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Dangerous CounselAccountability and Advice in Ancient Greece$
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Matthew Landauer

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780226654010

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226653822.001.0001

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Responsibility and Accountability in Thucydides’ Mytilenean Debate

Responsibility and Accountability in Thucydides’ Mytilenean Debate

(p.105) 4 Responsibility and Accountability in Thucydides’ Mytilenean Debate
Dangerous Counsel

Matthew Landauer

University of Chicago Press

This chapter offers a reading of Thucydides’ Mytilenean debate, which unfolds at two seemingly disconnected levels: an exchange between Cleon and Diodotus over how to treat Mytilene, a rebellious Athenian ally, and an argument over the Athenians’ practices of public deliberation in the Assembly. The chapter argues that both strands of the debate ultimately hinge on the problem of assessing aitia - questions of responsibility, cause, and blame. Cleon promises the Athenians that assessments of responsibility are simple and transparent, and that policy and action will follow directly from such assessments. Diodotus offers in exchange a more complicated view. He points to limitations on political actors’ abilities to assess responsibility and act on such assessments in both domestic politics and in foreign affairs. As Diodotus stresses, however, a vision of politics where assessments of aitia are de-emphasized is in tension with the Athenian commitment to holding orators accountable for their advice. Looking to Athens’ conduct later in the war, the chapter argues that the Athenians may not ultimately accept Diodotus’ vision of a prudent city, one that recognizes the limits of the politics of responsibility and accountability, even if his motion carries the day in the debate over Mytilene’s fate.

Keywords:   assembly debate, Cleon, Diodotus, Mytilenean debate, responsibility, Thucydides

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