Character and rhetoric in Thucydides

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


Naming and evaluating individuals are two of the numerous well-established methods by which Thucydides characterises individuals. While it is uncontroversial that Thucydides uses these and other methods to characterise individuals, the practical mechanics of these characterisation methods, such as speeches, are understudied. This thesis investigates the characterisation of individuals through deliberative rhetoric in Thucydides’ History with a focus on three specific methods. It demonstrates that Thucydides characterises speakers through his presentation of their rhetoric of emotion, their use of various ‘rhetorical modes’, and intratextual parallels between speeches and their narrative contexts, in addition to previously studied methods such as naming and evaluating individuals. Thucydides presents deliberative speeches such that the way in which each speaker seeks to arouse or suppress the emotions of their audience contributes to their characterisation. Thucydides also characterises individuals through his presentation of their use of sophistic or conventional ‘rhetorical modes’, which include the types of arguments, arrangement, and rhetorical techniques that they employ. Intratextual connections and situational parallels between speeches and their narrative contexts contribute to the characterisation of individuals by facilitating comparisons for the reader that ultimately distinguish each speaker and explain historical events, including the Athenian defeat in Sicily. In three parts that each focus on one of these methods, this thesis examines these characterising methods and their role in the individual characterisation of speakers. It analyses the dialogue and narrative contexts of two isolated speeches and three antilogies: the first and final speeches of Pericles (Thuc. 1.140-144, 2.60-64), the Mytilene Debate (Thuc. 3.37-48), and the Syracuse Antilogy (Thuc. 6.33-40) with close reference to the so-called Redetrias (Thuc. 6.9-23). This thesis thus contributes new perspectives to current conceptions of characterisation, the development of rhetoric, and historical writing during the fifth century BC.
Date of Award29 Nov 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorJon Hesk (Supervisor) & Thomas Harrison (Supervisor)


  • Thucydides
  • Historiography
  • Sophist
  • Aristotle
  • Ancient rhetoric
  • Classical Greek
  • Ancient Greek
  • Ancient Greek historiography
  • Rhetorical style
  • Gorgias
  • Antiphon
  • Anaximenes of Lampsacus

Access Status

  • Full text embargoed until
  • 25 September 2028

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