Thucydides on political intrigue in the divided city of Corcyra caused by the “desire to rule” (5thC BC)


In his Third Book of his History of the Peloponnesian Wars (section 82), Thucydides (Hobbes translation) describes the behavior of the different political factions during the revolt in Corcyra in 405 BC:

The cause of all this is desire of rule, out of avarice and ambition; and the zeal of contention from those two proceeding. For such as were of authority in the cities, both of the one and the other faction, preferring under decent titles, one the political equality of the multitude, the other the moderate aristocracy; though in words they seemed to be servants of the public, they made it in effect but the prize of their contention: and striving by whatsoever means to overcome, both ventured on most horrible outrages, and prosecuted their revenges still farther, without any regard of justice or the public good, but limiting them, each faction, by their own appetite: and stood ready, whether by unjust sentence, or with their own hands, when they should get power, to satisfy their present spite. So that neither side made account to have any thing the sooner done for religion [of an oath], but he was most commended, that could pass a business against the hair with a fair oration. The neutrals of the city were destroyed by both factions; partly because they would not side with them, and partly for envy that they should so escape.

Thomas Hobbes lived through the English Revolution (or Civil War) during the 1640s and 1650s so it is not hard to see his translation of civil revolt in Greece in the 5th century BC in light of his own experiences. In this quotation we read of the motives of the various factions in the divided city of Corcyra, all motivated by the “desire to rule” at all costs, revenge and “rapine”.