Ancient History
Ancient Greece

What lessons did Thucydides attempt to convey by the Melian dialog?

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2007-10-09 06:43:23

I'm not 100%sure, but here goes...

During the Melian Dialogue, Thucydides describes the events of

the discussion that takes place between the Greeks of Athens and

the inhabitants of the island of Melo, Spartan allies. During the

Peloponnesian war, Athens and Sparta created an entire net of

allied cities from which they attained men and war funds (in fact,

the war lasted circa thirty years, from 431 to 404 bC). Forgoing

his usual objectiveness, Thucydides narrates with theatrical pathos

how he believes the dialogue might have taken place, and

demonstrates how the Athenians reacted to diplomatical refusal.

According to Thucydides' reconstruction, before waging war

against the Melians, the Athenians proposed for them to submit

willingly to their control, seeing as they wouldn't be getting any

help from Sparta, their ally, which was too involved in keeping the

homefront protected. Because the Melians refused, the Athenians

then subjected the city to a long and devastating battle, killing

all young men and enslaving all women, children and seniors.

The powerful empire of Athens imposes an impossible chioce to

the inhabitants of Melo, submission or distruction. The Melians try

to subtract themselves from this decision by quoting the classical

arguments of Greek ethics: they invoke universal justice, and they

stress their belief that the Gods will always help those who are

just in the end.

The Athenian response is ruthless. Justice exists only where

there is equality of strenght, otherwise the stronger act in favour

of their greater strength, and the weaker MUST submit to the


There is only ONE eternal law of nature, for men and divinity

alike: "wherever there be strength, there be power".

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