from The Peloponnesian Wars by Thucydides
1. What is the situation?
(Who, precisely, is meeting with whom? When?)
2. What deal do the Athenians offer the Melians?
3. Carefully consider the arguments which the Athenians use to persuade
the Melians to surrender (and justify their own aggression) Then, consider
how the Melians rebut the Athenian argument. Who wins the debate?
1. On Justice:
Athenians: "...You know as well
as we do that right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in
power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must....Melians: ...[All] we can
reasonably expect from this negotiation is war, if we prove to have right on
our side and refuse to submit, and in the contrary case, slavery.
2. On Mercy
hostility cannot so much hurt us as your friendship will be an argument to
our subjects of our weakness, and your enmity of our power.” ie. Making friends with you
rather than humiliating you would make us look weak and damage our
Melians: “How can you avoid making enemies of all existing neutrals who shall
look at our case from it that one day or another you will attack them? And
what is this but to make greater the enemies that you have already, and to
force others to become so who would otherwise have never thought of it?” ie Conquering neutral countries will, in the long
run, make you less secure: Why?
3. On Dishonor
There is no dishonor in surrendering to a more powerful enemy.
contest not being an equal one, with honor as the prize and shame as the
penalty, but a question of self-preservation and of not resisting those who
are far stronger than you are.... you will not think it dishonorable to
submit to the greatest city in Hellas, when it makes you the moderate offer
of becoming its tributary ally, without ceasing to enjoy the country that
belongs to you; nor when you have the choice given you between war and
security, will you be so blinded as to choose the worse." ie Truly, there is no
honor in committing suicide, and opposing us would be suicidal.
Melians: “To submit is to give
ourselves over to despair, while action still preserves for us a hope that
we may stand erect.”
3. On Hope
"Hope, danger's comforter, may be indulged in by those who have
abundant resources, if not without loss at all events without ruin; but its
nature is to be extravagant, and those who go so far as to put their all
upon the venture see it in its true colors only when they are ruined; but
so long as the discovery would enable them to guard against it, it is never
found wanting. Let not this be the case with you, who are weak and hang on
a single turn of the scale; nor be like the vulgar, who, abandoning such
security as human means may still afford, when visible hopes fail them in
extremity, turn to invisible, to prophecies and oracles, and other such
inventions that delude men with hopes to their destruction."
ie Hope is illogical
because you face ruin. Do not wait to discover this truth too late. And
those who place their hopes in the faith that the gods will act on their
side are indulging in delusions.
Melians: "You may be sure that we are as well aware as you of
the difficulty of contending against your power and fortune, unless the
terms be equal. But we trust that the gods may
grant us fortune as good as yours, since we are just men fighting against
4. On the Gods' Justice:
"Of the gods we believe, and of men we know, that by a necessary
law of their nature they rule wherever they can. And it is not as if we
were the first to make this law, or to act upon it when made: we found it
existing before us, and shall leave it to exist for ever after us; all we
do is to make use of it, knowing that you and everybody else, having the
same power as we have, would do the same as we do. Thus, as far as the gods
are concerned, we have no fear and no reason to fear that we shall be at a
ie Might makes
right. That is the only justice. That is the gods’ law.
Melians: "Our resolution, Athenians, is the same as it was at
first. We will not in a moment deprive of freedom a city that has been
inhabited these seven hundred years; but we put our trust in the fortune by
which the gods have preserved it until now, and in the help of men, that
is, of the Lacedaemonians; and so we will try and
5. The Result:
“Reinforcements afterwards arriving from Athens in consequence,
under the command of Philocrates, son of Demeas, the siege was now pressed vigorously; and some
treachery taking place inside, the Melians surrendered at discretion to the
Athenians, who put to death all the grown men whom they took, and sold the
women and children for slaves, and subsequently sent out five hundred
colonists and inhabited the place themselves.”