Time Capsule #8

The importance of changing one's mind -- an Athenian perspective.

Hello my friends,

After a hard week of work, I was looking forward to doing some reading and research for my 🔗 to the Past article this week, but due to some unforeseen circumstances, I did not get to do so. And so, like always, I have gotten it done just before the bell.

Nonetheless, I have covered one of my favourite tales from the History of the Peloponnesian War: the Mytilenian revolt, subsequent Athenian debate, and the last-minute change of heart by the Athenian people.

I hope you find it as fascinating as I do.

🔗 to the Past

The Mytilenian Debacle

3 years into their war against Sparta, things have not exactly gone to plan. The Athenians were getting their taste of Murphy’s Law at work: anything that can go wrong will go wrong.

With the city bleeding funds and a devastating plague straining the will of the people, the last thing the Athenians needed was to suppress a revolt from one of their Aegean allies. The city of Mytilene, on the island of Lesbos, had long harboured dreams of unifying the island and bringing it under their own power. And what better time to do that than when their overlords are stretched thin.

Run by an oligarchic government and commanding a sizable navy, Mytilene was not your average tributary, and certainly not an ally Athens would be happy to see revolting against their rule. The Mytilenians spent the year 428 BCE preparing for their revolt, procuring supplies, building fortifications, and narrowing the mouths of their harbours, all while being in constant dialogue with the Spartans. Conflict came swiftly after their regional enemies, namely the Methymnians and the Tenedians, blew the whistle on the impending revolt.

Athens was weak, but they were not about to be slighted by the Mytilenians. After failed negotiations, they promptly sent a force to Mytilene and held the Mytilenian ships who had been serving in the allied fleet under arrest. Initial attacks by the Mytilenians were mildly successful, however, they lacked the confidence in themselves to push their advantage. This emboldened the Athenians, who used the lull in the action to blockade the city by sea and land, backing them into a corner. The Spartan aid they requested was slow to come, and the diversion attacks on the Attican mainland were met with stern and unexpected resistance. After some time under siege, the Mytilenians got cold feet and surrendered the city.

The initial Athenian response was harsh. All males to be put to death. Women and children sold into slavery. Given the premeditated nature of the revolt and the solicitation of Spartan aid, an example was to be made of the Mytilenians. The next day, however, a change of feeling was palpable amongst the people, and they began to think about the cruelty of their decision. Not all Mytilenians were responsible, and such a strong punishment could force future revolters to fight to the bitter end. Two men in particular, Cleon, who was for the death penalty, and Diodotus, who was against it, spoke in the assembly. The Athenians voted again….this time in favour of Diodotus. The Mytilenians were saved! But there was one problem: the ship with the death sentence was already sent, already 1 day sail ahead. A second ship was sent with haste. The men took turns sleeping, eating at their oars to make up as much time as possible. They pulled into the Mytilenian port just as the Athenian commander was reading out the death decree and preparing to put it into force. Mytilene instead lost their navy, had their land sold to Athenian shareholders and had their towns occupied.

So narrow had been the escape of Mytilene.

📸 Photo of the Week

You can’t laugh if you can’t cry. Life’s blessings are won by those who go all-in.

📖 Book of the Week — Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

I read this book just over a year ago, and it is probably my favourite novel of all-time. Widely recognized as one of the greatest works of literature, Anna Karenina is a tale of gargantuan scope and breadth, centring on the affair between Anna Karenina and Vronsky as they navigate life and love in Imperial Russia. Tolstoy is masterful in his ability to weave the themes of betrayal, love, family, marriage, religion, and society inside his exciting and engaging love story. I am hoping to read it a second time when I have some time, and I am sure I will glean even more from it than the first. A must read surely. 10/10.

💭 Quote of the Week

We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too.

~ John F. Kennedy

It must have been a privilege to grow up during the Apollo space program.

Another newsletter in the books. To my fellow Ontarians, Happy Family Day and enjoy the extra day of rest and relaxation. I know I needed it.

And to those resuming regular service, God speed.