Thucydides - Discussion Style

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In the scene of the Mytilenian debate in History of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides proposes the small conflict of how to punish the Mytilenians as a microcosmic example for a larger, universal question. Much like Aristotle and Plato's debate over the superiority of empirical or rational knowledge, through the Mytilenian debate, Thucydides sets up a parallel argument about political methodology. This discussion over political procedure transcends politics as it examines the puzzling dichotomy of the brain and the body in humans. Cleon's approach to politics is strictly empirical; impartiality and expediency take precedence over deliberation. His mistrust in the influence of emotions and in the pleasure of debate can be considered a tribute to the pragmatism of the body, and he therefore argues in favor of the physical. Diodotus' case, on the other hand, a rational approach to politics based on contemplation and patience, claims that careful thought is the best way to assure political success.

His assertion that irrational punishment will aggravate an already precarious situation is a tribute to the perception and dexterity of the brain, and he therefore argues in favor of the immaterial and that which is based on reason.

Cleon opens his speech with the assertion that "giv[ing] way to your own feelings of compassion" is "being guilty of a kind of weakness which is dangerous" (213). His next statement, that "leadership depends on superior strength" (213), further demonstrates that he equates emotionality to powerlessness and to vulnerability. However, Cleon's physical nature is not only manifested in his political appeal for capital punishment, but also in his opposition to any reflection on the matter.

Aside from wanting to kill the Mytilenians -- a purely physical act and one that destroys another physical body - Cleon ridicules that immaterial when he shows scorn for...



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