The Mytilenaean Debate

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss why Athenians decided to send a fast ship to Lesbos in 427BC, rowing through the night to catch one they sent the day before. That earlier ship had instructions to kill all adult men in Mytilene, after their unsuccessul revolt against Athens, as a warning to others. The later ship had orders to save them, as news of their killing would make others fight to the death rather than surrender. Thucydides retells this in his History of the Peloponnesian War as an example of Athenian democracy in action, emphasising the right of Athenians to change their minds in their own interests, even when a demagogue argued they were bound by their first decision.

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  • Angela Hobbs No other episodes
    Professor of the Public Understanding of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield
  • Lisa Irene Hau No other episodes
    Senior Lecturer in Classics at the University of Glasgow
  • Paul Cartledge 21 episodes
    Emeritus AG Leventis Professor of Greek Culture, University of Cambridge and Senior Research Fellow of Clare College

Reading list

  • The Humanity of Thucydides
    Clifford Orwin Google Books →
  • Ancient Greece: A Very Short Introduction
    Paul Cartledge (Oxford University Press, 2011) Google Books →
  • A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War
    Victor Davis Hanson (Random House, 2006) Google Books →
  • Plato and the Hero
    Angela Hobbs (Cambridge University Press, 2000) Google Books →
  • The Peloponnesian War: Athens and Sparta in Savage Conflict 431-404 BC
    Donald Kagan (Harper Collins, 2005) Google Books →
  • Greek Historians
    John Marincola (Oxford University Press, 2008) Google Books →
  • Republic
    Plato (trans. Desmond Lee) (Penguin, 2003) Google Books →
  • The Plague of War: Athens, Sparta and the Struggle for Ancient Greece
    Jennifer T. Roberts (Oxford University Press, 2017) Google Books →
  • The Landmark Thucydides: A Comprehensive Guide to the Peloponnesian War
    Robert B. Strassler (ed.) (Simon & Schuster, 1998) Google Books →
  • The War of the Peloponnesians and the Athenians
    Thucydides (trans. Jeremy Mynott) (Cambridge University Press, 2013) Google Books →
  • History of the Peloponnesian War
    Thucydides (trans. Rex Warner) (Penguin, 2000) Google Books →
  • Creators, Conquerors and Citizens: A History of Ancient Greece
    Robin Waterfield (Oxford University Press, 2018) Google Books →
  • Thucydides: An Introduction for the Common Reader
    Perez Zagorin (Princeton University Press, 2005) Google Books →

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Programme ID: m000614s

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Auto-category: 938 (Ancient Greece)

Hello (First sentence from this episode) Hello, in 427 BC the Athenians voted to kill all adult men in Mytilene on Lesbos where they'd just crushed a revolt and to enslave the women and children and raze the city to the ground.