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An Analysis of Thucydides' Views on the Melian Dialogue

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An Analysis of Thucydides' Views on the Melian Dialogue

The Melian Dialogue is a debate between Melian and Athenian representatives concerning the sovereignty of Melos. The debate did not really occur-the arguments given by each side were of Thucydides own creation. Thus it is reasonable to assume that we can tease out Thucydides' own beliefs. In this paper, I will first extract Thucydides views from the Melian Dialogue and then analyze whether or not these views are well founded.

Thucydides believed that the Athenians had the stronger argument. Proof of this lies in the way Thucydides picked the arguments for each side. For the moment, we will disregard the actual content of the arguments, and look at argumentation forms and the flow of the debate.

The Melians argued using consequences of an Athenian take over. In section 110, the Melians threatened that if their allies the Lacedaemonians were provoked by the takeover of Melos, they might attack Athens itself: "...the Cretan sea is a large place; and the masters of the sea will have more difficulty in overtaking vessels which want to escape than the pursued in escaping. If the attempt should fail they may invade Attica itself, and find their way to allies of yours whom Brasidas did not reach: and then you will have to fight, not for the conquest of a land in which you have no concern, but nearer home, for the preservation of your confederacy and of your own territory." In addition, the Melians complained that they would be thought of as cowards if they surrendered, and they warned the Athenians that hostility would turn other neutral city-states against them.

The Melians offered mere speculation. Their arguments sound like the work of a weak and desperate g...

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...ust have had more of the things that the gods cared about. The Melians would have been hard pressed to argue that they had more favor amongst the gods than the Athenians, because anything of virtue that they could claim to have had, the Athenians could claimed to have had but more or better. The Melian argument then that they were favored by the gods and therefore must remain free is inconsistent. If Athens and Melos went to battle against each other, the gods, if they favored anyone, would favor Athens.

We have now examined Thucydides' strongest arguments for Athenian rule. It is clear that Athens had a stronger claim to rule than the Melians had to remain sovereign. We also know that Athens' claims hold up when we examine them for validity. Thucydides beliefs in Athens' claims were therefore well founded.

Works Cited:

The Melian Dialogue, Thucydides

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