Thucydides's Opinion

Although it is difficult to determine a specific bias in Thucydides's reporting, he does provide a window into his own general thinking about human nature, which he views pessimistically. His explanation of why he wrote the history of this great war reveals his view plainly:

It will be enough for me, however, if these words of mine are judged useful by those who want to understand clearly the events which happened in the past and which (human nature being what it is) will, at some time or other and in much the same ways, be repeated in the future. My work is not a piece of writing designed to meet the taste of an immediate public, but was done to last forever (Thucydides, I.22; Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War. Translated by Rex Warner. New York: Penguin Classics, 1985, p. 48).

His pessimistic perspective extends throughout the text in his references to competition based on the faulty motivations of greed and honor. In a speech to the Athenian Assembly advocating war, the Athenian general Pericles warns his compatriots that they can beat the Spartans "if only you will make up your minds not to add to the empire while the war is in progress, and not to go out of your way to involve yourselves in new perils. What I fear is not the enemy's strategy, but our own mistakes" (Thucydides, I.144; Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War. Translated by Rex Warner. New York: Penguin Classics, 1985, p. 122). Athens later disregarded this admonition and sought greater power and prestige by attempting an invasion of Sicily, a decision that most scholars argue led to their ultimate defeat. Poor and emotional decision making based on greed, self-interest, and the desire for more power are indictments that Thucydides makes against a number of individuals he singles out for disapproval. Throughout his history, Thucydides calls attention to these particular human qualities as problematic since they lead to poor decisions.

Informed by this pessimistic view of human nature, a First-Lens examination of the decisions of influential humans at the moment of war might focus on the flawed nature of leaders.