POLS 550: Basic Problems in Ancient Political Philosophy: Thucydides and the Realist Tradition

Northern Illinois University

Department of Political Science

Spring 2007


Professor Radasanu

Office: Zulauf 408

Phone Number: 753-7052

Email Address: aradasanu@niu.edu

Office Hours: Mondays 12:30pm-1:30pm; Tuesdays 2pm-3pm; Wednesdays 12:30pm-1:30pm.

Class Time: Tuesday 3:30-6:10PM

Classroom: DU 464


Course Description:


In this seminar, we will endeavor to understand Thucydides’ teaching on justice and necessity in politics, and especially in international relations. We will keep in mind the tradition of realism in international relations theory as we conduct a close analysis of the text. While Thucydides has been appropriated by many modern day realists, it is not clear that his realism is of the same order as theirs. In order to see if this is so, we will have to ask deeper questions still: Is Thucydides a political historian or a political philosopher? On what basis, if any, does he condemn injustice in politics and war? How does Thucydides conceive of human excellence, and what is the relationship of political life to human excellence?


Required Texts:


Thucydides. The Peloponnesian War. Use The Landmark Thucydides, ed. Robert B. Strassler, New York: Simon and Schuster/Touchstone Books, 1998.


Literal translation of selected passages from above text (by Thomas Pangle). Photocopy available at the Village Bookstore.


Forde, Steven. “International Realism and the Science of Politics: Thucydides, Machiavelli, and Neorealism,” International Studies Quarterly 39:2 (June 1995),  p. 141-160.

Johnson Bagby, Laurie. The Use and Abuse of Thucydides,” International Organization 48 (Winter 1994), pp. 131-153.

The two articles cited above are found on JSTOR and are required for the first class of term.

Recommended Readings/Select Bibliography:

Ahrensdorf, Peter. “Thucydides’ Realistic Critique of Realism.” Polity 30 (1997): 231-65.

--- “The Fear of Death and the Longing for Immorality: Hobbes and Thucydides on Human Nature and the Problem of Anarchy.” American Political Science Review 94 (2000): 579-93.

Bartlett, Robert C. The Idea of Enlightenment: A Post-Mortem Study. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001.* (On Thucydides: pp. 67-105).

Bruell, Christopher. “Thucydides’ View of Athenian Imperialism.” American Political Science Review 68 (1974): 11-17.

---- “Thucydides and Perikles.” St. Johns Review 32:1 (1981): 24-29.

Connor, W.R. Thucydides. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984.

Doyle, Michael, “Thucydidean Realism,” Review of International Studies 16 (July 1990), p. 223-238.

Edmunds, Lowell. Chance and Intelligence in Thucydides. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1975.

Forde, Steven P. The Ambition to Rule. Alcibiades and Athens in Thucydides' History. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989.

__. "Varieties of Realism: Thucydides and Machiavelli." Journal of Politics 54 (1992) 372-93.

Garst, Daniel, “Thucydides and Neo-Realism,” International Studies Quarterly 33 (March 1989), pp. 3-28.

Gustafson, Lowell S., ed. Thucydides' Theory of International Relations. A Lasting Possession. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2000.

Hobbes, Thomas. “Of the Life and History of Thucydides” (The famous intro. to Hobbes’s translation.).

Johnson Bagby, Laurie M. Thucydides, Hobbes, and the Interpretation of Realism. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1993.

Kagan, Donald. The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War; The Archidamian War; The Peace of Nicias and the Sicilian Expedition; The Fall of the Athenian Empire. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1969-1981.

Lebow, Richard Ned and Barry S. Strauss, ed. Hegemonic Rivalry from Thucydides to the Nuclear Age. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1991.

Orwin, Clifford. The Humanity of Thucydides. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2d. Ed., 1997.

Palmer, Michael. Love of Glory and the Common Good. Aspects of the Political Thought of Thucydides. Lanhan, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1992.

Price, Jonathan. Thucydides and Internal War. Cambridge: Cambridge U.P., 2001.

Romilly, Jacqueline de. Thucydides and Athenian Imperialism. Translated by Philip Thody. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1963.

Strauss, Leo. The City and Man [1964]. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978.


Formal Requirements and Basis of Grading:


·   Attendance and class participation: 10%

·   One page papers (300 words maximum length), due at the beginning of each class except the first and last of each term, on question assigned previous class (13 papers; 30% of grade; late papers not accepted).

·   Term paper; topic choices provided; 3000 words; due on the last class of term (60%).



Expectations of Students:




Students are expected to show evidence at each class meeting of having

read the text to be covered that day. You should at least be able to

give an account, either when called upon or by your own questions, of

the surface of what is said. It is even better to show that you have seen

relationships among different parts of the text and can raise intelligent

questions about what the text seems to mean or whether what it seems

to mean makes sense, either in itself or in relation to the text's

apparent meaning elsewhere. Students should be prepared to be

interrogated and be able to answer questions put by the professor in a

manner that is both thoughtful and to the point. Students should also be prepared to present their one-page papers to the class without advance warning.





To earn an A in the course, both active and thoughtful participation and excellent written work will be required. The written assignments will be on assigned topics (unless the student secures permission from the professor to do otherwise); A’s are earned when compelling interpretations are provided (and expressed clearly) in response to the assigned topics.




Incompletes are given only for unforeseeable events which make

impossible completion of the course work by the end of the semester.

Students are responsible for informing the professor of such events,

and for securing her consent to an incomplete, as promptly as






The following is intended only as an approximate schedule. Since one

cannot predict what parts of the Thucydides we may wish to explore in

greater depth, it is uncertain precisely how long we will spend on

each book. We will move along in a timely fashion, but we may be detained at certain points longer than at others. Students are responsible for knowing what material will be covered in each class.




January 16

  • Introduction
  • Steven Forde, “International Realism and the Science of Politics: Thucydides, Machiavelli, and Neorealism,” International Studies Quarterly 39:2 (June 1995), p. 141-160.
  • Laurie Johnson Bagby, “The Use and Abuse of Thucydides,” International Organization 48 (Winter 1994), pp. 131-153.

Thucydides, Book One, chapter 1-23

January 23

Thucydides, Book One, Chapters 24-88

January 30

Thucydides, Book One, Chapters 89-146; Book Two, Chapters 1-33

February 6

Thucydides, Book Two, Chapters 34-103

February 13

Thucydides, Book Three, Chapters 1-50

February 20

Thucydides, Book Three, Chapters 51-114

February 27

Thucydides, Book Four, Chapters 1-64

March 6

Thucydides, Book Four, Chapters 65-135

March 13

Spring Break – No class

March 20

Thucydides, Book Five

March 27

Thucydides, Book Five

April 3

Thucydides, Book Six

April 10

Thucydides, Book Six

April 17

Thucydides, Book Seven

April 24

Thucydides, Book Seven

May 1

Thucydides, Book Eight