Actually, The Destruction of Melos Only Seems Bad…

Isocrates engages in thoroughly familiar apologetics in response to criticism of the Athenian empire. (Yes, this does seem to be in reference to the Melos of the Melian Dialogue)

Isocrates, Panegyricus 100-102

“Before these things, I think that everyone would agree that our city was responsible for the most good things and that we held our empire justly. But after that, some people start to criticize us, that once we obtained power over the sea, we were responsible for many evils for the Greeks and they offer as evidence in their speeches our enslavement of the Melians and the slaughter of the Skiônians.

I am of the opinion, first, that it is no indication of our ruling badly if some of those who were fighting against us appear to have been punished severely, but it is a much greater sign that we were running our allies’ affairs well that none of the states who were still subject to us faced these kinds of disasters.

As a second point, if other states had managed similar affairs more gently, then we could be criticized fairly. But since this did not happen and it is not possible to rule a group of so many states unless you punish those who insult you, how would it not be right to praise us when we actually were able to maintain our empire for so long all while being harsh in the fewest number of cases?”

Μέχρι μὲν οὖν τούτων οἶδ᾿ ὅτι πάντες ἂν ὁμολογήσειαν πλείστων ἀγαθῶν τὴν πόλιν τὴν ἡμετέραν αἰτίαν γεγενῆσθαι, καὶ δικαίως ἂν αὐτῆς τὴν ἡγεμονίαν εἶναι· μετὰ δὲ ταῦτ᾿ ἤδη τινὲς ἡμῶν κατηγοροῦσιν, ὡς ἐπειδὴ τὴν ἀρχὴν τῆς θαλάττης παρελάβομεν, πολλῶν κακῶν αἴτιοι τοῖς Ἕλλησι κατέστημεν, καὶ τόν τε Μηλίων ἀνδραποδισμὸν καὶ τὸν Σκιωναίων ὄλεθρον ἐν τούτοις τοῖς λόγοις ἡμῖν προφέρουσιν. ἐγὼ δ᾿ ἡγοῦμαι πρῶτον μὲν οὐδὲν εἶναι τοῦτο σημεῖον ὡς κακῶς ἤρχομεν, εἴ τινες τῶν πολεμησάντων ἡμῖν σφόδρα φαίνονται κολασθέντες, ἀλλὰ πολὺ τόδε μεῖζον τεκμήριον ὡς καλῶς διῳκοῦμεν τὰ τῶν συμμάχων, ὅτι τῶν πόλεων τῶν ὑφ᾿ ἡμῖν οὐσῶν οὐδεμία ταύταις ταῖς συμφοραῖς περιέπεσεν. ἔπειτ᾿ εἰ μὲν ἄλλοι τινὲς τῶν αὐτῶν πραγμάτων πραότερον ἐπεμελήθησαν, εἰκότως ἂν ἡμῖν ἐπιτιμῷεν· εἰ δὲ μήτε τοῦτο γέγονε μήθ᾿ οἷόντ᾿ ἐστὶ τοσούτων πόλεων τὸ πλῆθος κρατεῖν, ἢν μή τις κολάζῃ τοὺς ἐξαμαρτάνοντας, πῶς οὐκ ἤδη δίκαιόν ἐστιν ἡμᾶς ἐπαινεῖν, οἵ τινες ἐλαχίστοις χαλεπήναντες πλεῖστον χρόνον τὴν ἀρχὴν κατασχεῖν ἠδυνήθημεν;


A Melian Stater

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