Presenter: Dr Edith Foster

This seminar puts Thucydides’s accounts of Athenian military defeat in their social and literary contexts. It begins by demonstrating that other genres at Athens, such as tragedy, comedy, public oratory and inscriptions, were reluctant to mention Athens’s defeats, and never described the events of its military disasters. Historiography’s detailed accounts of military losses thus preserved the memory of these adverse events; in addition, they offered an argumentative analysis. After discussing why postwar Athenians might have been interested in reading descriptive explanations of their own military disasters, the seminar reviews two famous Thucydidean narratives of Athenian defeat: the stories of the battles at Delium and on Epipolae at Syracuse. It compares these narratives to such post-defeat responses as are available from our Athenian evidence, showing that these responses were characterized by a tendency to deny defeat, to blame generals or soldiers for cowardice, or to blame bad luck or the gods. The seminar concludes that Thucydides’s accounts would have been read in the context of these more common explanations, which his accounts opposed, and suggests that we consider his narratives of Athenian defeats as arguments that pertained to the postwar political context, in which it was advantageous for parties who wished to undertake new wars to forget or deny defeat. At the same time his detailed accounts commemorated the efforts of the defeated Athenian combatants.

The podcast of the seminar is available from UQ eSpace.

About Classics and Ancient History Seminars

Event details

  • The seminars take place at 4pm, in the Michie Building (09), Room 536
  • Seminars are also on Zoom. Send an email to Duncan Keenan-Jones ( for the link.
  • Upcoming seminars can be found here.
  • Please be aware that we are still operating under Covid-19 regulations during public events. Masks are no longer required at UQ locations - however, UQ strongly encourages mask wearing when physical distancing is not possible. UQ strongly encourages all campus attendees to be up to date with vaccinations. And finally, those who are feeling unwell, have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the previous 7 days or have been in close contact with a confirmed case in the last 7 days, are asked not to attend this seminar.
  • For those attending in person, if you would like to join us for drinks and/or dinner afterwards at UQ’s St. Lucy's from 5:15 pm, please RSVP by email to Duncan Keenan-Jones ( by 9am on the day of the seminar.
  • Please also contact Duncan Keenan-Jones should you have questions about the event.

The Friends of Antiquity, an alumni organisation of the University, runs its own series of public lectures, which take place on Sunday afternoons. The Friends’ program for can be found at