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Nicias in Thucydides and Aristophanes Part II: Nicias and Divine Justice in Aristophanes

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image of Polis: The Journal for Ancient Greek Political Thought

Thucydides and Aristophanes, austere historian and ribald comic playwright, lived in an Athens that had, since Themistocles, been moving from a regime of ancestral piety towards a secular empire. Thucydides suggests an agreement between his understanding and that of the pious Nicias — over and against this move. Aristophanes too is a vigorous proponent of peace, and the conclusions of many of his plays appear to suggest or encourage a conservative disposition towards ancestral piety or the rule of ancestral, divine law.While these first impressions are not entirely misleading, a careful examination of the two thinkers’works, with attention to Nicias and the question of the gods, suggests a more complicated and revealing picture. Neither thinker is in agreement with Nicias, who proves to be representative of a fundamental human delusion. Each, however, sees that delusion as inescapable for political life, and so makes his appeal to more serious readers inconspicuously.


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