Peloponnesian War is a subtle but forceful critique. In writing this kind of essay, it is important to keep in mind that while there certainly can be better and worse interpretations of a text (more or less cogent and insightful, more or less attentive to the complexities of the text, more or less consistent with what we know about the historical context in which it was written), there is no “right” answer in a strict sense, at least for the purpose of this assignment. You should therefore approach the topic statement of your choosing without reverence, assessing it from the standpoint of your own considered and well-informed understanding of the text.
Since there is no right answer, note that two students in this class could get the same grade by arguing (in an equally cogent and persuasive manner) for two opposite positions on the same topic.
Peloponnesian War is a subtle but forceful critique
Choose one of the following topics:
1) Thucydides’ The Peloponnesian War is one of the highest expressions of a realist approach to politics. Thucydides concedes nothing to the power of ideas, deliberation, or speeches, to subjective intentions, political values, and other idle fancies. Instead, he offers a sober and detached account of the facts and of their real, objective causes.
The real conflict described in The Peloponnesian War is not between Athens and Sparta, but between democracy and its enemies. Thucydides, in spite of his moderate tone and repeated professions of objectivity, belongs to the latter. His book amounts to a devastating criticism of democratic principles and institutions as irrational and unsustainable.
Next, the essay should have a lively and interesting introductory paragraph that spells out a specific thesis. Your thesis should take the form of a definite response to one of the above statements. In crafting your thesis you are free to completely agree, completely disagree, or take any (clearly stated) position in-between those two extremes in accordance to your own understanding of the text. In any case, in asserting your thesis you should not simply repeat the statement you have chosen, but should try to give it your own specific interpretation, then provide your own clear, forceful response to it. Establishing a position that you then have to defend will force you into a critical engagement with the text, not just a summary of it.