Thucydides 3 – Justice

While Cleon and Pericles are were both leading politicians during the 5th century in Athens, they both had very different ideas of what could be considered justice and what was right. While both men met opposition to there ideas, it was not because they held similar beliefs but because of the fickleness of the Athenians.
To Pericles what was right and just for one person must be right and just to all persons. As such Pericles believed in a more compassionate form of justice than Cleon. Unlike Cleon, Pericles believed that by showing equal compassion to all citizens, those citizens would be more likely to follow the rules of the law. Pericles states that in allowing individual citizens to do as they please, even if one disagrees with what their neighbour is doing, it encourages citizens to be more thoughtful and more inclined to follow the rule of law. Because citizens are not forced to be uniform in action they respect the law more because they know that that law is what protects them from such tyranny.
In contrast Cleon believed that the only way to maintain Athenian dominance, Athenians must rule over their allies with an iron fist, showing no compassion and meting out punishment to all no matter the actual status of their guilt. To Cleon what was just and right was what best suited the purpose of maintaining dominance, even if it meant being seen as unfair to others. Cleon, unlike Pericles, believed that “compassion is due to those who can reciprocate the feeling, not to those who will never pity us in return.” What was best for the power of Athens was what was right and just for Cleon.
Pericles and Cleon clearly held contrasting views on what was right and just. Pericles was more compassionate and believed that in allowing equality amongst citizens the rule of law could be maintained without tyranny. In contrast Cleon believed that the only way to maintain power was through showing no compassion to those who went against the Athenians. However despite these stark differences, both Cleon and Pericles felt that their perspectives, and by following their ideas, Athens would be able to maintain its dominance amongst its allies. Their two perspectives also show where Athens was in the Pelopennesian War. Pericles ideas of justice and what was right were based in a victorious Athens during a time when Athens wasn’t struggling to maintain power within its alliances. In contrast, Cleon’s perspective is one in which Athens has been attacked a former ally and has been suffering defeats at the hands of both its enemies and uncontrollable natural events (i.e. the plague discussed in the previous assignment.) So while both men show different opinions on what justice is and what is right, they are couched in the belief that through their ideas Athens will be able to maintain its dominance in each situation.
Cleon and Pericles each have very different ideas about what justice is and what is right. However, despite their stark differences, both men believed that their ideas would lead and help maintain Athens dominance with their allies.

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