Democracy, Autocracy, and Democratic Heroism in Thucydides' Peloponnesian War


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships


Political Science


This project extends the historical turn in the history of political thought to the study of Thucydides by examining his portrayal and analysis of Athenian democracy within its fifth-century Greek intellectual context. It argues that Thucydides did not conceptualize democracy as an entirely novel form of rule nor as wholly anti-tyrannical, but rather as an advanced form of heroic autocracy. Drawing on traditional symbols, explanatory frameworks, and literary tropes associated with heroic kingship, Thucydides redescribes Athenian democracy as a collective tragic hero. At the same time, he uses rationalistic modes of analysis characteristic of fifth-century Greek science to diagnose the ways in which the heroic democracy differed from and surpassed previous autocratic forms of rule. The result was an interpretation of Athenian democracy that was deeply original, overturning contemporary assumptions about the inherent egalitarianism of popular rule while embracing its unique value and greatness.