History Ancient Greece custom essay

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4. Thucydides 3.37
?I have often before now been convinced that a democracy is incapable of empire, and
never more so than by your present change of mind in the matter of Mytilene. Fears
or plots being unknown to you in your daily relations with each other, you feel just
the same with regard to your allies, and never reflect that the mistakes into which you
may be led by listening to their appeals, or by giving way to your own compassion,
are full of danger to yourselves, and bring you no thanks for your weakness from your
allies; entirely forgetting that your empire is a despotism and your subjects disaffected
conspirators, whose obedience is insured not by your suicidal concessions, but by the
superiority given you by your own strength and not their loyalty. The most alarming
feature in the case is the constant change of measures with which we appear to be
threatened, and our seeming ignorance of the fact that bad laws which are never
changed are better for a city than good ones that have no authority; that unlearned
loyalty is more serviceable than quick-witted insubordination; and that ordinary men
usually manage public affairs better than their more gifted fellows. The latter are
always wanting to appear wiser than the laws, and to overrule every proposition
brought forward, thinking that they cannot show their wit in more important matters,
and by such behaviour too often ruin their country; while those who mistrust their
own cleverness are content to be less learned than the laws, and less able to pick holes
in the speech of a good speaker; and being fair judges rather than rival athletes,
generally conduct affairs successfully. [5] These we ought to imitate, instead of being
led on by cleverness and intellectual rivalry to advise your people against our real
opinions.
What is the context of this speech? What does it reveal about Thucydides view of
Athenian democracy and the speaker Cleon?

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