Thucydides and Napoleon

During the past week, I have listened to two interesting radio programs. The first was on Thucydides. This was part of the regular series In Our Time hosted by Melvyn Bragg and available on BBC IPlayer. Among other topics, the influence of Thucydides even up modern times was discussed. The other program was on Napoleon’s attempt to find refuge in England. Apparently he wrote a letter to the Prince Regent, later George IV, asking for asylum and comparing himself to Themistocles. I didn’t catch the title of this program but it does show that Napoleon knew his Thucydides and hoped that history would repeat itself.

“Je viens, comme Thémistocle, m’asseoir au foyer du peuple britannique. Je me mets sous la protection de ses lois, que je réclame de Votre Altesse Royale comme celle du plus constant, du plus généreux de mes ennemis.”
Napoleon 13 July 1815 letter to the Prince Regent

Napoleon was thinking of Thucydides’ account of the asylum given to Themistocles in Persia even though he was one of the chief architects of the Persian defeat in the Persian Wars. Thucydides here shows that the Persian king gave him three towns to support him. Maybe Napoleon was hoping for a country estate somewhere in England where he could spend his declining years. Alas for him he was sent off to the second most remote island in the world, St Helena.

μνημεῖον μὲν οὖν αὐτοῦ ἐν Μαγνησίᾳ ἐστὶ τῇ Ἀσιανῇ ἐν τῇ ἀγορᾷ: ταύτης γὰρ ἦρχε τῆς χώρας, δόντος βασιλέως αὐτῷ Μαγνησίαν μὲν ἄρτον, ἣ προσέφερε πεντήκοντα τάλαντα τοῦ ἐνιαυτοῦ, Λάμψακον δὲ οἶνον (ἐδόκει γὰρ πολυοινότατον τῶν τότε εἶναι), Μυοῦντα δὲ ὄψον.

Themistocles’ monument is in Asian Magnesia in the market place. He ruled this land, the king having given him Magnesia for his bread which brought him fifty talents a year, Lampsacus for wine (it seems to have produced the most wine of towns then) and Myus for his meat.

Thuc. 1.138

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One Response to Thucydides and Napoleon

  1. Thucydides was the man. Second only to Herodotus.

    Liked by 1 person

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