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date: 11 November 2019

Abstract and Keywords

Thucydides combined religious skepticism with a deep appreciation for the manner in which a devotion to the gods and heroes of the land can sustain the morale of a political community and safeguard it against domestic strife. As a writer, he is reticent—more inclined to show than to tell. Nowhere does he expressly discuss civic piety. But it is striking that the principal Lacedaemonians in his narrative invoke the gods and sacrifice to them while their Athenian counterparts do nothing of the sort, and it is no less telling that observers attribute to the Athenians daring [tolma] rather than the moderation [sôphrosunê] said to distinguish the Spartans. This tolma the Athenians evince as much in speech as in deeds. When Pericles attributes to his compatriots a propensity to engage in philosophy without succumbing to softness, he raises a question: whether a city in which an intellectually audacious political class distances itself from religion and ostentatiously seeks guidance from nature [phusis]—as opposed to custom, convention, tradition, and law [nomos]—really can stand up to the stresses and strains produced by a long, drawn-out war. In Thucydides’ opinion, that which is intellectually correct is not always politically salutary.

Keywords: Thucydides, religion, familiarity, Athens, Sparta, godlessness

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