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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Weather, chance and the unpredictable in thucydides MacHattie, James Alexander


Thucydides the Athenian wrote his History of the Peloponnesian War, the famed conflict between Athens and Sparta of 431-404 BCE, in the belief that this period was the most worth writing about. He hoped that his composition would become a "possession for all time". He prided himself on his accuracy and thoroughness of research and reporting. His history is didactic and paradigmatic, and in it he makes use of a number of themes, from which he hoped that those who would read his work could understand clearly how events happened and be able to realize how events will be repeated in much the same ways. One such theme is the influence of chance and the unpredictable on the war. Chance was portrayed by Thucydides as a force which has the ability to alter the orderly and logical course of events. One aspect of chance and the unpredictable is the element of weather. This thesis examines the element of weather as an example of the unpredictable and as a manifestation of chance. The following questions arise: How does Thucydides perceive weather as an element of chance and the unpredictable? Does he consider weather to be a force in the war, having the ability to affect the course of events by hindering or preventing campaigns, or aiding or leading to campaigns? Is there a pattern to the human reaction to such events? The original Greek text of Thucydides was integral in attempting to answer these questions. The CD-ROM Thesaurus Graecae Linguae was a great help in conducting word searches through Thucydides' material to isolate passages relating to chance, the unpredictable and weather. It became evident that two sections were required; one on the speeches recounted in the work, and one on the actual events. There were five major episodes which demonstrated the effect of weather and the unpredictable on the war; the affair at Pylos, the exploits of Brasidas, Phormio's battles at Naupactus, Plataea, and the events of Book Eight. With focus on the relevant material in Thucydides' text, other ancient authors and modern scholarship, the material took the form of two major sections, with the second divided into the five episodes. Thucydides' speeches, examined in Chapter I, establish his view of chance and the unpredictable. Chapter II examines the applications of this view through the above events, in which weather was a factor. Throughout, Thucydides' commentary on the reaction to these events is noted. The following conclusions were formed: weather is an element of the unpredictable and chance when it is not spread over a prolonged period of time. Weather was seen to hinder, prevent, aid and effect campaigns. It is clear that Thucydides believed that the human reaction to such events tended to follow a patter, which was generally predictable. Weather, chance and the unpredictable fit into Thucydides' method of presenting material in such a manner so as to enable his readers to make reasonable calculations on how events took place, and how they may happen again.

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