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I realize a couple of things among the stuff that I read. The first is that among the non-fiction books I have an addiction to reading the notes that go along with the work, especially if it is a translation which is funny because I speak no foreign languages and wouldn’t know the subtleties of moving something from Greek to English without many more years of school. I just can’t help it reading them though.

I despise end notes, whether they are at the end of the chapter or the end of the book is inconsequential because it still involves me having to flip from the line I’m reading over to another section in order to find the corresponding note. It’s disruptive and a lot more time consuming than just glancing down at the bottom of the page without having to avert my head in any manner. I always prefer to use footnotes when I am writing, never end notes.

All of that being said I’m getting quite angry at footnotes while I am reading Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War. Granted there were a couple of things I could have done to avoid this, the first being most obvious: not read them. I explained before though that this is a little addiction of mine and unlike most of my other addictions this one only hurts myself. The problem is that the footnotes are spoiling the story.

I should note that as a matter of my personal knowledge I do know how this war turns out. It’s not the general result that I am most interested in but the small matters. It’s becoming more and more about the role of fortune in this war as Thucydides remarks too often about how the unforeseen chance plays the greatest role in determining the fates of man (he was against using supernatural explanations, which makes me often think about what the people at the time were thinking especially with the plague). That role of fortune: we’re possibly talking about a dissertation topic here so a book that I decided on a whim to read might just pay off.

The civil war following the Median (Persian conflict) is made up of numerous internal squabbles between the Athenians and their allies/subjects as well as the Spartans and their allies. That’s where the real tension in the story lies, I don’t know who wins these things, who the players are, and how they eventually panned out. It is in these things that repeatedly Donald Lateiner, who introduced the book and noted it for the Barnes and Noble Classics,* that is really starting to piss me off.

I mean that literally too, it’s pissing me off. I was angry enough today when I found out that Cleon was going to lose the argument he was making that I shut the book and left the place i was reading it. The Lesbians (from Lesbos) revolted from the Athenian empire, their capital city of Mytilene was central to the revolt as it tried to go over to the Spartans. As it turns out the Athenians win bringing the city of Mytilene under heel, but now what to do with those dastardly Lesbians?

One thought was to execute every male member of the city of Mytilene and enslave the women and children. A punishment, I am told, is common fare for cities/states that revolt from their alliances. The issue is that the revolt was suppressed not only with the military force of the Athenians but also by the Lesbians themselves. The Lesbian aristocracy were the ones leading the revolt and once they armed the commoners, the commoners wanted to negotiate their position.

With this in consideration the argument was how to punish them. Our footnote let me know that Cleon was going to lose, but it did so prior to him making his argument for his side and he was the first speaker. This also happened at the siege of Salamis where I was privy to the knowledge of an escape attempt before I knew there was an incarceration.

Maybe the whole book should be a footnote with the end result of the war as the main text…I should have read the Thomas Hobbes translation.

*Aka: stuff with expired copyrights that don’t need royalty payments but can still cost 11.95 unless you want to read off your laptop screen.

Categories: book reviews, history, reviews
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