Aristotle once said that “Justice is all virtues found in sum,” and from his definition it is open window apparent just how much this quality was valued in ancient Western culture. The foundations of Athens were based on justice, and when someone betrayed or resisted justice they were punished. Such as when Mytilene deemed it necessary to rebel against the Athenian Empire. Justice was instituted to serve a two-fold purpose: to set an example and teach the people of Athens the virtue of loyalty. If justice was not present in ancient Greece, anarchy would have ruled the lands, and the great democracy created would have been in shambles.
Laws were created to validate justice, and control a vast empire. Woodruffs characteristics are apparent in Greek culture, but are mainly tied to justice and law. Punishment, retribution, violence, peace, and authority are the ingredients needed to create a rich, long-lasting culture, which the Athenians did very well. Justice is just one attribute that the Athenians valued, but is definitely the most important. Whether it is being instituted to decide the fate of a city, or being used to condemn or release a criminal, it was undeniably a part of everyday Athenian life.
Some believe that violence is justice, and depending on the instance, that may be true; but who is to judge whether it is appropriate to use violence? This question is unanswered even to this day. I believe that extenuating circumstances may require the use of violence, but to many others violence is not the answer. Naysayers may argue that “two wrongs don’t make a right,” and that violence is never acceptable. However, there are situations where violence must be imposed for the benefit of a society, even if you may be despised for it.
As my favorite teacher in high school once said, “To be loved and not feared will lead to your own demise, but to be hated and feared will make you unstoppable. ” This ties directly into the Mytilene dialogue, because the main issue is whether or not to be the tyrant, and destroy the city, or leave them alone. Peace. Can it be the answer? Mahatma Gandhi based his whole life on this belief, saying that, “I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent. ” Violence leaves a permanent shadow of evil on those affected by it.
In the Melian dialogue the final outcome was the death and slavery of all citizens, even though it was not in the Athenians best interest to destroy the city. Tyranny was not the first choice, and a peaceful solution was offered far before action was taken, but neither side could reach an accord. The Athenians believed that having the right attitude toward superiors, and showing moderation toward inferiors was crucial to retaining a lasting peace, in the same way that an uncompromising system of justice was necessary to uphold that peace.
Laws and authority are just as prominent in our lives as they were in the lives of the ancient Athenians. Without these two little words, societies would not exist. Authority provides the building blocks of civilization, and laws are the cement that hold everything together. It is natural for people to desire, and it is natural for people to hope; problems can occur, however, when these two things are mixed together. The desires and hopes of one individual or group can interfere with those of another. This is why we need leadership and authority to lead us in the right direction.
We need leaders to show us the difference between a selfish desire and a righteous hope. Without this proper guidance, catastrophe will occur. Woodruff believes “That punishment be meted out as retribution, proportional to the offense, and only to the guilty. ” However, without a system of laws, and leaders to enact them, who will carry out punishments, and establish who are guilty? This is why these factors are crucial for creating lasting justice. Laws, peace, and violence are the basis of justice. Depending on one’s viewpoint, justice can be many different things.
From the Athenians’ perspective, peace is established through violence, and peace is recognized through authority and laws. Woodruff believes that in order to have justice, you need six characteristics; however, I believe that justice is in the eye of the beholder. It will change, for better or worse by the events and people that shape and uphold it. Justice may be as simple as a slap on the wrist, or as treacherous as the destruction of a city. Perhaps justice, as a concept, is infinite; no more tangible than a dream, but there is no doubt that the role it serves in society is concrete, visible, and unyielding.