The creative Greek Golden Age of the fifth century achieved greatness for the city-state of Athens, but ended with the Peloponnesian War. The educated and prosperous city of Athens created and then later destroyed the era because the aggressive power exercised by Athenian leaders ultimately led to their corruption. By conquering land and building alliances, these leaders threatened other city-states, such as Sparta. Fear drove Sparta to organize the Peloponnesian League and declare war on Athens and its allies. Thucydides, in his History of the Peloponnesian War , described two sets of negotiations, the Melian Dialogue and the Mytilene Debate. The Melian Dialogue was the decision of the city of Melos to stay neutral and not threaten Athens. The Mytilene Debate concerned the city of Mytilene that wanted independence from Athens. The power struggle between Athens and Sparta, highlighted by Athens’ aggression toward other city-states, started the war and brought an end to the Golden Age. Athenian decision-makers chose violence and aggressive power over morality in their policies toward other city states, as demonstrated by its takeover of neutral cities. Even though Athens was corrupted by power, the reasons the Golden Age ended were more complex than expected.
Just as the end of the Greek Golden Age was marked by a complex struggle between city-states, in A Song of Ice and Fire , George R. R. Martin depicts a fantasy world in which complex family dynamics and individual motives complicate the struggle for power. Martin’s characters cannot be easily categorized as “good” or “evil”; instead, readers must look into their motives for action, their treatment of those closest to them, and their ability to handle the responsibilities of power in order to understand these individuals’ morality. For instance, Danaerys Targaryen and Joffrey Baratheon are two rulers who hold enormous power, but Danaerys is motivated by her desire to honor her father’s legacy and uphold the common good. Joffrey, on the other hand, abuses his power as King of the Seven Kingdoms at the first opportunity by tormenting his fiancée Sansa and beheading her father, Ned Stark – clear proof that his motives are selfish and controlling. Ultimately, power is not always a corrupting influence in Martin’s works, but rather a magnifying lens, highlighting more clearly the virtues or vices an individual already possesses.
Major Works Consulted:
Chambers, Mortimer. The Western Experience . New York: McGraw Hill, 2003.
Photo Credit: Martin, George R. R. A Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire . New York: Bantam, 1996.
Kagan, Donald. The Peloponnesian War . New York: Penguin Group, 2003.
Martin, George R.R. A Clash of Kings: A Song of Ice and Fire . New York: Bantam, 1999.
--. A Game of Thrones . New York: Bantam, 1996.