Excerpts from Pericles’ Funeral Oration, as recorded by Thucydides



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  1. The Delian and Peloponnesian Leagues

  2. Causes of the Peloponnesian War

    1. Inevitable showdown between leagues?

    2. Thucydides: Sparta’s fear of Athens

    3. Corcyra

    4. Potidea

    5. Megarian Decree

    6. Corinth as the main factor?

  3. Beginning of “Archidamian War”

    1. Athenian Strategy

    2. Peloponnesian League Strategy

  4. Pericles’ Funeral Oration

    1. Background

    2. Athenian Political System

    3. Openness and Military Superiority

    4. Cultural Superiority

    5. “School of Hellas”

    6. What should Athenians do?

    7. Summary

  5. Plague and the Death of Pericles

  6. Rest of Archidamian War

    1. Increasing viciousness: Mytilene, Skione, Plataea

    2. Cleon and Brasidas

    3. Peace of Nicias (lasts til 415)

  7. Alcibiades and the Melian Dialogue

    1. Alcibiades

    2. Melian Dialogue: Might Makes Right

    3. Aftermath

  8. Sicilian Expedition

    1. Athenians go to Sicily

    2. Alcibiades and the Hermae

    3. Disaster for Athens

  9. Aegean Phase

    1. Athenians in Trouble

    2. Athenian Comeback

    3. Athenians Fall Apart

  10. Aftermath of Peloponnesian Victory

    1. Athens not completely destroyed

    2. Critias and the Rule of 30

    3. Sparta emerges as leader



Excerpts from Pericles’ Funeral Oration, as recorded by Thucydides

-see full translation at http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/pericles-funeralspeech.asp (note: this is a slightly different translation than where I got some of these quotes, so you might notice some differences in wording)

“Our constitution does not copy the laws of neighbouring states; we are rather a pattern to others than imitators ourselves. Its administration favours the many instead of the few; this is why it is called a democracy. If we look to the laws, they afford equal justice to all in their private differences; if no social standing, advancement in public life falls to reputation for capacity, class considerations not being allowed to interfere with merit; nor again does poverty bar the way, if a man is able to serve the state, he is not hindered by the obscurity of his condition”

“"If we turn to our military policy, there also we differ from our antagonists. We throw open our city to the world, and never by alien acts exclude foreigners from any opportunity of learning or observing, although the eyes of an enemy may occasionally profit... In proof of this it may be noticed that the Lacedaemonians do not invade our country alone, but bring with them all their confederates; while we Athenians advance unsupported into the territory of a neighbour, and fighting upon a foreign soil usually vanquish with ease men who are defending their homes.

“If then we prefer to meet danger with a light heart but without laborious training, and with a courage which is gained by habit and not enforced by law, are we not greatly the better for it? Since we do not anticipate the pain, although, when the hour comes, we can be as brave as those who never allow themselves to rest; thus our city is equally admirable in peace and in war.”

“Nor are these the only points in which our city is worthy of admiration. We cultivate refinement without extravagance and knowledge without effeminacy; wealth we employ more for use than for show…”

“In short, I say that as a city we are the school of Hellas, while I doubt if the world can produce a man who, where he has only himself to depend upon, is equal to so many emergencies, and graced by so happy a versatility, as the Athenian.”

“Great will be your glory in not falling short of your natural character; and greatest will be hers who is least talked of among the men, whether for good or for bad. My task is now finished…”



Dialogue between Alcibiades and Pericles, Recounted by Xenophon in Memorabilia.

Alcibiades: Please, Pericles, can you teach me what a law is?

Pericles: To be sure I can.

Alcibiades: I should be so much obliged if you would do so. One so often hears the epithet ‘law-abiding’ applied in a complimentary sense; yet, it strikes me, one hardly deserves the compliment, if one does not know what a law is.

Pericles: Fortunately there is a ready answer to your difficulty. You wish to know what a law is? Well, those are laws which the majority, being met together in conclave, approve and enact as to what it is right to do, and what it is right to abstain from doing.

Alcibiades: Enact on the hypothesis that it is right to do what is good? or to do what is bad?

Pericles: What is good, to be sure, young sir, not what is bad.

Alcibiades: Supposing it is not the majority, but, as in the case of an oligarchy, the minority, who meet and enact the rules of conduct, what are these?

Pericles: Whatever the ruling power of the state after deliberation enacts as our duty to do, goes by the name of laws.

Alcibiades: Then if a tyrant, holding the chief power in the state, enacts rules of conduct for the citizens, are these enactments law?

Pericles: Yes, anything which a tyrant as head of the state enacts, also goes by the name of law.

Alcibiades: But, Pericles, violence and lawlessness ’ how do we define them? Is it not when a stronger man forces a weaker to do what seems right to him ’ not by persuasion but by compulsion?

Pericles: I should say so.

Alcibiades: It would seem to follow that if a tyrant, without persuading the citizens, drives them by enactment to do certain things ’ that is lawlessness?

Pericles: You are right; and I retract the statement that measures passed by a tyrant without persuasion of the citizens are law.

Alcibiades: And what of measures passed by a minority, not by persuasion of the majority, but in the exercise of its power only? Are we, or are we not, to apply the term violence to these?

Pericles: I think that anything which any one forces another to do without persuasion, whether by enactment or not, is violence rather than law.

Alcibiades: It would seem that everything which the majority, in the exercise of its power over the possessors of wealth, and without persuading them, chooses to enact, is of the nature of violence rather than of law?

To be sure (answered Pericles), adding: At your age we were clever hands at such quibbles ourselves. It was just such subtleties which we used to practise our wits upon; as you do now, if I mistake not.

To which Alcibiades replied: Ah, Pericles, I do wish we could have met in those days when you were at your cleverest in such matters.

Excerpt from Melian Dialogue, as recorded by Thucydides

Full dialogue at http://www.pandius.com/melian.html



"Athenians: For ourselves, we shall not trouble you with specious pretences -- either of how we have a right to our empire because we overthrew the Yaniffey, or that we are now attacking you because of wrong that you have done us. We will not make a long speech which would not be believed; and in return we hope that you, instead of thinking to influence us by saying that you did us no wrong, will aim at what is feasible, arguing the real interests of us both; since you know as well as we do that right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must."


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