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  • A Commentary on Thucydides
  • Christina S. Kraus
Simon Hornblower. A Commentary on Thucydides. Vol. 3: Books 5.25–8.109. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. Pp. xix, 1107. $350.00. ISBN 978-0-19-927648-6.

This volume completes Hornblower's commentary on Thucydides, which both is and is not an update to Gomme-Andrewes-Dover (Oxford 1945–81); Hornblower does not add "Historical" to the title, giving him a wider remit suited to his particular take on Thucydides. Like Hornblower's previous [End Page 124] volumes, this one offers a breathtaking range of comment, encompassing issues narratological, historical, philological, archaeological, historiographical, literary, economic, etc. Hornblower's expertise allows him a confident but engaging tone: this is the kind of commentary that, despite its monumental proportions, leaves one wanting more; that opens up ideas, rather than shutting them down. In it, indeed, Hornblower has gone far beyond his earlier volumes 1 and 2 in sophistication of approach and breadth of understanding, both of Thucydides the historian and of the Greek historiographical tradition.

Hornblower argues persuasively, with Connor, Dewald, and Rood (among others), that books v.25–viii are unified, and that the history as a whole shows a development of manner, in which Thucydides' understanding of his subject and his method of composition changes and grows. Well aware of the inconsistencies inevitable in such a large work written over many years, Hornblower tries neither to argue them away nor to use them to pry the text open and theorize about its layers of composition and revision. His discussions of them are sometimes speculative (he is particularly good on the unfinished last sentence, where parallels from the end of Herodotus lead him to suggest ways in which Thucydides may have meant to close the history), sometimes analytical (e.g., on viii.71, combining narratological, historical, and textual approaches), never simplistic. He has enlightening discussions on the Melian Dialogue, which brings together a sensitivity to Thucydides' meaningful juxtapositions (here, the successful attack on Melos—the failed invasion of Sicily is developed, 217) and a careful survey of the dialogue form and structure (219–20; Hornblower wonders if there might be a "performative, sympotic aspect" to the Melian Dialogue; for his argument that parts of the history were performed see 31); and also on the relationship between Herodotus and Thucydides (on vi.54–59), where we learn that Herodotus was far less interested in sex than Thucydides, who uses the Peisistratid excursus as—inter alia—a way to correct "The Master" (439) both historically and historiographically. On the aftermath of the battle in Syracuse harbor, Hornblower has an essential note on the role of Troy in Thucydides' presentation of the Sicilian defeat—though he misses (711) the point of Paul's classic article, which is precisely that all urbs-capta narratives are rooted in the literary memory of Troy.

There are some repetitions, some missed connections (e.g., 1023 on viii.93.1 badly needs a reference back to Hornblower's extensive introductory discussion of Sicily and theatricality, 12–21), and some apparent disconnects (e.g., 41, on some modern trends in Thucydidean scholarship: denying anomalies is not identical to arguing them away or ignoring them). But these are tiny flies in the ointment. The book is remarkable for its precision, interest, and overall economy. One of the things I found most interesting was Hornblower's insistence on the importance of historiography: he effectively brings the "composition question" to bear on contemporary Thucydidean scholarship (e.g., 2, 45, 435), sometimes to argue against scholars who have misunderstood its prosopographical complexities, but often to illustrate the development of individuals' understanding of the text, or their choice of what to note in what context (436). These reflections on the nature of the commentary form well underscore Hornblower's overall insistence—and demonstration—that this work (like all such complex texts) demands self-awareness on the part of its commentator as much as it needs knowledge and experience of the history of fifth-century Greece.

There are six illustrations and eight maps; an extensive bibliography, two appendices (appendix 1 revisits Hornblower's commentaries on i–v.24; [End Page 125] appendix 2 discusses Athenian...


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