This is not something that you hear everyday. And yet, it is from a great story. The story that ended with the destruction of ancient Athens in war with Sparta.
Megara was a city state that was strategically located between Athens and Sparta and allied with Sparta. At one point the Megarians asked Athens for help in a dispute with Corinth. The Athenians saw an opportunity to dislodge Megara from Spartan influence and took it. But Sparta foiled the plan, embarrassing the Athenians.
In response, the Athenians issued something called the “Megarian Decree”, which banned Megarians from trading with Athenian allies. The Megarian elite was hit hard by this and asked for help from Sparta. Sparta responded. But they did not immediately go to war with Athens. The Spartans offered peace in exchange for repeal of the Megarian Decree.
Hmmm … what would you do? Pericles made two legal arguments and one practical one against the repeal. Athens, he argued, was independent and had no obligation to repeal the decree. Moreover, Sparta was required under a peace treaty to take its claim to arbitration. Well, legal arguments sound good. But it was the practical argument that most likely won the day. He argued that giving in would set a precedent that would lead ultimately to Spartan domination of Athens.
The Athenians listened to Pericles and refused. War commenced in 431 bc. The Spartans came to fight, but discovered that the Athenians had retreated behind their great wall. They refused to come out. So far so good! But packing the people into this crowded space led to plague in Athens, which btw, claimed the life of Pericles himself. The war dragged on and eventually Spartans won in 404 bc. Athens lost its preeminent position in the region.
Is there a lesson in this? Me thinks there is more than one. The Athenians believed that they were superior to the other Greeks. BTW, the Parthenon, completed just one year before the start of the war, was the ultimate expression of that intense, indeed, incredible pride. Their wounded pride led to the Megarian Decree. And the Megarian Decree was in effect, a type of war — economic war. Economic war led to real war. Real war led to unforeseen and disastrous consequences, plague. It was a slippery slope. One slid from pride to wounded pride to arrogant policy to self-destruction.
You might keep this in mind the next time you visit the Parthenon