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The Anti-Program of Thucydides' Archaeology

Thomas Beasley

Most of the scholarship on the Archaeology--the inquiry into the Greek past that opens Thucydides' history (1.2-1.19)--has emphasized its programmatic qualities. It is the Archaeology, for instance, which introduces the idea of the Athenians and Spartans' opposing national characters (Luginbill 1999). It is likewise the Archaeology where the relationship between ships, money and imperial power is first foregrounded, anticipating Athens' hegemony and establishing its pillars (Connor 1984: 23-27). And it is, finally, the Archaeology, which, in one of the most influential readings of the passage, offers a programmatic demonstration of Thucydides' thoroughgoing rationalism (de Romilly 2012). In a variety of ways, the Archaeology is said to look ahead to Thucydides' narrative of the Peloponnesian War. The continuities are not only legion, but profound.

At the same time, however, important discontinuities also exist between the Archaeology and the Peloponnesian War narrative. Not only does the Archaeology distinguish itself from the contemporary history of the Peloponnesian War as an investigation into the Greek past, it also exhibits certain discursive features, such as an emphatically first-person voice and a tendency to adduce explicit evidence for its claims, which, if not unprecedented in Thucydides, nonetheless appear in the Archaeology with a density that sets the passage apart. Yet for the most part these anomalies have been treated as subordinate to the Archaeology’s programmatic purpose. They are regarded as unprogrammatic at most: they deviate from the conventions of the Peloponnesian War narrative, but only in order that Thucydides may more effectively establish its themes, perspective and authority.

I suggest instead that these discontinuities are not merely unprogrammatic, but anti-programmatic. They are meant to define the Archaeology as that which Thucydides’ narrative of the Peloponnesian War will not be.

In what sense is the Archaeology anti-programmatic? It is the logos to the Peloponnesian War narrative's ergon (on these concepts in Thucydides, see Parry 1981) To phrase the matter slightly differently, Thucydides constructs the Archaeology as a self-conscious example of logos (agonistic, apodeictic speech; see Thomas 2000 and Schiappa 1999), which he then uses as the antitype for his own project, which is constructed in its turn as ergon (uncontested and uncontesting fact/deed/event). In fact, I argue that it is the Archaeology’s status as logos that gives point to Thucydides’ famous “monumental metaphor”, κτῆμα ἐς αἰεί, at 1.22.4 (Moles 1999): Thucydides represents his history as a logos-which-is-not-logos­, as an inscriptional ergon, in order to distinguish it from the aural, agonistic species of intellectual discourse—of logos—which predominated in his time.

To demonstrate that the Archaeology not only bears the hallmarks of logos, but also constitutes a self-consciously anti-programmatic demonstration thereof, I offer a close reading of the passages that bookend the Archaeology (1.1 and 1.20-22). While the Archaeology’s resemblances to forensic oratory, medical texts and even certain passages of Herodotus are well established (Plant 1999, Weidauer 1954, Thomas 2000), I show that Thucydides does not merely employ the evidential discourse common to these texts, but derogates it in a way that is strikingly consistent with how he constructs his own work. In the Archaeology and the surrounding passages, τεκμήρια [signs/proofs] tend to be both aural and unreliable. It is not a coincidence that this same rhetoric of aural untrustworthiness informs Thucydides’ definition of his larger project as well ([οὐκ] ἀγώνισμα ἐς τὸ παραχρῆμα ἀκούειν, 1.22.4). It is rather an indication that Thucydides has conceived his project in opposition to the logos which the Archaeology embodies.

The anti-programmatic function of Thucydides’ Archaeology is no small irony from the standpoint of the passage’s reception. Given the fact that the Archaeology has been both lionized for its programmatic rationalism (de Romilly 2012) and characterized as being programmatically rhetorical (Woodman 1988), it is striking indeed if the Archaeology is not (intentionally) programmatic in these senses, but rather represents, at least at the level of method, style and ideological construction, Thucydides’ vision of what his work isn’t.

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