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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Complex Depiction of Nicias in Thucydides

  • Author(s): Niedzielski, Benjamin
  • et al.

The main source of information about the Peloponnesian War, which took place between Athens and Sparta at the end of the fifth century BCE, is an account written by the historian and Athenian general Thucydides.  Unfortunately, it is problematic to try to recover the historical figures who participated in this war from Thucydides’ work.  Oftentimes, he was not present for speeches that he provides and his biases are frequently evident.  It is, however, possible to study historical figures as Thucydides depicts them, through both his narrative and the speeches he attributes to these figures.  This paper examines Thucydides’ depiction of the Athenian general Nicias, who unwillingly led a failed expedition to Sicily during the Peloponnesian War.  An analysis of both Nicias’ speeches and his actions in Thucydides’ narrative shows a complex depiction.  Nicias has many faults and only some of his predictions to the people of Athens come true.  Ultimately, he is unsuccessful as a leader.  Nevertheless, Thucydides seems to depict Nicias as having the best interests of Athens in mind.  This depiction is multilayered and complex, but it is clearly a much more positive depiction than that of the Athenian general Alcibiades.

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