6. The Causes of the Peloponnesian War: Ephorus, Thucydides and Their Critics

Giovanni Parmeggiani
The causes of the Peloponnesian War constitute such a persistent theme in discussions of fifth-century Greek history, in part because of the complexity of the aetiological view of our earliest source, Thucydides.
ἤρξαντο δὲ αὐτοῦ Ἀθηναῖοι καὶ Πελοποννήσιοι λύσαντες τὰς τριακοντούτεις σπονδὰς αἳ αὐτοῖς ἐγένοντο μετὰ Εὐβοίας ἅλωσιν. διότι δ’ ἔλυσαν, τὰς αἰτίας προύγραψα πρῶτον καὶ τὰς διαφοράς, τοῦ μή τινα ζητῆσαί ποτε ἐξ ὅτου τοσοῦτος πόλεμος τοῖς Ἕλλησι κατέστη. τὴν μὲν γὰρ ἀληθεστάτην πρόφασιν, ἀφανεστάτην δὲ λόγῳ, τοὺς Ἀθηναίους ἡγοῦμαι μεγάλους γιγνομένους καὶ φόβον παρέχοντας τοῖς Λακεδαιμονίοις ἀναγκάσαι ἐς τὸ πολεμεῖν: αἱ δ’ ἐς τὸ φανερὸν λεγόμεναι αἰτίαι αἵδ’ ἦσαν ἑκατέρων, ἀφ᾽ ὧν λύσαντες τὰς σπονδὰς ἐς τὸν πόλεμον κατέστησαν.
The Athenians and Peloponnesians began the war by breaking the Thirty Years Peace made after the conquest of Euboia. As for the reason why they broke the peace, I have written first the aitiai and differences, so that no one should ever have to enquire into the origin of so great a war for the Greeks. I regard the truest prophasis, which was least apparent in speech, as this: the Athenians, becoming great and arousing fear in the Spartans, made the war inevitable. The openly expressed aitiai on each side, however, on the basis of which they broke the peace and began to fight, were the following. (Translation by T. Rood, modified)
Thucydides 1.23.4–6
Critics tend to admire Thucydides’ subtle distinction between aitiai es to phaneron legomenai and alethestate prophasis, [1] but they are generally less comfortable with his formulation of the two sets of causes: one consisting in individual episodes of tension between Athens and Sparta’s allies, particularly Corinth, in the years leading up to the war (specifically the events of Corcyra and Potidaea); the other a process that followed immediately upon the end of Xerxes’ expedition (the growing tension between the two leading Greek cities, Athens and Sparta).
By qualifying it as alethestate, Thucydides is clearly claiming that the prophasis is more important for a correct understanding of the origins of the war. In other words, he is asserting that a proper perception of the origins of the war depends upon a consideration of the previous fifty years as well as careful attention paid both to the physis of the Athenian arche, as an ever increasing force in Greek history, and to Sparta’s phobos, as a reactive force in Greek history.
Thucydides never implies, however, that the aitiai es to phaneron legomenai are unconnected to the breakout of the war. As he himself observes: “As for the reason why they [sc. the Athenians and Lacedaemonians] broke the peace, I have written first the aitiai and the differences, so that no one should ever have to enquire into the origin of so great a war for the Greeks.” (Thucydides 1.23.5, translation by T. Rood.) The meaning of this statement is clear: if there had been no Corcyra and Potidaea, there would have been no Peloponnesian War in 431 BCE. It is obvious, then, that the relationship between aitiai es to phaneron and alethestate prophasis cannot be presented as if it were a relationship between false and true causes. [2]
In recent years, Tim Rood has argued that the aitiai es to phaneron are deeply related to the alethestate prophasis, that they are, in fact, part of the same aetiological system. [3] Rood’s remarks allow us to recover a unity of thought in Thucydides’ interpretation of the origins of the war. Yet, the problem remains: why does Thucydides make a distinction between aitiai es to phaneron and alethestate prophasis? I would suggest that there is something more at stake than the opposition between ‘superficial’ and ‘profound’ causes.
In his disclosure of the alethestate prophasis, Thucydides brings into play the concept of ananke, which is entirely absent from his discussion of the aitiai. [4] In other words, he distinguishes between two sets of causes because there are two different kinds of problems to solve. The first is a problem of historical contingency and properly concerns the origin of the Peloponnesian War in 431 BCE. How did the war actually break out? This is the problem for which the aitiai are invoked. The second is a philosophical problem and concerns the nature of the war between Athens and Sparta. Was the war accidental or necessary? This is the problem for which the alethestate prophasis is invoked. Thucydides’ answer, in short, is that the war was necessary: if there had been no Corcyra and Potidaea, there would have been no Peloponnesian War in 431 BCE; the war would instead have erupted at a different time. Without depriving the aitiai of their aetiological function, the concept of alethestate prophasis allows Thucydides to emphasize the inevitability of the war. With his alethestate prophasis, then, Thucydides tries to raise his reader’s awareness and encourage an original, philosophical vision of history.
According to Thucydides, the inevitability of the war was not a concept that common people could easily grasp (ἀφανεστάτην δὲ λόγῳ). In fact, unlike the single events that he classifies as aitiai es to phaneron, the ongoing tension between Athens and Sparta was distant in time and more complex in form. Such a relationship, therefore, can only be revealed by a master of history and politics, whose insight is particularly canny. By insight I mean control of the facts from the distant past, knowledge of the physis of man and especially, of the physis of power. In two demonstrations of Book 1, the Archaeologia (1.2–19) and the Pentecontaetia (1.89–117), Thucydides gives a full display of this type of knowledge, which we may consider to be the theoretical backbone of his political science.
Naturally, we have the option of trusting Thucydides’ mastery and thus gratefully accepting his lesson about the causes of the war and its historical necessity. However, some critics have noted that Thucydides does not inquire into important events that occurred in the years immediately before the war, such as the Megarian Decree. [5] Some have drawn our attention to the artful rhetorical construction of Book 1, or have disagreed with Thucydides’ insistence that the war was unavoidable. [6] Some situate Thucydides’ work within the context of contemporary political debates about the responsibility for the war, debates that were quite animated during and after the Peloponnesian War; in light of this, they find Thucydides’ account unsatisfactory: in their opinion, Thucydides’ explanation is defective and, even worse, biased. [7]
Among Thucydides’ critics is Karl Julius Beloch, who notes that the difficulties experienced by Pericles and his party in the preceding years had a direct impact on the outbreak of war. [8] During this period, Pheidias, Anaxagoras, and Aspasia were all put on trial, incidents that are recorded by sources other than Thucydides, such as ancient comedy and—it is supposed—a pamphletistic tradition hostile to Pericles. [9] Indeed, this is at the core of Diodorus’ account of the causes of the Peloponnesian War (12.38–41), the main source for which, Diodorus tells us, was the fourth-century historian Ephorus of Cyme (FGH 70 F 196).
Modern critics rarely praise Ephorus’ historiography. If we look at F 196, the fragment on the causes of the Peloponnesian War, we can perhaps understand why. Here, besides a reference to Pericles’ personal affairs, we find three citations from ancient comedy, apparently adduced by Ephorus as evidence. The first two, from Aristophanes’ Peace and Acharnians, clearly assert Pericles’ responsibility for initiating the war. If some critics believe that Thucydides defended Pericles too vehemently, many more contend that Ephorus preferred the silly inventions of poets and the vulgar insinuations of pamphleteers over Thucydides’ trustworthy account and subtle aetiological analysis, and that he held only Pericles accountable for the war. Such a formulation has long formed the basis for Ephorus’ supposed ignorance in historical matters. [10]
Among Ephorus’ detractors is Felix Jacoby. In his view, Thucydides had unduly neglected Athenian internal politics, and so Ephorus would have written an account of the causes of the Peloponnesian War better than that of Thucydides had he both paid attention to Thucydides’ text and at the same time examined Athenian internal politics without surrendering to the lethal seduction of comedy or pamphlets. [11] I would suggest instead that, as is evident from Thucydides’ text, at the time when he was writing (after 431 BCE, at least), Pericles was commonly viewed as responsible for the war; Thucydides thus writes to counter this opinion. [12] With regard to Ephorus, we could ask Jacoby if it would have been possible or conceivable for a historian of the fourth century to examine the internal politics of fifth-century Athens without considering the comic tradition and, more generally, the literature of the time, which was an active part of the ongoing political debate. The answer, I maintain, would be no. For modern historians too, ancient comedy (when correctly used) is a documentary source. The question, then, becomes: does Ephorus make good or bad use of ancient comedy? But there is a second question also: does Ephorus, as has been suggested, simply lay blame for the war on Pericles, thereby neglecting the wider scenario of international politics, or is his aetiological view somewhat more subtle? To answer this, we must take a closer look at F 196, and the other texts apparently indebted to Ephorus for the causes of the Peloponnesian War. [13]
F 196 is a difficult text. Diodorus mentions Ephorus at the end of a long and seemingly lacunose account: αἰτίαι μὲν οὖν τοῦ Πελοποννησιακοῦ πολέμου τοιαῦταί τινες ὑπῆρξαν, ὡς Ἔφορος ἀνέγραψε (“Now the causes of the Peloponnesian War were in general what I have described, as Ephorus has recorded them.” 12.41.1, translation by C. H. Oldfather). By his use of the term τινες Diodorus seems to be saying that this is approximately what Ephorus said about the causes of the Peloponnesian War. [14] But from F 196 we do learn of several matters: first, Pericles’ difficulties in giving an account of his financial administration to the demos, [15] and his will to resolve such difficulties by means of a war (12.38.2–4); [16] second, the trials of his associates Pheidias (charged with embezzlement of public funds that had been allocated for Athena’s statue) and Anaxagoras (12.39.1–3); third, Pericles’ involvement in these charges, which in fact masked political attacks by his opponents, and his aim to resolve these troubles with a war (12.39.3); and finally, the existing problem of the Megarian Decree (12.39.4), and the consequent debate during which Pericles urged his fellow citizens not to surrender to Sparta’s ultimatum (12.39.5–40.6). At the end of this account, as we have seen, the reader encounters the term τινες, and is prompted to wonder whether Ephorus actually said all of this. If so, furthermore, can we assume that he said it in this form?
Scholars of the twentieth century generally agree that Diodorus’ account is only an imperfecta imago of what Ephorus wrote about the causes of the war. In order to reconstruct what one might call ‘Ephorus’ version’, then, Diodorus’ supposed lacunae are often supplemented with information from Plutarch (Pericles 31–32), Aristodemus (FGH 104 F 1.16.1–4), and from scholia of late antiquity on the works of Thucydides, Aristophanes, and Hermogenes. [17] These texts, considered together, constitute the so-called ‘Ephorus tradition’; here, we find both more detailed information than Diodorus alone provides about the cases of Pericles’ associates (Aspasia in particular, notably absent from Diodorus’ account), and more extensive quotations from Aristophanes’ Peace and Acharnians. [18]
Nevertheless, when we look for Ephorus in works other than that of Diodorus, a new question arises. In reading Aristodemus, we find not only information about Pericles’ private affairs, Pheidias’ trial, the Megarian Decree, and extensive quotations from Aristophanes, but also other data, including the affairs of Corcyra and Potidaea and—last but not least—the Thucydidean alethestate prophasis, here defined as aitia alethestate. [19] Is Ephorus, then, the source only for the causes that implicate Pericles, or for all the causes named by Aristodemus? Is it possible, perhaps, that Ephorus is simultaneously considering different versions of the causes of the war, not in fact neglecting Thucydides’ version but—as is evident in Aristodemus’ account—redefining it?
This solution actually has a longer history than might appear at first sight. Meier Marx, the very first editor of Ephorus’ fragments in 1815, conjectured that Ephorus might very well have included in his history as a vulgate tradition the information about Pericles’ personal affairs that we find in Diodorus. [20] Eduard Schwartz suspected that Diodorus rearranged various tales that Ephorus had collected. [21] Robert Connor’s idea was in some way similar: Ephorus, in a Herodotean manner, might have collected different versions of the origins of the war, without necessarily preferring one over the others. [22] If this were true, Ephorus would approximate the author about whom Jacoby had dreamt, a historian who could present his reader with a complete aetiological picture of the problems connected with the origins of the Peloponnesian War. [23]
But before we draw any conclusions from Aristodemus’ text alone, we need to take a closer look at Diodorus’ account (F 196), for it is the only one in which the name of Ephorus is expressly mentioned. As we shall see, it seems possible to reach, through Diodorus, a different conclusion about Ephorus’ view of the causes of the Peloponnesian War.
The quotations from the comic poets appear only at the end of the fragment, immediately before the concluding mention of Ephorus. Here we find, together with the two quotations from Aristophanes (Peace 603–606, 609–611 and Acharnians 530–531), a quotation from Eupolis’ Demoi (fr. 102 K.A.). This quotation does not concern Pericles’ personal affairs, Aspasia, Anaxagoras, Pheidias, or the Megarian Decree, but rather his rhetorical ability:
“One might say Persuasion rested on his [Pericles’] lips; such charm he’d bring, and alone of all the speakers in his list’ners left his sting.” (Translation by C. H. Oldfather)
Eupolis Demoi fr. 102 K.A. (Diodorus 12.40.6)
In editing F 196, Jacoby chose to expunge the Eupolis quotation, believing it to be irrelevant to the problem of the causes of the war. [24] Even if this were the case, it is not reason enough to reject it: we cannot ignore that it is in Diodorus’ text, that it appears immediately before Ephorus’ name, and finally, that it is not the only instance in the fragment that emphasizes Pericles’ rhetorical ability. [25] Given that this quotation could be part of Ephorus’ original account of the causes, it would be better to take it into careful consideration.
At first sight, it would seem that by quoting all the poetic evidence at the end of his account, Diodorus gathered together miscellaneous information, thereby confusing the evidence that Ephorus had originally organized in an ordered manner. But things are probably otherwise. The three quotations from ancient comedy are introduced in this way:
Having said all of this and having urged his fellow citizens to war, Pericles persuaded [ἔπεισε] the demos not to submit to the Lacedaemonians. This he easily accomplished through the effectiveness of his words [ταῦτα δὲ ῥᾳδίως συνετέλεσε διὰ τὴν δεινότητα τοῦ λόγου], for which he had the nickname of ‘Olympios’. (My translation)
Diodorus 12.40.5
As we can see, the quotations from ancient comedy are introduced collectively with a formula that once again underscores Pericles’ rhetorical strength.
The mention of Pheidias’ trial and the Megarian Decree in the verses of Aristophanes’ Peace quoted by Diodorus (verses 603–606, 609–611) obviously draws attention to the fact that, for Ephorus, Aristophanes was a primary source of information regarding Pericles’ private affairs. [26] But the short quotation from the Acharnians (verses 530–531), with its link to Eupolis’ Demoi, also clearly comments on the rhetorical power of Pericles Olympios. [27] We should therefore conclude that Ephorus’ primary concern was not to quote the comic poets merely to substantiate the veracity of what had been said about Pericles’ personal responsibilities but, rather, to demonstrate that Pericles’ responsibility was publicly debated by his contemporaries and that the effectiveness of Pericles’ rhetorical strength, which was recognized by his contemporaries, was a decisive factor in initiating the war.
Pericles’ rhetorical strength was surely central to Ephorus’ view of the causes of the Peloponnesian War. We infer this not from Aristodemus or from other texts of the ‘Ephorus tradition’ but, again, from Diodorus. In the section of F 196 that precedes Aristophanes’ and Eupolis’ quotations, Diodorus relates—extensively and in indirect form—Pericles’ oration on the advantages of not abrogating the Megarian Decree (12.39.5–40.5). What interests us here is not the content of the oration itself but the way in which the oration is first introduced, after a brief allusion to Sparta’s ultimatum to Athens:
At the meeting of the assembly to discuss such matters [the Megarian Decree and the ultimatum from Sparta] Pericles, by far the most eloquent of all the citizens [δεινότητι λόγου πολὺ διαφέρων ἁπάντων τῶν πολιτῶν], persuaded [ἔπεισε] the Athenians not to abrogate the decree, saying that ... (My translation)
Diodorus 12.39.5
We have to link this incipit (12.39.5) to the explicit (12.40.5), which—as we have just seen—introduces the quotations from ancient comedy. The entire passage reads as follows:
At the meeting of the assembly to discuss such matters Pericles, by far the most eloquent of all the citizens, persuaded the Athenians not to abrogate the decree, saying that [the content of Pericles’ oration follows]... Having said all this, and having urged his fellow citizens to war, Pericles persuaded the demos not to submit to the Lacedaemonians. This he easily obtained by the effectiveness of his words, for which he had the nickname of ‘Olympios’ [Aristophanes’ and Eupolis’ quotations follow]. (My translation)
Diodorus 12.39.5–40.5
This ‘ring composition’ emphasizes the underlying message: Pericles wanted the war, and he succeeded in pursuing it largely because of the rhetorical prowess that he exercised over the masses. Since Ephorus is mentioned at the end of Diodorus’ account, we must conclude that Pericles’s rhetorical effectiveness was a major point in Ephorus’ original view.
Obviously, Pericles would have had no opportunity to realize his plan had there not been an ultimatum from Sparta and, consequently, a public debate on the Megarian Decree. This consideration leads us to understand a second underlying message: Pericles wanted the war, and he succeeded in pursuing it because of pre-existing tension between Athens and Sparta.
From this second point a new question arises: did Ephorus, as Aristophanes before him (Peace, verses 603–611), think that Pericles proposed the Megarian Decree with the aim of provoking the war and thereby escaping the current attacks on his associate Pheidias and on himself? That is to say, did Ephorus describe the tension between Athens and Sparta as depending exclusively upon Pericles’ will to defend himself from the Pheidias affair? I would like to make two observations to address these questions. First, according to Aristodemus’ version (FGH 104 F 1.16.1), Pericles proposed the Megarian Decree with the aim of causing the war, thus saving himself from the Pheidias scandal in Athens. But this is not what Diodorus, citing Ephorus, claims. It is worth noting that Diodorus does not connect Pericles’ private affairs (12.38.2–39.3) with the Megarian Decree (12.39.4). After describing Pheidias’ and Anaxagoras’ trials and recalling Pericles’ intention to promote the war, Diodorus notes:
Because there was a decree passed by the Athenians [ὄντος δὲ ψηφίσματος παρὰ τοῖς Ἀθηναίοις], by which the Megarians were prevented from accessing the agora and the harbours. . . (My translation)
Diodorus 12.39.4
If Ephorus, on the basis of Aristophanes’ Peace, had emphasized the Periclean authorship of the Megarian Decree as an intentional weapon for provoking the war, we would expect Diodorus’ text to read somewhat differently. Ephorus may in fact have corrected Aristophanes’ view: Pericles proposed the Megarian Decree and this action was surely a decisive step toward war, but he did not intend to solve, by way of this decree, his personal troubles. [28] My second observation is that Sparta’s ultimatum, as it is represented by Diodorus (12.39.4), seems to be such an aggressive measure against Athens that it is inexplicable as a simple reply to the Megarian Decree. It is clear that Ephorus said much more than what Diodorus tells us about the increasing political tension between Athens and Sparta. We must conclude, therefore, that Ephorus did not link this tension exclusively to Pericles’ intention to defend himself from the Pheidias affair but that he took into consideration broader political circumstances, which Diodorus does not choose to include. [29]
Although an imperfecta imago and far from complete, Diodorus’ account does allow us to observe a coherence in Ephorus’ original vision. We have thus far distinguished two different aetiological streams: one concerning Pericles’ political situation at Athens, the other the official relationship between Athens and Sparta in the years before the war. Briefly put, the Peloponnesian War was, on the one hand, provoked by Pericles’ resolution to put an end to personal attacks on himself and his associates through war and to hamper a public inquiry into his financial administration, and, on the other hand, by a pre-existing tension between Athens and Sparta.
The debate on the Megarian Decree that had been going on in Athens since Sparta’s ultimatum clearly marks the confluence of these two streams; at this convergence, the war was decided, and it was decided by rhetoric. Curiously enough, Ephorus—the historian who has been universally credited as having made History the servant of Rhetoric—gives us one of the clearest statements in historiography on the dramatic damages that can result when rhetorical persuasiveness and demagogy enter into politics. It will suffice to recall Ephorus F 207 on Lysander’s revolutionary logos, περὶ τῆς πολιτείας, which was “written,” as we read in the fragment, “in so persuasive a way.” [30] From this fragment we understand that Ephorus’ interest in demagogy and rhetorical persuasiveness was not circumstantial but rather essential to his approach to the internal dynamics of the Greek states.
I think that we have come a long way from traditional views about Ephorus. We understand that Ephorus not only sheds light on Pericles’ responsibilities for the war by pointing out the problematic impact of demagogy on internal politics, but also that he did not ignore the political situation outside Athens, the aetiological stream in Ephorus’ original account that Diodorus chose not to develop. Furthermore, Ephorus’ use of information drawn from ancient comedy was subtler than it is usually considered to be. [31] Ephorus did not employ Aristophanes’ and Eupolis’ texts as pisteis in the strict sense of the word. [32] Comic poets witnessed both the political debate on the responsibilities of the war and Pericles’ rhetorical strength; as witnesses they recorded instances that a scrupulous historian should never ignore, [33] in part because Pericles’ contribution to the Athenian debate on the Megarian Decree was deemed by almost every historian (Thucydides included) to have been decisive for the war.
Ephorus did not express the same view as Thucydides about the Peloponnesian War; contrary to Thucydides, he believed that the war could have been avoided, and he investigated the issue of Pericles’ responsibility for the war, his desire for war for personal reasons, and his success through rhetoric and demagogy. Furthermore, Ephorus showed how all these instances worked in the context of the growing political tension between Athens and Sparta. But we can go even further and note, thanks again to Diodorus’ account, that Ephorus began his analysis of Pericles’ situation by focusing on neither polemical passages in the comic poetic tradition nor the aggressive speculations of pamphlets, but rather on an historical event that is not reported by Thucydides in his Pentecontaetia (1.89–117), namely the transfer of the Delian League’s treasure from Delos to Athens in the mid-fifth century. Scholars regard this event as one of the key moments of fifth-century Greek history. The passage reads:
The Athenians, being fond of hegemony on the sea [τῆς κατὰ θάλατταν ἡγεμονίας ἀντεχόμενοι], transferred the common treasure from Delos—ca. 8,000 talents—to Athens and gave it to Pericles to administer. He [Pericles] was by far the first citizen, for his nobility, prestige, and rhetorical effectiveness [λόγου δεινότητι]. (My translation)
Diodorus 12.38.2
The presence of this last detail no longer takes us by surprise. All the facts concerning Pericles that we find described later in the fragment (i.e. his financial administration, the trials of his associates, and his oration at the debate on the Megarian Decree) derive from this piece of information, which marks the beginning of the entire aetiological report on the origins of the war. Ephorus seems to find the roots of the Peloponnesian War in this historical context. The Athenians’ attitude to thalassocracy looks like an ‘original sin’, in which all the citizens of Athens, including Pericles, shared responsibility. The difficult situation in which Pericles was to be involved, after some years of autocratic and certainly flawed financial politics, was intriguing to Ephorus not because of his hunger for scandals. On the contrary, Ephorus was keenly aware that the Athenians’ original ambitions for thalassocracy would and did have a negative impact on the politics of the Delian League. This view is deeply historical and has nothing to do with the supposed fiction or exaggerations on the part of the Athenian comedy or the pamphletistic tradition. Here we touch upon a historical situation to which Ephorus was quite sensitive, and in which he contextualized Pericles’ affairs—quite a different circumstance from what we see in comedy or pamphlets.
In the Life of Pericles 12, Plutarch tells us that opponents of the oligarchic party often attacked Pericles at the assembly for his building projects on the Acropolis. They claimed that funds for this work came from the Delian treasure and that the projects themselves were too expensive. Pericles’ use of the Delian League’s treasure caused disaffection and open complaint from Athens’ allies. In F 196, in his oration delivered during the Megarian Decree debate, Pericles alludes to Athena’s statue and the expenses accrued from building the Propylaia and from the siege of Potidaea (40.2). His fiscal policy was a reality that Ephorus described more accurately and with more detail than Diodorus. [34] Pericles, then, was not only the object of Ephorus’ observations, but also the means by which he explored the nature and the shortcoming of Athenian rule in the fifth century BCE. We should also note that the defects of Athenian imperialistic politics were another reason for the auto-critical meditation on the past by intellectuals in fourth-century Athens, and Ephorus worked in this specific context. [35]
I would like to conclude with a passage from Plutarch’s Life of Pericles, which seems to me to retain the principal features of Ephorus’ view of the causes of the Peloponnesian War. At 32.6 we find a curious new version of the metaphor of the fire employed by Aristophanes in his Peace 608–611:
ὡς δὲ διὰ Φειδίου προσέπταισε τῷ δήμῳ, φοβηθεὶς τὸ δικαστήριον μέλλοντα τὸν πόλεμον καὶ ὑποτυφόμενον ἐξέκαυσεν, ἐλπίζων διασκεδάσειν τὰ ἐγκλήματα καὶ ταπεινώσειν τὸν φθόνον, ἐν πράγμασι μεγάλοις καὶ κινδύνοις τῆς πόλεως ἐκείνῳ μόνῳ διὰ τὸ ἀξίωμα καὶ τὴν δύναμιν ἀναθείσης ἑαυτήν. [36]
And since in the case of Pheidias he had come into collision with the people, he feared a jury in his own case, and so kindled into flame the threatening and smouldering war, hoping thereby to dissipate the charges made against him and allay the people’s jealousy, inasmuch as when great undertakings were on foot, and great perils threatened, the city entrusted herself to him and to him alone, by reason of his worth and power. (Translation by B. Perrin)
Plutarch Pericles 32.6
Whereas in Aristophanes’ version, Pericles stirs up the fire of the war with the Megarian Decree (ἐξέφλεξε τὴν πόλιν / ἐμβαλὼν σπινθῆρα μικρὸν Μεγαρικοῦ ψηφίσματος· / κἀξεφύσησεν τοσοῦτον πόλεμον ὥστε τῷ καπνῷ / πάντας Ἕλληνας δακρῦσαι, τούς τ’ ἐκεῖ τούς τ’ ἐνθάδε, “he threw out that little spark, the Megarian Decree, set the city aflame, and blew up the conflagration with a hurricane of war, so that the smoke drew tears from all Greeks both here and over there.” Translation by E. O’Neill Jr.), in Plutarch’s narrative, Pericles is blowing on a fire already kindled (μέλλοντα τὸν πόλεμον καὶ ὑποτυφόμενον ἐξέκαυσεν, “he kindled into flame the threatening and smouldering war”). There is a slight difference between the two texts, and I am inclined to think that Plutarch’s version reflects an important aspect of Ephorus’ view. Pericles took advantage, for his own good, of pre-existing international tensions that would eventually lead to war regardless of Pheidias’ trial and Pericles’ own difficulties in Athens. The tragedy of the man who choses to save himself rather than his fellow citizens [37] was not disconnected from another great tragedy, that of the two leading cities of the Greek world on the brink of war. The picture we have, then, is perfectly congruent with the two aetiological streams that we have indentified in studying Ephorus F 196.
Plutarch’s passage confirms our impression that Ephorus did not quote Aristophanes as an authority to be blindly followed. Ephorus felt free to craft new historical concepts by drawing on comedy’s most evocative images. In Thucydides’ view, if there had been no Corcyra or Potidaea, we would not have had the Peloponnesian War in 431 BCE. In Ephorus’ view, if Pericles had not resolved to uphold the Megarian Decree, there would have been no war in 431 BCE. At that time, war was still avoidable, but it was only a matter of time before tensions broke out between Sparta and Athens. Among the culprits behind the war of 431 BCE, Pericles was certainly predominant. But Sparta and Athens were both responsible for bad choices that they had previously made, when each willingly pursued political hegemony; their choices were going to be decisive. We can surmise from the reference in F 196 to the removal of the Delian League’s treasure that Ephorus considered the collapse of the Panhellenic alliance between Athens and Sparta (ca. 462 BCE) to have been a negative turning point in the fifth century. [38]
Far from being a corrupter of the science of history, Ephorus of Cyme proves to be a very competent historian in matters of aetiology. Looking backward from the fourth century BCE, he did not believe the war of 431 was inevitable; he believed, like many modern historians, that Thucydides’ thesis of ananke was unconvincing. When addressing the much-debated question of the causes of the Peloponnesian War, he chose to consider data that Thucydides had neglected. In so doing, Ephorus conformed to the fundamental methodological principle that he had proposed for his own research (διακριβοῦν εἰώθαμεν, ὅταν ἦι τι τῶν πραγμάτων ἢ παντελῶς ἀπορούμενον ἢ ψευδῆ δόξαν ἔχον, “I am accustomed to examine such matters as these with precision, whenever any matter is either altogether doubtful or falsely interpreted.” Translation by H. L. Jones, modified). [39] Finally, he succeeded in forwarding a new aetiological scheme, which was wide and complete in all respects (he devoted attention to such matters as Athenian internal dynamics, the politics of the Delian League, and the relationship between Sparta and Athens, approaching them as reciprocally interwoven problems), and in fact more satisfying than the one Thucydides provided. A careful analysis of Ephorus’ F 196 uncovers broader and more balanced insights into the origins of the Peloponnesian War and helps us see how, contrary to the communis opinio, fourth-century historiography is closer to the best examples of modern inquiry, both in its aetiological sensibility and its historical perspective.


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[ back ] 1. See for example Hornblower 2003:65, ad loc.: “The explicit formulation of a distinction between profound and superficial causes is arguably Th.’s greatest single contribution to later history-writing.”
[ back ] 2. On the basis of Thucydides’ account of the events, Kagan 1969:345-374 thinks that the tension between Athens and Corinth (i.e. the Thucydidean aitiai) was the main cause for the war and, inasmuch as this tension was not what Thucydides considered the alethestate prophasis, that Thucydides was in fact wrong in his interpretation of the origins of the war. But—I observe—Thucydides never denies the aitiai es to phaneron the status of real causes. Moreover, it is clear that the aitiai es to phaneron are not mere pretexts for going to war, as they have been interpreted, for example, by Dionysius of Halicarnassus (On Thucydides 10 on Athenian support of Corcyra as a cause οὐκ ἀληθῆ, i.e. fabricated by the Spartans) and, in modern times, by de Ste. Croix 1972:50–63.
[ back ] 3. Rood 1998:208–215, esp. 209n16.
[ back ] 4. Thucydides 1.23.6 reads: ἀναγκάσαι ἐς τὸ πολεμεῖν. The subject of ἀναγκάσαι is the entire process (i.e. Athenian expansion, auxesis, together with Spartan fear, phobos). The object of ἀναγκάσαι is not explicitly stated, and this is not by chance, judging from schol. ad loc.: τὰ ὀνόματα ῥήματα ἐποίησεν· βούλεται γὰρ δηλοῦν ὅτι μεγάλοι γινόμενοι οἱ Ἀθηναῖοι ἀνάγκην παρέσχον τοῦ πολέμου. Critics have attempted without success to understand whether Thucydides puts the blame for the war on the Athenians or the Spartans. As Rood 1998:222–223 rightly points out, Thucydides is quite elusive on the issue of responsibility for the war.
[ back ] 5. See Meyer 1899:302–303.
[ back ] 6. See Schwartz 1919 and Kagan 1969:357-374 respectively.
[ back ] 7. See especially Badian 1993:125–162. Comparing Thucydides to a modern journalist, Badian asserts that the historian laid the blame for the war on Sparta in an attempt to obscure Pericles’ personal responsibilities and defend him from the attacks of his contemporaries. In sum, Thucydides worked as an apologist, tendentious as a pamphletist.
[ back ] 8. Beloch 1914:294-298. In Beloch’s view, Pericles desired war only to protect his position at home, and he succeeded by means of demagogy.
[ back ] 9. The exact chronology of the trials of Pericles’ associates is controversial (see Podlecki 1998). But it is nevertheless worth stressing that scholium to Aristophanes Peace, line 605 (Philochorus FGH 328 F 121) provides us with no more than a terminus post quem for Pheidias’ trial (438/7 BCE). From Plutarch Pericles 31–32 (surely the best account we have of the trials, together with Diodorus 12.39.1–2 [Ephorus F 196]), we learn of several public decrees before 431 BCE, all of them pertaining to Pericles and his associates. One in particular, that of Dracontides (Plutarch Pericles 32.3), was directed against Pericles’ financial administration (see below, Diodorus 12.38.2–4 and 39.3 [Ephorus F 196]). It is also important to note that various sources, including Thucydides (2.65.3), tell us that Pericles was fined in 430 BCE and was not reconfirmed as strategos (see also Plato Gorgias 516a; Diodorus 12.45.4-5; Plutarch Pericles 35.4). Gomme 1956b:184, we may recall, considers Thucydides to be “deliberately silent” on this issue.
[ back ] 10. See especially Müller 1841:lxiiia–b (compare Creuzer 1845:325); Cauer 1847:60 with n1; Stelkens 1857:12–13, 25; Klügmann 1860:29; Matthiessen 1857–1860:878; Blass 1892:433; Endemann 1881:7–9; Vogel 1889:533; Meyer 1899:329-333; Busolt 1904:704; Schwartz 1903:680–681; Schwartz 1907:14; Peter 1911:172; Jacoby 1926b:93, ad FGH 70 F 196; Jacoby 1954:489–490, ad Philochorus FGH 328 F 121; Barber 1935:106–112; Momigliano 1975, esp. 700; Gomme 1956a:44–46, 69–70; Gomme 1956b:186; and many others, e.g. Dover 1988:50. One should also recall Plutarch De Herodoti malignitate 855f–856a on the tendentiousness of writers of ancient comedy in explaining the origins of the war by emphasizing the cases of Pheidias and Aspasia. But, apart from Ephorus’ insistence on Pericles’ private affairs and seemingly uncritical use of ancient comedy as a source, what has been often criticized in Ephorus is his presumed inability to comprehend the international dynamics that lead to war, on which, in contrast, Thucydides aptly focused his attention. See also Giuliani 1999, especially 37–40; Banfi 2003:180-183; Pownall 2004:133–134; Hose 2006:680. If they do not consider Thucydides’ explanation of the war to be an apologia of Pericles, modern critics tend to view Ephorus’ explanation as a historiographical collection of pamphlet/comic tradition against Pericles. If, on the other hand, they do suspect Thucydides’ explanation of the war to be an apologia of Pericles, they still do not, curiously, try to re-evaluate Ephorus’ explanation. Generally speaking, Ephorus’ account is viewed by critics as a serious step backward from the high-standard account of Thucydides. Aside from Marx’s and Vogel’s attempts to defend Ephorus (see below, text and n20), notable exceptions to this widespread critical trend are found in the work of Connor and especially Schepens, cited below, n17 and n23.
[ back ] 11. Jacoby 1926b:93, ad FGH 70 F 196: “das charakteristische für ihn (sc. Ephorus) ist gerade, daß er nicht vermocht hat, diese darstellung (i.e. the picture of the Athenian internal politics) in ihren berechtigten zügen mit der thukydideischen zu vereinigen und so ein vollbild der zum kriege treibenden strömungen zu zeichnen.” Note the somewhat ambiguous way that Jacoby 1954:490, hints at Thucydides’ faults, without acknowledging Ephorus’ attention to Athenian internal politics and Pericles’ affairs: “he (sc. Ephorus) was the first historian to collect the gossip, which perhaps was not entirely gossip, and which Thukydides passed over in a manner not altogether to be approved.” (emphasis added)
[ back ] 12. See especially Thucydides 1.139.4, 140.4–5; 2.59.1-2; Plutarch Nicias 9.9. Cf. Alcibiades 14.2. The Thucydidean thesis about the inevitability of the war is indeed a shield that defends Pericles from contemporary charges and challenges the widespread notion that Athens had entered the war for insignificant reasons (ἐπ’ αἰτίαις μικραῖς).
[ back ] 13. It is not my main concern, in the present paper, to examine F 196 exhaustively. For a complete analysis of this important text and for what it suggests about Ephorus’ methodology and view of fifth-century Athens, see Parmeggiani 2011:354, 417-458, 673-679.
[ back ] 14. This was already clear in Vogel 1889:538: “Jedenfalls besitzen wir bei Diodor nur einen Auszug aus Ephoros.” (emphasis added).
[ back ] 15. Diodorus 12.38.2–4 (compare 39.3) says that Pericles had been officially requested to submit an ἀπολογισμός or περὶ τῶν χρημάτων ἀπολογία. It is highly likely, in my view, that this measure resulted directly from the famous decree of Dracontides, about which Plutarch speaks in Pericles 32.3–4 (δεχομένου δὲ τοῦ δήμου καὶ προσιεμένου τὰς διαβολάς, οὕτως ἤδη ψήφισμα κυροῦται Δρακοντίδου γράψαντος, ὅπως οἱ λόγοι τῶν χρημάτων ὑπὸ Περικλέους εἰς τοὺς πρυτάνεις ἀποτεθεῖεν, οἱ δὲ δικασταὶ τὴν ψῆφον ἀπὸ τοῦ βωμοῦ φέροντες ἐν τῇ πόλει κρίνοιεν. Ἅγνων δὲ τοῦτο μὲν ἀφεῖλε τοῦ ψηφίσματος, κρίνεσθαι δὲ τὴν δίκην ἔγραψεν ἐν δικασταῖς χιλίοις καὶ πεντακοσίοις, εἴτε κλοπῆς καὶ δώρων εἴτ’ ἀδικίου βούλοιτό τις ὀνομάζειν τὴν δίωξιν). It is worth noting that both Diodorus 12.38.2–39.3 (Ephorus F 196) and Plutarch Pericles 31–32 put Pheidias’ trial and Dracontides’ Decree at about the same period (i.e. immediately before the war), but do not regard Dracontides’ Decree as a consequence of Pheidias’ trial.
[ back ] 16. It has been argued that Diodorus 12.38.2–4 is not Ephoran in origin: see Vogel 1889: 532–539. Vogel’s thesis was endorsed (with new arguments) by Busolt 1904:704n2, and by Jacoby 1926a:98–99; Jacoby 1926b:92–93 (ad FGH 70 F 196), 335 (ad Aristodemus FGH 104 F 1.16). Compare Barber 1935:107–108; Stylianou 1998:50; Hose 2006:678n55. I am persuaded, however, that Diodorus 12.38.2–4 does indeed derive from Ephorus; see Parmeggiani 2011:417–419, with notes.
[ back ] 17. On these scholia, see especially Connor 1961:1–81.
[ back ] 18. It will suffice to recall that Aristodemus quotes from Acharnians verses 524–534, whereas Diodorus cites only verses 530–531. But note that Diodorus quotes Eupolis’ fr. 102 K.A., which Aristodemus does not. As we will see, Eupolis’ fr. 102 K.A. was in Ephorus’ original account.
[ back ] 19. More specifically, in reading Aristodemus, we are dealing with consistent aetiological material organized into four different sets of causes: 1) chapter 16 includes the narrative about Pericles, his intention to go to war because of Pheidias’ trial, and his proposal of the Megarian Decree (paragraph 1). This information is complemented by extensive quotations from Aristophanes’ Peace and Acharnians (paragraphs 2–3), and by an anecdote (paragraph 4: Alcibiades suggests to Pericles that he find a way to not give any financial account to the demos. This version is shorter than that of Diodorus [12.38.3–4]); 2) chapter 17 presents the affairs of Corcyra; 3) chapter 18 presents the affairs of Potidaea; 4) chapter 19 includes what seems very likely to be an abridged version of the Thucydidean alethestate prophasis but with a notable shift in perspective: in Thucydides’ alethestate prophasis the Athenian auxesis compels Sparta to phobos, and the combination of auxesis and phobos compels, by necessity, the two city-states to war; in Aristodemus’ aitia alethestate, the initiative comes clearly from Sparta reaction to the Athenian auxesis, whose features are expressly defined (i.e. “increasing number of boats, money, allies . . .”); the text ends here.
[ back ] 20. Marx 1815:231, ad fr. 119 (= F 196): “Sed Ephori nostri ut vindicemus integritatem et probitatem, nihil fere restat, nisi ut plures, quarum notitiam acceperit, belli caussas ab eo, ut historico, proditas fuisse statuamus, deteriorem vero a Diodoro, non acerrimi iudicii homine, electam.” Note Marx’s remark on Diodorus’ uninspired selection of Ephoran materials. Marx’s apology of Ephorus did not win the approval of many nineteenth-century critics (see Müller 1841:lxiiib; Stelkens 1857:25n1; Klügmann 1860:29n3; Endemann 1881:9n5; pro-Marx’s thesis Vogel 1889:538).
[ back ] 21. Schwartz 1903:680.
[ back ] 22. Connor 1961:76–78.
[ back ] 23. Schepens 2007:88–90, with n75, has recently argued that Aristodemus’ sets of causes of the Peloponnesian War (FGH 104 F 1.16-19) reflect Ephorus’ original account: Ephorus, on this model, would have classified four causes in order of growing importance, from the first and least important, namely Pericles’ private affairs (chapter 16), to the fourth and most important one, that is, Spartan phobos of the Athenian auxesis (chapter 19).
[ back ] 24. See Jacoby 1926a:101; Jacoby 1926b:95, ad FGH 70 F 196.
[ back ] 25. Pericles’ rhetorical ability is a leitmotif in F 196 (see Diodorus 12.38.2, 39.5, 40.5, and also infra).
[ back ] 26. Although he was not the only one. It must be stressed that Ephorus could not derive all the details we read in Diodorus 12.38.2–39.3, about Pericles’ private affairs and the trials of his associates, from ancient comedy’s vague allusions. Furthermore, it is highly probable that Ephorus in fact diverged from Aristophanes on important issues. See below, text and n28.
[ back ] 27. The two quotations appear together under the name of Eupolis alone (Diodorus 12.40.5). Diodoran manuscripts read: καὶ πάλιν ἐν ἄλλοις Εὔπολις ὁ ποιητής Περικλέης οὑλύμπιος ἤστραπτεν, ἐβρόντα, συνεκύκα τὴν Ἑλλάδα. Πειθώ τις ἐπεκάθιζεν ἐπὶ τοῖς χείλεσιν· οὕτως ἐκήλει καὶ μόνος τῶν ῥητόρων τὸ κέντρον ἐγκατέλειπε τοῖς ἀκροωμένοις. Is this an error only in Ephorus’ manuscripts from the first century BCE (compare Cicero ad Atticum 12.6a.1 and Orator 29, where Aristophanes Acharnians, verses 530–531, are attributed to Eupolis)? See Vogel 1889:533n1; Schwartz 1907:14; Mesturini 1983. The possibility exists that Ephorus intentionally intertwined Aristophanes’ and Eupolis’ verses in order to describe Pericles as a formidable demagogue, a speaking Zeus among orators.
[ back ] 28. Diodorus’ text suggests that Ephorus had a careful approach to the information provided by ancient comedy. It is worth stressing that, while Aristophanes regards Pheidias as guilty of misappropriation of public funds (Peace 605: πράξας κακῶς), Ephorus regards him as a victim of a scheme devised by Pericles’ opponents (see Diodorus 12.39.1–2; cf. Plutarch Pericles 31.2). This is indeed another difference—and not a minor one—between the versions of Aristophanes and Ephorus.
[ back ] 29. In Ephorus’ view the cases of international politics after 460 BCE were aetiologically decisive. Diodorus, on the other hand, doesn’t care for them; for he wants to show the differences between Ephorus and Thucydides, he only emphasizes Pericles’ private affairs. See Parmeggiani 2011:354.
[ back ] 30. Plutarch Lysander 30.5.
[ back ] 31. See also above, 125 and n28.
[ back ] 32. The verb διαπιστοῦται in Aristodemus (FGH 104 F 1.16.2) is misleading, and may reflect an over-simplification of Ephorus’ original setting.
[ back ] 33. See, for example, Diodorus 12.40.6: μέμνηται δὲ τούτων καὶ Ἀριστοφάνης . . . γεγονὼς κατὰ τὴν τοῦ Περικλέους ἡλικίαν, “Mention has been made of this even by Aristophanes. . ., who lived in the period of Pericles.” (Translation by C. H. Oldfather)
[ back ] 34. Compare 12.38.2, where Diodorus clearly condenses Ephorus’ observations on the waste of public money on a personal initiative. That Ephorus analyzed Pericles’ expensive fiscal policy in detail is also suggested by F 193.
[ back ] 35. This self-criticism occurred especially during the years of the Social War (357–355 BCE).
[ back ] 36. Note the similarities between our passage and Diodorus 12.39.3 (Ephorus F 196): ὁ δὲ Περικλῆς, εἰδὼς τὸν δῆμον ἐν μὲν τοῖς πολεμικοῖς ἔργοις θαυμάζοντα τοὺς ἀγαθοὺς ἄνδρας διὰ τὰς κατεπειγούσας χρείας, κατὰ δὲ τὴν εἰρήνην τοὺς αὐτοὺς συκοφαντοῦντα διὰ τὴν σχολὴν καὶ φθόνον, ἔκρινε συμφέρειν αὑτῷ τὴν πόλιν ἐμβαλεῖν εἰς μέγαν πόλεμον, ὅπως χρείαν ἔχουσα τῆς Περικλέους ἀρετῆς καὶ στρατηγίας μὴ προσδέχηται τὰς κατ᾽ αὐτοῦ διαβολάς, μηδ’ ἔχῃ σχολὴν καὶ χρόνον ἐξετάζειν ἀκριβῶς τὸν περὶ τῶν χρημάτων λόγον. This too reveals the Ephoran origin of Plutarch Pericles 32.6.
[ back ] 37. See Diodorus 12.39.3 (F 196): ἔκρινε [Pericles] συμφέρειν αὑτῷ τὴν πόλιν ἐμβαλεῖν εἰς μέγαν πόλεμον.
[ back ] 38. Compare Diodorus 11.64.3; Justin 3.6.1–4; see also Parmeggiani 2011:450-458. It is significant that, in Ephorus’ view, the transfer of the public money from Delos to Athens dates back to this very period (see Robertson 1980:113–114), as does Cimon’s ostracism.
[ back ] 39. F 122 a.