Thucydides and Human Nature

Essay by emmanuel1503A-, February 2013

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Human Nature Laid Bare in Civil War (3.81.2-85 , 4.47.3-48)

Human nature is a controversial debate that has been going on for millennia. One of the earliest historians to expound upon the topic from a purely scientific and factual point of view was Thucydides. Thucydides believed that humanity was capable of being violent by nature and that violence would always come to the foreground if ones way of living was threatened or if there was a lack of binding authority present. This violence as explained, is so deeply rooted in the essence of man's being that it will consume and overcome even the strongest values, traditions, and morals warping them beyond recognition. This is best illustrated through Thucydides' recounting of one of Ancient Greece's first Civil wars having taken place in Corcyra between the rich aristocratic oligarchs backed by the Peloponnesians and the poorer plebeian democrats backed by the Athenians.

Thucydides begins by explaining that the island of Corcyra, a then Corinthian Colony, had been in argument with Corinth. Tensions grew as Athens began getting involved and aiding the Corcyreans and later erupted into an all out civil war between the oligarchic minority that traditionally ruled and the democratic majority that had been getting the short end of the proverbial stick. Fear became widespread as rumors of both sides turning to and asking their powerful allies for help spread. With this the small island and its quarrel became and was used as the theater for a much larger rivalry, the one between Athens and Sparta, and hence got blown out of proportion. It was under these circumstances; the insecurities brought on by their livelihood being threatened along with the security of knowing that powerful backup was on its way that led the Corcyreans to begin letting go...