Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Mytilenian Debate

The last few months I was living in Mytilene, Lesbos Island, Greece, a picturesque place, a piece of art. While living there I could not help but think the Mytilenian Debate, a 2,440 years old argument that the death penalty is not deterrence.

According to Thucydides[1], during the Peloponnesian War the Athenians sentenced all the male Mytilenians to death after the attempt of the latter to rebel against the Athenian authority. A day after this decision there was a debate between Cleon of Athens, supporting the decision of executing the Mytilenians and Diodotus, arguing that the death penalty is not deterrence but the exact opposite. The assembly of Athens was convinced by the argument of Diodotus and as a result the male citizens of Mytilene were not executed. This is the Mytilenian Debate; the first argument in history that the death penalty is not deterrence.

Thousands of years later, I am wondering about the progress of the society as a whole on the issue of the death penalty. In spite of the fact that it was held that the death penalty is not deterrence in ancient Greece, people are still executed today in many countries. However, one after the other countries abolishes the death penalty. People work hard for its abolition either as members of organisations or as individuals. They raise awareness by asking questions about the death penalty in a new way, with most recent example the particularly promising blog-site of Martin Martensen-Larsen:

All this work against the death penalty makes me think that soon will bear fruit globally just as this has been the case locally and as the Mytilenian Debate is part of the history of ancient Greece soon the death penalty will be abolished and it will be part of the history of the world.


[1] Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, (1972).

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