In Thucydides and the Pursuit of Freedom, Mary P. Nichols argues
for the centrality of the idea of freedom in Thucydides' thought.
Through her close reading of his History of the Peloponnesian War,
she explores the manifestations of this theme. Cities and
individuals in Thucydides' history take freedom as their goal,
whether they claim to possess it and want to maintain it or whether
they desire to attain it for themselves or others. Freedom is the
goal of both antagonists in the Peloponnesian War, Sparta and
Athens, although in different ways. One of the fullest expressions
of freedom can be seen in the rhetoric of Thucydides' Pericles,
especially in his famous funeral oration. More than simply
documenting the struggle for freedom, however, Thucydides himself
is taking freedom as his cause. On the one hand, he demonstrates
that freedom makes possible human excellence, including courage,
self-restraint, deliberation, and judgment, which support freedom
in turn. On the other hand, the pursuit of freedom, in one's own
regime and in the world at large, clashes with interests and
material necessity, and indeed the very passions required for its
support. Thucydides' work, which he himself considered a possession
for all time, therefore speaks very much to our time, encouraging
the defense of freedom while warning of the limits and dangers in
doing so. The powerful must defend freedom, Thucydides teaches, but
beware that the cost not become freedom itself.
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