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Thucydides and the Politics of Necessity


Thucydides’ text is a locus classicus for political-theoretical discussions of necessity. Such figures as the Athenian envoys in Sparta and Melos frequently draw upon the concept to explain and justify their actions, while Thucydides himself employs it to great explanatory effect in accounting for the actions and origins of the Peloponnesian War. But necessity does not work in only one mode for Thucydides, nor do his characters draw on one consistent argument from necessity throughout the text. Rather, Thucydides’ text offers a rich illustration of the many different ways that necessity affects, and is said to affect, political life. Furthermore, it suggests an approach to necessity that is heroic despite being entirely naturalistic, and focused on the collective action of the polis.

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