The History of the Peloponnesian War

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by Thucydides

The History of the Peloponnesian War

Title page from The History of the Peloponnesian War, George Wythe Collection, Wolf Law Library, College of William & Mary.

Author Thucydides
Editor {{{editor}}}
Translator William Smith
Published London: Printed by John Watts
Date 1753
Edition {{{edition}}}
Language English
Volumes 8 parts in 2 volumes bound as 1 volume set
Pages {{{pages}}}
Desc. 4to (25 cm)
Location Shelf C-1
  [[Shelf {{{shelf2}}}]]
Bookplate of Toft Hall, front pastedown.

Thucydides (c. 460 BCE–c. 395 BCE) has gone down in history as one of the great ancient historians, despite the fact that (possibly because) he wrote only one book: History of the Peloponnesian War.[1] The History consists of eight books, roughly divided into five parts or themes that cover the war between Athens and Sparta (431-404 BCE) until the winter of 411/410 BCE. Continuations by other historians to complete Thucydides’ history of the war are now lost, and the original portions of the eight books are also not complete.[2]

Thucydides intended his history to be used as an instructive and accurate record of what he viewed as the most important war in Greek history. In 424 BCE, as a general or strategos, Thucydides failed to save the valuable Athenian colony of Amphipolis from Spartan attack. As a result, he was exiled and did not return to Athens until 404 BCE. His absence for most of the Peloponnesian War inspired him “to gain first-hand information from both sides and to have a clearer perspective.”[3] Though Thucydides strived for “exactness,” he also used a great many speeches in his history, and admitted that it was near impossible to have fully accurate speeches. In these situations, Thucydides allowed himself to trust his “historical imagination” in order to dramatically demonstrate “the workings of men’s minds and the impact of circumstance.” [4] His focus on accuracy is seen through the lack of divine explanations for any events, but his impartiality has been questioned, especially in reference to his favorable view of Pericles and unjustifiably negative depiction of Cleon. Overall, the serious nature of the writing illuminates Thucydides’ focus on historical fact and analysis.[5]

Evidence for Inclusion in Wythe's Library

Listed in the Jefferson Inventory of Wythe's Library as "Thucydides Eng. by Smith. 2.v. 4to." This was one of the titles kept by Thomas Jefferson. Both George Wythe's Library[6] on LibraryThing and the Brown Bibliography[7] list the 1753 edition published in London based on the copy Jefferson sold to the Library of Congress in 1815.[8] Jefferson's copy still exists but it includes no definitive ties to Wythe. There are "manuscript notes ... and pencil notes of a much later date" which may link the volume to Wythe. The Wolf Law Library added a copy of this edition.

Headpiece, first page of text.

Description of the Wolf Law Library's copy

Bound in full paneled calf with blind tooled decoration and expertly rebacked with original backstrip laid on. Has raised bands with the earlier label in gilt lettered morocco and all edges in red. Includes the bookplate of Toft Hall. Purchased from Roger Middleton Fine and Rare Books.

Images of the library's copy of this book are available on Flickr. View the record for this book in William & Mary's online catalog.

See also


  1. John Roberts, ed., "Thucydidēs" in Oxford Dictionary of the Classical World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).
  2. Ibid.
  3. M.C. Howatson, ed., "Thūcy'didēs" in The Oxford Companion to Classical Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).
  4. Roberts, "Thucydidēs."
  5. Howatson, "Thūcy'didēs.”
  6. LibraryThing, s.v. "Member: George Wythe," accessed on November 19, 2013.
  7. Bennie Brown, "The Library of George Wythe of Williamsburg and Richmond," (unpublished manuscript, May, 2012) Microsoft Word file. Earlier edition available at:
  8. E. Millicent Sowerby, Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, (Washington, D.C.: The Library of Congress, 1952-1959), 1:9 [no.17].

External Links

Read volume one of this book in Google Books.
Read volume two of this book in Google Books.