- That’s Melos to the North.
We told them “we don’t want you to think you can persuade us by saying you did not fight on the side of the Lacedaemonians in the war, though you were their colony, or that you have done us no injustice. Instead, let’s work out what we can do on the basis of what both sides truly accept: we both know that decisions about justice are made in human discussions only when both sides are under equal compulsion; but when one side is stronger, it gets as much as it can, and the weak must accept that.”
And then we asked them to answer.
“Well, then, since you put your interest in the place of justice, our view must be that it is in your interest not to subvert this rule that is good for all: that a plea of justice and fairness should do some good for a man who has fallen into danger, if he can win over his judges, even if he is not perfectly persuasive. And the rule concerns you no less than us: if you ever stumble, you might receive a terrible punishment and be an example to others.”
The brave-wise folly of their reply accepts and reverses the compelling logic with which we thought to cow them. I think it may be that the destruction of Melos was Athens’ suicide. Their daringly inventive argument for justice, their transformation of hard necessity into brilliance, seems a direct appeal to the star of the Athenian polis.