Sparta. Upon his return to Greece, he continued serving the Spartans as a general. For his services, Sparta provided him with a private estate in Peloponnesus, where he lived for 23 years, writing his works. Xenophon was exiled from Athens for allying with the Spartans. However, as he proved that he was a military genius, his exile was revoked. Nevertheless, he never returned to Athens.

Xenophon wrote historical, “Socratic” and didactic treatises. Among his historical works are De Republica Lacaedemoniorum, a treatise on the political and social system of Sparta, its structure and its institutions, Agesilaus, a treatise on the life and work of King Agesilaus of Sparta, whom Xenophon considered an “ideal type of man and general”, Hellenica, a continuation of Thucydides’ major historical work The History of the Peloponnesian War, which covers the events of the war from 411 BC to 362 BC and Cyropaedia, a fictional biography of Cyrus the Great, King of Persia.

His “Socratic dialogues” are works named after Socrates, who serves as the central figure of the dialogue. In Apology of Socrates, Socrates defends himself in front of the jury by demonstrating his virtue and wisdom. Memorabilia features dialogues and conversations with Socrates and the ethical influence has on others. In this category also belong two of his works Oeconomicus and Symposion, a conversation with Socrates involving home economics and a dialogue on love respectively.

Xenophon’s didactic treatises provide valuable information on the correct treatment and use of horses, instructions on strategic and tactical matters of war, as well as solutions to the remediation of Athens’ economy.

A philosopher with high educational background, Xenophon’s philosophy was largely influenced by Socrates. As a political philosopher, he endorsed the strict political system of Sparta, the goal of which was set years ago by Lycurgus. As a moral philosopher, Xenophon highlighted the importance of discipline, moderation and self-control. For him, hard work is a virtue, even for a King, as presented in Oeconomicus, where Cyrus the Great is said to be taking care of his own garden regularly.

As early from the Alexandrian era, Xenophon was highly valued by historians and philologists, who placed him among Herodotus and Thucydides. His legacy continued unchanged during the Roman Empire. In the Renaissance, European scholars used his works for didactic purposes: the Memorabilia to teach about Socrates and his philosophy, Agesilaus for the virtues of an ideal leader, Anabasis for the discipline, initiative and wise decision-making, Cyropaedia for the importance of education, and the Hellenica as the most valuable source for the history of Greece during that era.

Bibliography:

  1. Βολωνάκης, Κ. Ιωάννης. Της Αρχαίας Ελλάδος οι Μεγάλοι Ηγέται. Γεοργιάδης: Αθήναι, 1997. Print.
  2. Browning, Eve A. Xenophon. Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy. Iep.utm.edu. Web.
  3. Διαλησμά, Δρουκόπουλος, Κουτρουμπέλη, Χρυσαφής. Αρχαίοι Έλληνες Ιστοριογράφοι. Οργανισμός Εκδόσεως Σχολικών Βιβλίων. Διδακτικά Σχολικά Βιβλία. Print.
Xenophon

Conon of Samos

Astronomer, Mathematician, Geographer (c.280 BC – c.220 BC)

Conon of Samos is renowned for his contributions in astronomy. He was a contemporary and close friend of Archimedes, with whom he exchanged mathematical ideas. He lived in Alexandria and worked in the court of Ptolemy III Euergetes, with whom he was also a close friend.

Conon discovered the constellation of Coma Berenices, found between the constellations of Virgo, Leo and Bootes. He named it poetically after the rich hair of Queen Berenice II, wife of Ptolemy III Euergetes.

His works are numerous, but sadly the majority of them have been lost. Among them, De Astrologia, a treatise consisting of 7 books dedicated to Ptolemy III Euergetes. It contained Conon’s own astronomical observations on solar eclipses. This treatise was used by Hipparchus. Another one of his works was Parapegmata, a diary containing meteorological forecasts and information on the risings and settings of stars. His data was a result of meticulous observations he had conducted in Magna Graecia.

In addition to astronomy and geography, Conon was a skilled mathematician. His work on conic sections, which also does not survive, formed the basis of Apollonius of Perga’s 4th book of Conics. It is also believed, based on accounts from Pappus of Alexandria, that Conon was the original inventor of the Archimedean spiral.

At his time, Conon was recognized as a prestigious mathematician. Callimachus wrote a poem entitled Coma Berenices, which writes about Conon that he “discerned all the lights of the vast universe and disclosed the risings and settings of the stars, how the fiery brightness of the sun is darkened and how the stars retreat at fixed times”.

Bibliography:

  1. Georgakopoulos, Konstantinos. Ancient Greek Scientists. Georgiades: Athens, 1995. Print.
  2. J.J. O’Connor, E.F. Robertson. Conon of Samos. University of St. Andrews. St-andrews.ac.uk. Web.
Conon of Samos