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For Forgiveness
Rachel Newinski
Minnesota State University Mankato
For Forgiveness
Without forgiveness mankind would not exist. Every man would constantly feel wronged
by another, and would feel the need to enact revenge on the other in a never ending cycle. Until
one man breaks this cycle by forgiving the other man. We Athenians need to be the man that
breaks this cycle. If we do not set an example and forgive the Thirty Tyrants, all of Hellas will
feel wronged by another polis and will try to conquer and destroy that state until all of Hellas has
been destroyed from the inside as if by a parasite. Revenge and rancor are this parasite and
forgiveness is the only remedy. I, Anytus, propose that we Athenians must forgive the Thirty
Tyrants for their wrongdoings and provide them amnesty from lawsuits because it is what our
former great leader, Pericles, would have done and it is what is just based on the ideals of our
We shall look at the Athens that Pericles led as the closest to an ideal Athens as one has
ever come before us. Assuming this is true, we should use the ideals of this time period to rebuild
Athens from the ruins of the war into its former greatness. Using a quote from the funeral oration
that Pericles delivered at the beginning of this conflict, “If we turn to our military policy, there
also we differ from our antagonists. We throw open our city to the world, and never by alien acts
exclude foreigners from any opportunity of learning or observing, although the eyes of an enemy
may occasionally profit by our liberality; trusting less in system and policy than to the native
spirit of our citizens” (Carnes et al, 2015, p. 91). This emphasizes the need for forgiveness by
providing sanctuary and amnesty to the Thirty because this openness is the very foundation
Athens is built on. We, unlike those states such as Sparta, are open to foreigners and let them
assimilate into our society. However, we will not let these people just enter Athens to take
advantage of us. Any surviving members of the Thirty shall go through the same judicial process
that any former magistrate must if they choose to return to Athens and seek sanctuary (Carnes et
al, 2015, Faction Sheet). We need to forgive and forget the actions of the Thirty to restore these
Periclean ideals that will in turn revive the values of the great Athenian society that once was
before the war.
If we do banish the Thirty, we would be doing exactly what the other states would expect
of us. But Athenians do not do what is expected, we do the opposite. As Pericles explains here,
“Our constitution does not copy the laws of neighboring states; we are rather a pattern to others
than imitators ourselves” (Carnes et al, 2015, p. 91). Athens does not copy other states, so we
should not act like we are another state by treating the Thirty vengefully. We Athenians are also
the only state of Hellas that worships Eleos, the goddess of mercy, she has an altar here in the
agora (Smith, 1870, p. 8-9). Therefore, we must stay true to our beliefs in Eleos and show the
Thirty mercy by forgiving them. We must do the right thing, the Athenian thing, and do what is
unexpected in order to give these men an opportunity for justice in Athens.
Next, we must exonerate the Thirty and their supporters because it is what has been
established as just in our society and it is what is best for Athens. Back before the judicial
reforms of Draco, standard judicial procedures would have us persecute the members of the
Thirty and their families for all the collective actions of the Thirty (Flaceliere, 1965, p. 243). But
after these reforms, we changed our system to abolish those practices so every individual is
responsible for their own actions not the actions of their associates (Flaceliere, 1965, p. 243). So
in persecuting members of the Thirty and their supporters for the crimes of the Thirty as a whole,
we would be actively ignoring the laws that formed the modern Athenian legal system. However,
we must adjust our normal legal proceedings slightly in our handling of the members of the
Thirty to benefit the good of Athens. Normally a man who commits a crime against Athens or a
citizen of Athens would be held accountable for his actions. But in this special circumstance, we
must protect these members of the Thirty and their family from lawsuits because these lawsuits
will just tear our city farther apart into factions of those who sustain aggression for these people
and those who want to forgive. Our dear Thucydides speaks on this when he says, “I consider it
far more useful for the preservation of our empire [to] voluntarily to put up with injustice, than to
put up with death” (Thucydides, 2008, p. 291). It is in our best interest to forgive the injustices
committed by the Thirty. If we do not forgive them and treat them poorly, we may be met with
aggression or possibly another conflict, with another state or within our own state, which we are
not strong enough to fight.
It would be un-Athenian to shun these people away or to harbor anger about their past
actions by filing lawsuits against them. This anger will drain any hope of rebuilding our society,
because we cannot form one Athens if there is a great divide between the people that reside in it.
Dividing the current Athenian citizens into forgivers and non-forgivers will tear at the fabric of
our fragile, healing city. This is a stress we cannot add on top of the vast task of rebuilding
Athens. We all need to focus on the process of rebuilding as our goal, not trying to tear down
other people.
Those who still feel the anger that drives them to consider retaliation against the Thirty, I
beg you please to listen to my next words. Drawing attention to ourselves by seeking vengeance
for the crimes committed by the Thirty will bring us nothing but troubles. If we are cruel to them,
we put ourselves at risk for another war we are not prepared to fight. After this war we have been
left with twelve triremes, which is not nearly enough for us to fight with. Even if we try to fight,
we will be putting our very limited resources into a cause we cannot win. Another loss or
suffering atrocities similar to this past war will make the revival of Athens impossible. But, if we
all collectively focus forgiveness of the Thirty and leave our anger behind, we can restore Athens
to its Periclean greatness.
Fellow Athenians, I have given you my earnest opinions on the matter at hand. I, Anytus,
believe that we must forgive the Thirty Tyrants for their past crimes and prohibit lawsuits from
being pressed against them. This is the best and only option if the revival of Athens is indeed our
top priority. Forgiveness of the Thirty is what sets Athens apart from other states that embrace
brutality and revenge over mercy and justice. This forgiveness would follow the model and
values set out for us by our great leader, Pericles. Now, I ask you to take a look at yourself and
decide if you will let yourself be controlled by the selfish desire to be vengeful towards these
people, even if it leads to the demise of our state. Or will you follow the example of Athenian
behavior, in which you forgive to provide the chance for the many to rebuild Athens to its former
Carnes, M., Norman, N., & Ober, J. (2015). The Threshold of Democracy: Athens in 403 BCE.
New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
Flaceliere, R. (1965). Daily Life in Greece at the Time of Pericles (P, Green, Trans). New York:
The Macmillan Company. (Original work published 1959).
Smith, W. (1870). Eleos. In Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology. (Vol. 2,
pp. 8-9). New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.
Thucydides. (2008). The History of the Peloponnesian War (R, Crawley, Trans.). Auckland,
New Zealand: The Floating Press. (Original work published 1874).