reception, reinterpretation & influence.

A series of AHRC- funded research workshops
Bristol, Cambridge & Oxford

October - December 2007

The work of Thucydides has had a far-reaching influence on the understanding of the modern world; he has been seen as the founder of critical history, as a pioneer in the critique of democracy and as a key thinker in the field of international relations. Remarkably, however, the history of the reception of Thucydides has never been studied in depth. The aim of these workshops is to bring together scholars from different disciplinary traditions to discuss how Thucydides has been read, studied and reinterpreted since the eighteenth century.

SATURDAY 13TH OCTOBER, Bristol: Historiography

The workshop venue for this event will be: Burwalls Centre for Continuing Education. For more information :

SATURDAY 17TH NOVEMBER, Oxford: Politics & Society

SATURDAY 1ST DECEMBER, Cambridge: International Perspectives

Keynote Speakers: Emily Greenwood (St Andrews), Geoffrey Hawthorn (Cambridge), Jon Hesk (St Andrews), Kinch Hoekstra (Oxford), Ned Lebow (Dartmouth), Jennifer Roberts (CUNY), Johannes Süssman (Frankfurt), Nadia Urbinati, (Columbia).

In 1811, as Reinhard Koselleck described in his account of the idea of 'historia magister vitae', a section head in the Prussian Ministry of Finance was persuaded to abandon his plans to print large quantities of banknotes to pay off state debts by the following argument: 'Privy Councillor, do you not remember that Thucydides tells of the evils that followed from the circulation of too much paper money in Athens?' Such faith in the authority of a historian who had written over two thousand years earlier may seem to be a symptom of the hold of classicism over the educated elite of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. However, even as the idea of 'history as the teacher of life' began to lose ground over the course of the century, as the modern world became ever more conscious of a vast gap separating its experiences from the world of classical antiquity, Thucydides retained his importance. Rather than a guide to action, his work became a model of critical analysis. His diagnosis of the workings of politics, already an important influence on Hobbes (who had translated the work) continued to influence political and social analysis, liberals and conservatives alike finding there insights and understanding sympathetic to their own perspectives. He displaced Tacitus as the model historian, not least because he offered a detailed methodological justification of his work that chimed with the expectations of the new 'scientific' historiography; Leopold von Ranke, for example, wrote his doctoral dissertation (sadly lost) on Thucydides, and the influence on the imperative to show 'wie es eigentlich gewesen' - even if it is not, as it has been argued, a direct citation - is undeniable. For Nietzsche, Thucydides was the epitome of 'realism' in philosophy, a perfect counterpart to Plato and Platonism.
Even today, Thucydides is regularly cited, if not necessarily analysed at length: as the founder of critical history, as a pioneering analyst of democracy and its limitations, and above all in the field of international relations and war studies. The Melian dialogue is the locus classicus of what has been labelled as the 'classical realist' school of international relations, with Thucydides seen as the key influence on figures like Leo Strauss, Kenneth Waltz, Robert Gilpin and Henry Kissinger; 'Thucydides on War' remains a regular course in the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
Remarkably, the history of the reception of Thucydides since antiquity has never been studied in depth; neither the history of scholarship and the publication of editions, translations and commentaries, nor his far-reaching influence in historiography, political science, philosophy and international relations. Detailed studies within the field of Classics, looking at the narrative and rhetorical structures of Thucydides' work, its relation to contemporary science and its place in the development of classical historiography, are entirely unknown to those working on relevant material in other disciplines; conversely, debates on the place of Thucydides' ideas in the development of international relations and political theory are largely unknown to classicists, while the highly politicised Thucydides of the American neo-conservatives seems to float free of any historical context. The aim of these workshops, organised around the themes of 'History', 'Politics and Society' and 'International Perspectives', is to bring together scholars from different disciplinary traditions to discuss how Thucydides has been read, studies and reinterpreted over the centuries, and how his work has influenced the development of different attempts at understanding and modern world.

Organiser: Neville Morley, University of Bristol, UK (n.d.g.morley AT