ElAnt v1n2 - The Structure of Thucydides' Dissertation on Stasis and the Authenticity of 3.84

Volume 1, Number 2
July 1993


J. R. Ellis,
Department of Greek, Roman and Egyptian Studies,
Monash University,
Victoria 3168,
e-mail: jellis@arts.cc.monash.edu.au

At the end of Thucydides' account of the first great stasis stands his powerfully charged generalisation on the nature and pervasiveness of stasis generally in the Peloponnesian War (3.70- 81; cf. 82-85.1). Since ancient times there has been debate over whether chapter 84 is authentically Thucydidean. There have been some who found it spurious on grounds of language, composition and context, while others have accepted it with little difficulty.(1)

My proposal is simple and modest: that on consideration of its place within the formal structure of the exposition on stasis, 3.84 is very hard indeed to damn.

Like every other passage I have examined in Thucydides, 3.82.1-85.1 is structured by ringcomposition.(2) In the present e- paper, since line-drawn diagrams are not feasible, I distinguish elements of the basic (primary) structure by capital letters (A, B, C, B', A'), secondary subelements of the primary elements by lower case letters (a, b, c, b', a') and tertiary "subsubelements" of the secondary subelements by lower case roman numerals (i, ii, iii, ii', i'). In each case, of course, coincidence (A/A', a/a', i/i', etc.) indicates parallelism.


A 82.1-3, Human nature was responsible for this first dreadful stasis.
B 82.4-7, The civilised virtues were replaced by their opposites.
C 82.8, Greed and ambition subordinated all public good to the lust for power.
B' 83, The civilised proprieties were scorned and abandoned.
A' 84-85.1, Human nature overcompensated for misfortune in this first stasis.

Section A begins and ends with passages making a transition between the particular narrative of the Kerkyraian stasis and the generalised commentary which is the subject of our consideration:

82.1, This savage affair seemed even worse because it was the forerunner of those which occurred later through the whole Hellenic world;

82.3, So staseis began to break out in other cities, inspired by and even surpassing what had occurred earlier.

Similarly section A' begins and ends with transition passages directly parallel in function and content:

84.1, It was in Kerkyra that most of these things first happened;

85.1, While in the city the Kerkyraians were the first to display such passions . . . [Eurymedon and the Athenians sailed away in the fleet.

Central in each of the elements so demarcated are parallel references to the fundamental role of human nature (82.2: he phusis anthropon ; 84.2: he anthropeia phusis ).

The contents of the two sections may be summarised as follows:

SECTION A (Secondary Structure)

a 82.1, This savage stasis, because the first, seemed worse than those that followed.
b 82.1, War gave partisans the opportunity and desire to call in the Athenians/Lakedaimonians.
c 82.2, Such things will always happen while human nature is as it is.
b' 82.2, War, a violent teacher, drags people's character down to its own level.
a' 82.3, So the stasis began, and in cities affected later even worse occurred.

SECTION A' (Secondary Structure)

a 84.1, It was in Kerkyra that most of these things first happened.
b 84.1, Those compensating for past misfortune went to extremes of cruelty and injustice.
c 84.2, Human nature, always tending to wrong, was insubordinate to justice or authority.
b' 84.3, For vengeance's sake the principles of last resort in need were abrogated.
a' 85.1, The Kerkyraians were the first to display these passions in their city.

The subject-matter of sections B and B' is common: both deal with the inversion and perversion of the normal values, even language, which serve states in time of peace, as partisanship takes priority over everything else.

SECTION B (Secondary Structure)

a 82.4, The customary meanings of words with respect to actions altered.
b 82.4-5, Intelligence and moderation were judged faults; the extremes were admired.
c 82.5, To win, by whatever means, was all that counted.
d 82.6, Partisan allegiances were contrary to all law but that of aggrandisement.
c' 82.7, Victory and vengeance, regardless of right or religion, were all that counted.
b' 82.7, Breach of faith won a person a name for intelligence.
a' 82.7, To be called clever villains was glorious but simple honesty was cause for shame.

SECTION B' (Secondary Structure)

a 83.1, Depravity thrived while noble simplicity was ridiculed and vanished.
b 83.1, Mutual ideological antagonism prevailed amidst distrust.
c 83.2, For reconciliation no word was binding, no oath terrible enough,
d 83.2, . . . for, if possible, calculating that security was beyond expectation,
c' 83.2, . . . . to avoid injury they would anticipate wrong rather than give their trust.
b' 83.3, The dull-witted prevailed for, mistrusting their wits, they resorted to action.
a' 83.4, Their opposites, contemptuously relying on theirs, were taken off guard.

At the centre stands 3.82.8, a description of the partisanship which, Thucydides held, accounted for the suppression and subordination of all public good. At the root of it was greed and ambition.

SECTION C (Secondary Structure)

a 82.8, Greed and ambition were the root causes, making fanatics of the partisans.
b 82.8, The leaders with fine-sounding slogans in fact made the state their prize.
c 82.8, Wanting supremacy by any means, their violence and revenge were dreadful.
d 82.8, They submitted not to justice or common good but to their own pleasure.
c' 82.8, Through injustice and violence they satiated the hatreds of the moment.
b' 82.8, Both sides cloaked their odious deeds with fine-sounding phrases.
a' 82.8, From anger or envy the uncommitted were destroyed by both sides.

Around this centre the layout is logical. The first and last sections (A/A') are both transitional and contextual. They furnish a connection between the Kerkyraian narrative and the general discussion of stasis and at the same time they relate the first stasis to those which followed, the consistency of human nature being identified as the constant factor. In the second and second-last sections (B/B') the reversals are explored which characterise the Thucydidean stasis.

It hardly needs pointing out that 3.84 is an integral part of the pattern. Not only does it play its appropriate, indeed essential , part in the overall structure, but it takes in a small section of the following chapter (85.1a), which would stand isolated without it. The stasis narrative with chapter 84 simply deleted would be structurally impossible. The only remotely reasonable alternative, that an authentically Thucydidean 3.84 was removed and replaced by this clever counterfeit would be, as far as I know, a unique case. A final, desperate resort, to the eventuality that Editor X added 3.84 before Editor Y restructured ( rewrote! ) Thucydides according to the principles of ringcomposition, does not merit consideration. Despite the doubts of the ancient (?) scholiasts, those who wish to call it spurious must do better than query its 'style and manners'.

Of the five secondary elements, three (including the last, 3.84 ) are sufficiently long to be further subdivided (to the tertiary level).(3) For interest's sake I set out the tertiary structures.

SECTION A (Tertiary Structure)

Part a
i 82.1, This savage stasis, because the first, seemed worse than those that followed.

Part b
i 82.1, In each state the democrats called in the Athenians, the oligarchs the Lakedaimonians.
ii 82.1, In peace there'd have been no pretext or will, but war furnished both.
i' 82.1, It became easier for those wanting revolution to call them in.

Part c
i 82.2, Much that was grievous befell the cities in these staseis.
ii 82.2, This happens and always will while human nature is what it is.
i' 82.2, But they may vary in severity, etc., according to circumstances.

Part b'
i 82.2, In peace and prosperity cities and individuals enjoy higher sentiments.
ii 82.2, This is because they are brought face to face with dire necessity.
i' 82.2, But war, a violent teacher, drags men's sentiments down to its own level.

Part a'
i 82.3, So the stasis began and, in cities affected later, even worse was experienced.

SECTION B (Tertiary Structure)

Part a
i 82.4, The customary meanings of words with respect to actions altered.

Part b
i 82.4, Reckless audacity was judged to be partisan courage.
ii 82.4, Prudent hesitation was thought to be a coward's pretext.
iii 82.4, Moderation was thought to be unmanly weakness.
iv 82.4, Intelligence about anything was seen as inefficacy.
iii' 82.4, Fanaticism was accounted the quality of the real man.
ii' 82.4 ,Caution in deliberation was accounted a shirker's pretext.
i' 82.5, Violence was always trustworthy, its opposite suspect.

Part c
i 82.5, To triumph in a plot was smart, to forestall one even smarter.
ii 82.5, To shun both was but sabotage or fear of the opposition.
i' 82.5, Equally admirable were initiate wrong and to lead others into it.

Part d
i 82.6, Cronies counted more than kin, for they would risk without question.
ii 82.6, The parties pursued not the law's benefits but illicit gain.
i' 82.6, Pledges were sealed more by mutual lawbreaking than by divine law.

Part c'
i 82.7, If one spoke fair one's opponents resisted any practical effect.
ii 82.7, To pay another back was better than avoiding injury oneself.
i' 82.7, Reconciliation oaths were sworn only when there was no other option.

Part b'
i 82.7, Those who first plucked up courage to catch opponents unawares.
ii 82.7, . . . preferred the vengeance won by broken faith to that won openly.
i' 82.7, Treachery won them, as well as security, a name for intelligence.

Part a'
i 82.7, To be called clever villains was glorious but simple honesty was shameful.

SECTION A' (Tertiary Structure)

Part a
i 84.1, It was in Kerkyra that most of these things first happened.

Part b
i 84.1, Once vengeance was possible, reprisals were made by those who had been governed immoderately.
ii 84.1, There was injustice on the part of those released from poverty and coveting others' goods.
i' 84.1, Pitiless cruelties were engaged in by those now the equal of their foes.

Part c
i 84.2, The life of the city was at this point thrown into confusion.
ii 84.2, Human nature, at best perverse, now showed itself utterly beyond control.
i' 84.2, The power of envy promoted revenge above piety and greed above justice.

Part b'
i 84.3, The common principles, on which all depend in misfortune,
ii 84.3, . . . people are prepared to abrogate for vengeance's sake,
i' 84.3, ...rather than upholding them lest those in danger have need.

Part a'
i 85.1, The people of Kerkyra were the first to display these passions.


(1) The key contributions to the literature are summarised by W. Kendrick Pritchett in his translation of and commentary on Dionysius of Halicarnassus, On Thucydides (Berkeley, 1975), p. 117 n. 7. In renouncing his first-edition faith in the chapter, Arnold proposed in his second edition that it was interpolated by a Constantinopolitan Christian of the 4th to 7th century (Vol. 1, comm. and '(End)Note on 3.84').

(2) For the literature on ringcomposition and my own understanding of its principles in Thucydides, see my 'The Structure and Argument of Thucydides' Archaeology', Classical Antiquity 10,2 (1991). pp. 344-380, especially pp. 345-348 with notes; also 'Thucydidean Method in the Kylon, Pausanias and Themistokles Logoi', Arethusa (forthcoming).

(3) As I have observed elsewhere ('Structure and Argument of Thucydides' Archaeology', p. 348 n. 16), there is no compulsion, in Thucydides at least, to make responding elements (approximately) the same length. Sections B (82.4-7)and B' (83.1-4) of the secondary structure, for example, are of approximately 28 and 13 lines respectively ( OCT ). The former is further elaborated at the tertiary level, the latter is not. To put the converse: 'when a passage is long or complex enough to allow, it will be articulated, on a topical and thematic basis, by ring composition' (ibid.).

J. R. Ellis
e-mail: jellis@arts.cc.monash.edu.au

COPYRIGHT NOTE: Copyright remains with authors, but due reference should be made to this journal if any part of the above is later published elsewhere.

Electronic Antiquity Vol. 1 Issue 2 - July 1993
edited by Peter Toohey and Ian Worthington
ISSN 1320-3606