Written four hundred years before the birth of Christ, this detailed contemporary account of the struggle between Athens and Sparta stands an excellent chance of fulfilling the author's ambitious claim that the work "was done to last forever." The conflicts between the two empires over shipping, trade, and colonial expansion came to a head in 431 b.c. in Northern Greece, and the entire Greek world was plunged into 27 years of war. Thucydides applied a passion for accuracy and a contempt for myth and romance in compiling this exhaustively factual record of the disastrous conflict that eventually ended the Athenian empire.
Born into a family of Athens's old nobility claiming descent from the Homeric hero Ajax of Salamis, Thucydides pursued a political career under Pericles and served as a general in the Great Peloponnesian War of 431--404 b.c. His subsequent exile for failure to prevent a Spartan takeover of an Athenian colony in Thrace enabled him to observe the war from both sides. In his history of the war, he examines the policies and motives of the people involved with a calculated rationality that nevertheless conveys great passion. Although his narrative style is lucid and astringent, the language of the speeches that he gives his protagonists is some of the most difficult, yet rhetorically powerful,…