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The Mytilenaean Debate

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Athenians' vote to kill all the men of Mytilene, then their change of mind next day and their race to stop the first vote being implemented.

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.


Angela Hobbs
Professor of the Public Understanding of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield

Lisa Irene Hau
Senior Lecturer in Classics at the University of Glasgow


Paul Cartledge
Emeritus AG Leventis Professor of Greek Culture, University of Cambridge and Senior Research Fellow of Clare College

Producer: Simon Tillotson

Available now

54 minutes

Last on

Thu 20 Jun 2019 21:30


Angie Hobbs at the University of Sheffield

Lisa Irene Hau at the University of Glasgow

Paul Cartledge at the University of Cambridge

The Humanity of Thucydides by Clifford Orwin

Mytilenian Debate – Wikipedia



Paul Cartledge, Ancient Greece: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2011)

Victor Davis Hanson, A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War (Random House, 2006)

Angela Hobbs, Plato and the Hero (Cambridge University Press, 2000)

Donald Kagan, The Peloponnesian War: Athens and Sparta in Savage Conflict 431-404 BC (Harper Collins, 2005)

John Marincola, Greek Historians (Oxford University Press, 2008)

Clifford Orwin, The Humanity of Thucydides (Princeton University Press, 1994)

Plato (trans. Desmond Lee), Republic (Penguin, 2003)

Jennifer T. Roberts, The Plague of War: Athens, Sparta and the Struggle for Ancient Greece (Oxford University Press, 2017)

Robert B. Strassler (ed.), The Landmark Thucydides: A Comprehensive Guide to the Peloponnesian War (Simon & Schuster, 1998)

Thucydides (trans. Jeremy Mynott), The War of the Peloponnesians and the Athenians (Cambridge University Press, 2013)

Thucydides (trans. Rex Warner), History of the Peloponnesian War (first published 1974; Penguin, 2000)

Robin Waterfield, Creators, Conquerors and Citizens: A History of Ancient Greece (Oxford University Press, 2018)

Perez Zagorin, Thucydides: An Introduction for the Common Reader (Princeton University Press, 2005)



  • Thu 20 Jun 2019 09:00
  • Thu 20 Jun 2019 21:30

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