Melian Dialogue

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Throughout the Peloponnesian war, the island of Melos had managed to remain neutral, while refusing to become a subject of Athens. However, as the war progressed, Athens closed in on the island, which responded with hostility. The Athenians the in a frank manner suitable to their bold nature, offered the Melians an ultimatum that was essentially to surrender and pay tribute to Athens, or be conquered and destroyed. Throughout the dialogue that commenced between the Melians and the Athenians, the subjects of power, justice and prudence are addressed and debated while the theories of human nature and the relationships of states come out in the conclusions of the previously mentioned subjects.

Power is a prominent and key player in the discussion that is had between the Melians and Athenians. The blunt talk about power and empire is nothing new for Athens. Such is shown through the Athenian messengers who ‘happened’ to be in Sparta during their initial debate on declaring war: “So that, though overcome by three the greatest things, honour, fear, and profit, we have both accepted the dominion delivered us and refuse again to surrender it, we have therein done nothing to be wondered at nor beside the manner of men. Nor have we been the first in this kind, but it hath been ever a thing fixed, for the weaker to be kept under by the stronger.” This outlook has essentially guided the Athenian perspective and attitude throughout the war. Melos, however, seems to lack a concern for power. It can be seen as they first attempt to offer compromise and friendship, but are rejected by the pride of the Athenians who would consider compromise as a sign of weakness, thus, lack of power. Melos disagrees, and believes that the Athenians desire for expansion is in the place of justice.

The concept of justice and reasonability, for the Athenians, is irrelevant in the case of the Melians. They believe justice can only exist in disputes between equals, and thus, they are acting in...
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