Plato and Thucydides on Athenian imperialism
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For over two thousand years, Plato’s superiority to Thucydides was taken as an article of faith in Western philosophy. Nietzsche was the first to challenge this verdict by asserting his view—on philosophical grounds—that Thucydides was the more penetrating analyst of the human condition. Other than Nietzsche’s consideration of the two thinkers, surprisingly little has been done to investigate the connections between the two greatest Greek prose writers. My purpose in this dissertation is to rekindle this debate in light of new evidence to see what—if anything—can be gained by examining the relationship between how Plato and Thucydides treat the problem of Athenian imperialism. More specifically, I believe and attempt to show that: (1) Plato silently but explicitly directs his readers to different parts of the History through the use of textual references and thematic patterns; (2) Plato uses these textual allusions to highlight the common ground between the two thinkers, and that Plato understands Thucydides to be an ally to his philosophic aims; (3) Plato and Thucydides agree that the underlying cause of Athenian imperialism can be attributed to a combination of greed (pleonexia) and the internalization of specific sophistic teachings that, whether intended by the sophists or not, support unbridled appetitiveness as the best way of life; and (4) Plato and Thucydides largely agree on the solution to the problem—that pleonexia must be extirpated from the ruling order.