Definitions of Justice in the Melian Dialogue Essays

1144 Words Nov 15th, 2012 5 Pages
Amidst an interlude in the fierce struggle for power between the two dominant Greek poleis, Athens and Sparta, the Peloponnesian war, there was unrest. Despite the Peace of Nicias, belligerence between the two states did not cease, but rather took on a new face. While careful to remain within the parameters set several years before in the peace treaty, Athens moved cautiously, but aggressively in establishing alliances, albeit coerced, and strengthening its empire. It was at this juncture that it made its move toward securing the small, weak island-state of Melos, which in its neutral independence suggested danger to the Athenian empire. In a move not of fairness, but of survival, Athens offered the Melians an ultimatum: to be subjugated …show more content…
Without being either the ones who made this law or the first to apply it after it was laid down, we applied it as one in existence...and one that will endure for all time,” (Thuc., V, 105). The Athenians see no injustice in doing simply as their nature impels them to do. In fact, the Athenians see their offer of subjugation to the Melian people as more than reasonable, “What we will demonstrate is that we are here to help our empire and that there is salvation for your city in what we are now about to say, since we hope to rule over you without trouble and let both parties benefit as you are saved,” (Thuc., V, 91). Following their belief in doing what is necessary to strengthen themselves, even at the expense of others, is what brings Athens to Melos.
The Melians, contrarilly, see justice as grounded in fairness. They contend that action based in reason is the true definition of justice. “There is every advantage in your not destroying a universal benefit, but that at all times there be fairness and justice for those in danger,” (Thuc.,V, 90). This belief in abstinence from aggression without cause is what defines the fundamental differences in the Athenian’s and the Melian’s philosophies. As a neutral state, Melos remained impartial up until it was confronted by Athens, and it is this confrontation which violates the Melian definition of justice. Having not been harmed by
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