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Do What You Must: performing Thucydides’ Melian Dialogue

Written by Neville Morley |

Professor Neville Morley (University of Exeter) introduces a new staging of Thucydides’ Melian Dialogue, to be performed to the public in London on 21st February 2020. This follows on from his earlier work sharing Thucydides with wider audiences, which was supported by an ICS small grant for public engagement.


The Melian Dialogue is one of the most famous and influential sections of Thucydides’ history; the idea that justice is relevant only between equals, and otherwise the strong exact what they want and the weak just have to endure it, has shaped the way that many people (especially in superpowers) think about the world. All too often, however, such readings overlook the fact that it’s a dialogue, a dramatic exchange between two different ways of viewing the world – neither of which can be assumed without question to be Thucydides’ own perspective. And, like any dramatic piece, it has the potential to be staged in different ways, to draw out different themes and questions; we don’t have to think of these ideas just in terms of international conflict and war, when the confrontation of power and weakness is replicated in many other areas of life…

Do What You Must will stage multiple versions of Thucydides’ drama, exploring different aspects and contemporary echoes, and bringing the text to life in unexpected ways. What those ways will be remains to be seen: the performance on Friday 21st February will be the product of a week of intensive workshopping and rehearsal, organised by the theatre group Arch 468 in collaboration with Neville Morley of the University of Exeter, who has been studying the modern reception and interpretation of Thucydides for over ten years. This is part of a wider project, funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council, to explore how Thucydides can help us develop a better understanding of politics and the world if his work is presented and interpreted in new ways.

This one-off performance will be recorded for posterity (so this won’t be your only chance to experience it…) and followed by a discussion of power, justice, the staging of classical texts and the continuing influence of ancient ideas, with Edith Hall (KCL), Emma Cole (Bristol), the director Rebecca Atkinson-Lord and Neville Morley.

Friday 21st February, 15:00; New Diorama Theatre, 15-16 Triton Street, London NW1 3BF

You can reserve a free ticket for the performance here. There’s a longer discussion of the ideas behind the performance at Neville Morley’s personal blog here.

by Neville Morley