Thucydides at Melos
Cover of Political Science Reviewer 46.1


Melian Dialgoue

How to Cite

Thucydides at Melos: An Archeology of Oligarchy and Democracy. (2022). The Political Science Reviewer, 46(1), 51-86.


This paper presents a new interpretation of Thucydides's Melian dialogue that avoids the by-now-traditional alternative of reading it either as simply a statement of ‘realism,’ or else as a conflict between Melian ‘traditionalism’ and Athenian ‘rationalism.’ Rather, the Melians are oligarchs and the Athenians democrats, and inasmuch each speaks according to an understanding of justice, politics, and history befitting democracy and oligarchy as Thucydides presents them in the Archaeology. The belief in saving gods is found to be based in the deep Spartan past. The belief that ‘he who can, rules’ is found similarly based in the deep Athenian past. This reading can help us understand the Melian dialogue in its peculiar character as a dialogue, as well as enable us to treat both the Melian and Athenian positions with the respect Thucydides seems to have believed they deserved; and this can point the way to further reflection on the fundamental presuppositions of democracy, and the tension between democracy and imperialism. I engage a wide range of secondary literature.