There is a persistent tendency among readers of Thucydides to complain about other people’s readings of Thucydides. Sometimes these are ridiculously wishy-washy and overly complex, severing the text from any connection to reality and any hope of it making a useful contribution to the world, sometimes these are absurdly simple and reductionist, denying the complexity of Thucydides’ thought and the complexity of the world in equal measure; what they have in common is that they’re all dramatically inferior to my reading. A key question for the study of Thukydidismus is the capacity of Thucydides’ text to be interpreted in such dramatically different and contradictory ways, and the malleability of Thucydides himself, able to recruited as a supporter by any number of different ideological projects. The final group of papers from the conference all engaged in different ways with this question.Greg Crane (Tufts) noted the tendency of many readers to call on Thucydides to legitimise simplistic models of human behaviour; reading him, for example, as endorsing rather than presenting and problematising a crude ‘realism’ or utilitarianism in international relations. The problem is that there’s no point in criticising, say, the American Neocons for their bad readings of Thucydides, as they won’t listen; what do we do if we want Thucydides actually to enrich the discussion? What does Thucydides seem like when read in Teheran? “If anyone should have been forced to drink hemlock, it’s Thucydides; they got the wrong guy…” Thom Workman (New Brunswick) approached Thucydides’ “felicitously ambiguous” text from the perspective of late modern philosophy, wondering why its complexity is so often reduced to a single meaning. There is the tendency of Western culture to hold paired categories, and thus to read Thucydides as either wholly value-laden or wholly value-free; this is coupled with the striving for value-free science and the repudiation of the transcendental, taken for granted by both positive and negative readings of his work. Thucydides in contrast seeks to engage with dialectic, between human beings and nature, drawing from the “primordial sociological goo” a rich and ambigious idea of what it is to be human, far richer than modern thought can manage.
Finally, in the closing keynote lecture, Hunter Rawlings (Cornell) offered his own reading of Thucydides as someone writing for those few who wish truly to understand, who are willing to make the necessary effort and to re-read Thucydides’ account time and again, tracing the complexities of his thought and of events. He sketched some milestones in the history of reading Thucydides, from David Hume to W.H. Auden, and concluded not with his own experience of encountering the History in the late 1960s and finding in it a way of making some sense of contemporary events, but with the experience of his son, a serving military officer whose encounters with Thucydides – no longer some irrelevant classical text associated with his father’s scholarly work – are wholly premised on the idea that in some way he remains of contemporary relevance. All I can say is that you need to read this lecture in full for yourself, and Hunter has been kind enough to post the text here.