The Journal of Politics


The Virtue of Thucydides’ Brasidas

Timothy Burnsa1

a1 Skidmore College


In his account of the 27-year Peloponnesian War, Thucydides makes virtue the theme of his presentation of the most outstanding Spartan, Brasidas. That presentation can guide us to an understanding of moral virtue in all its richness and complexity. We learn from a careful analysis of Brasidas’ deeds and speeches, and of Thucydides’ assessment of him, that Brasidas’ virtue, remarkable as it is, is problematic. Thucydides’ account of it may move us, in fact, to abandon our own attachment to this kind of virtue, as we find ourselves in need of a more consistent kind of virtue, one that becomes visible above all in the first speech of the Syracusan Hermocrates. The conversion to this kind of virtue constitutes Thucydides’ grounding of the life guided by reason.

(Online publication May 13 2011)


Timothy Burns is Associate Professor of Government at Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, New York, 12866.