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The Mytilenian Debate, according to Thucydides, occurred in Athensmarker during the time of the Peloponnesian War. When a group of prisoners was brought to the city, the Athenians immediately decided to put them to death and enslave their native population in Mytilenemarker. The next day their feeling changed and the guilt of their rash decision sparked the debate of whether to retract their conviction.

Cleon, a prominent member of Athenian society, spoke to defend the previous decision. He asserts that the guilty party got the punishment they deserved and Athenian doubters are victims of their own "pleasure in listening...." He finishes his speech by urging the populace to not "be traitors to your own selves."

After Cleon's speech, Diodotus speaks in defence of his previous opposition to the death sentence. He states that "haste and anger are... the two greatest obstacles to wise counsel...." Diodotus ponders whether the question is not so much if they are guilty as whether Athenians are making the right decision for themselves. Citing one of Cleon's main arguments for his position, Diodotus questions whether the death penalty is really a means of deterrence from revolt or just the opposite. He finishes by asking Athenians to fundamentally question what is right and just and look to moderation rather than aggressive punishment.

The matter was then put to a vote which narrowly favored the motion made by Diodotus. This decision effectively halted the massacre of Mytilene.

See also


  • Warner, Rex. The Peloponnesian War (Penguin Books, 1972).

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