«Right, as the world goes, is only a question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.»
Oh no. I’ve changed my mind. I don’t feel like and I am not going to write the story of sweet boy Glaucos, Cretan King Minos’ son, who drowned in honey.
Instead, I will tell you about the terrible fate of the Melians, the inhabitants of the island of Melos, who dared claim neutrality in a civil war. It was not because they were cowards; on the contrary they were the only islanders who didn’t surrender and opposed the Persians. The reason they didn’t want to fight with their allies, the Athenians, against the Spartans, was that unlike the Athenians and most other islanders who were Ionians, the Melians were Dorians like the Spartans. Greek can kill Greek and brother can kill brother; but in this case the Melians were asked to fight against themselves, against their own identity. So they pleaded to remain neutral.
«We are going to destroy you and we will spare noone; but before we kill you, you will have to understand perfectly well the reason why we will kill you.» And the Melians seem to say : «We know that we are as good as dead; but why not for a change instead of proving you are strong by killing everybody of us, why not for a change prove you are strong by letting us live in the way we want.»
(If you have time to read the whole original Dialogue, search for the quote in the title of this entry. Look how and where exactly it drops in the text. What effect it’d create to your ears if you were a Melian?)
I hope one day Thucydides’ Melian Dialogue will be adapted and set on the scene succesfully. But my ambitions are greater. They say that the constitution of the European Union will contain Pericles’ «Funeral Oration» on the benefits of democracy; I strongly believe that it should also contain the arguments of the Melians. My arguments? My arguments are he arguments of so many weak people I know.
«Might makes right!» «Wait a second.. no it doesn’t!»
If there were any justice in the world, all imperial leaders would be forced to sleep with a copy of this dialogue under their pillows.
This was one of the first pieces of classical literature I ever read. It brought home the one reason I’m still studying the ancients, and in fact plan to teach this stuff for my career: Nothing Ever Changes. That’s not to say I’m a pessimist, but rather that there are universal elements of the human experience, and sometimes they were expressed best 2500 years ago. These elements, from Achilles’ rage to Dido’s tragic love, are what have kept me stuck in school for all these years.
Saturday September 30, 2006 – 09:24am (EDT)
My old teacher Vidal-Naquet died recently. I was lucky to meet him again after many years in Ikaria. He had been invited to a conference on history and myths. I was told that he expressed the wish to visit again and spend a lot of time in Ikaria. Anyway what he always said was that the study of the classics helps a person committed to a cause become more relative and more profound in his/her ideas. I want to add that Thucydides was FOR the Melians. Unfortunaltely we weren’t taught that at school. I was told that Thucydides is taught as a course in the Mlitary Academies of the U.S. I assume it’s about strategics and that they leave this passage out.
(psst… El, what’s on your mind? a script?)
Saturday September 30, 2006 – 10:43pm (EEST)
- Simon G
The cat got his paws on a cockerel. «At last I’ve got you. You… you… wake up everyone far too early in the morning. Now I’m going to stop all your crowing once and for all.» Although the claws of cat were round his neck, the cock managed to answer, «But actually a recent poll has shown the majority of people are grateful for a wake up call.» «Well… don’t think you can reason your way out of this. I’m hungry, and the main thing is… I want a meal.» And with that the debate was over.
I’ve just had a look at the Melian dialogue – it is sort of surreal – it must be the greeks and debate – why, before the age of mass media and spin – why when there will be no audience apart from the vanquished – why bother to reason?? The performance should have a comic edge I think.
Saturday September 30, 2006 – 11:24pm (CEST)
Typical situation «Shoot me but spare me the lecture». Fortunately (for us) none of them was short of words and Thucydides was a top «journalist». So a typical everyday situation became an *all-times-classic*. When someone to who a company is grateful*, refuses to do some dirty job which is against his/her principles, and so he/she gets fired, the attitudes that you see and the arguments that you hear are from the Melian Dialogue.
*** I all agree with Simon G. This is Black Comedy. Though no expert, I think this genre is the most difficult to put on stage.
Sunday October 1, 2006 – 07:10pm (EEST)
OH YES IT IS ! As ‘Simon G’ insinuates, the somebody has to be vanquished and that will be the audience for such a play. If I’m not mistaken, during the war Thucydides was busy being a general; he wrote his history later in his self-exile in Thrace after his home town, Athens was defeated. Aristophanes on the contrary wrote and directed his comedies between battles and campaigns of that war. Lycistrata, The Birds, Acharneis – my favourites!…
Sunday October 1, 2006 – 12:27pm (PDT)
Tragic that we as humans have not learned a Goddamned thing in 2,500 years.
Write it Elle!
Monday October 2, 2006 – 07:35am (PDT)
Oh no greg! We have learned one thing : that we have not learned a Goddamned thing in 2,500 years. ha ha ha Somebody else said this -not me. Maybe a comedian, maybe a historian, I can’t remember.
I think I’ll try and do it. I’ll need to put on 3 hats : a lawyer’s, a comedian’s, a historian’s, plus some Aristophanic spirit «shoot us but spare us the lectures» (thank you Nana!) Let’s change the subject because I don’t want to think about it now. It will be for after… you know.
Monday October 2, 2006 – 01:04pm (PDT)