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Pericles’ Athenian

Pericles is chosen “by the state” as “of approved wisdom and eminent reputation” (2.34.6). However, his opening remarks seem to allude to the fact that he will not be constraining his speech to the normal mode of proceeding. Therefore, while the people perceived him as one who would follow the common identity, Pericles initially seems to lean towards shaping the Athenian identity instead. However, he spends the majority of the speech discussing the successes of Athens and its citizens.
Pericles begins the speech by saying how difficult he believes it to be to properly praise the dead and views this responsibility as more of a law that he is forced to follow (2.35). As he continues his speech it appears as though he will stay with convention by praising the ancestors early. However, by the end of his discussion about the greatness of the past, Pericles is openly admitting that he is seeking to answer a question before his gets to delivering the eulogy. He poses nationalist questions such as: “what was the road by which we reached our position” and “what was the form of government under which our greatness grew” (2.36.4).
He first discusses Athenian laws and freedoms (2.37). Pericles praises the Athenian system of laws such that they allow freedoms to pass through the society and all the way into personal dwelling. Pericles notes how this affects the nature of the city as a whole because then the citizens are not necessitated to be angry with their neighbors. Instead the society is happy being free under its own laws and does not covet or find need to analyze the life of other states. In addition, he notes that Athenians are given access to a certain level of luxury (2.38.2). Along with all of the events that are held in the city, these outlets both distract the people and provide them mode by which to indulge. For Pericles, these outlets are seen as necessary to the continued high function of the state.
Pericles believes that it is this organization of the state that allows Athens to remain such a strong military power (2.39). Here Pericles compares the military strength of Athens to that of Sparta. He sees Athens as much more complete when compared to the military strength of the notoriously militaristic Sparta. He reasoning focuses most on the education that each state provides its citizens. For Athens, the education system seems to allow men to be whatever functioning member of the state that they are by nature. Instead, Sparta uses harsh education techniques that focus only on combat and war. Pericles argues that Athen’s mode not only allows them to then have a functioning society in times of peace, but then also allows them the ability to form a multi-faceted attack in times of war. Athens is not only able deploy men by land, in various modes, but it can also look to the water for military strategies. Therefore, Pericles sees the Athenian mode as strongest because it uses the nature of the individual as a strength, where Sparta saw it as a weakness.
Following these claims, Pericles continues to make seemingly idealized claims about the city (2.40). Athenians seem to be the perfect middle way between too militaristic and too diplomatic. Further Pericles also argues that Athens’ reputation for this ability, to succeed in war and society, is often underestimated among its adversaries. He argues that their ability is shown through “mighty proofs; and far from needing a Homer” (2.41.4). On this point Pericles argues that others rely on the nature of language to persuade other peoples of their nature; where Athens has not need to manipulate language because their nature is so strong. The strength of the Athenian nature seems to be nothing without its citizens (2.42). By Pericles’ definition, “battles should be as a cloak to cover a man’s other imperfections; since the good action has blotted out the bad, and his merit as a citizen more than outweighed his demerits as an individual” (2.42.3). It seems as though there may not be a best version of a man for Pericles; only that one who gives in service to his country and cover his individual nature. Therefore, to be Athenian would seem to be defined in terms of one’s contribution to the state.
At this point in his speech, Pericles has made the transition to eulogy. Therefore it makes sense that many of his claims towards forming the idea of the best Athenian are centered on one’s contribution to the military. He calls their sacrifice “the most glorious contribution they could offer” (2.43.1). Here Pericles glorifies the action of self-sacrifice for the state. He calls all the fallen heroes and claims that they “have the whole earth as their tomb…that the noblest of shrines wherein their glory is laid up to be eternally remembered upon every occasion on which deed or story shall be commemorated” (2.43.2). These seem to be the examples to which other Athenians should try to achieve. Pericles also says that the spirited man will find death in patriotism much less grievous than the pursuit of cowardice (2.42.6). Further he argues that those who are left behind also benefit from “the love of honor that never grows old” (2.44.4).
By the end of the speech Pericles has spent the majority of the time speaking to how Athens is a superior state. Instead of shaping the idea of the Athenian, Pericles attempted to capture the Athenian condition for his audience. In conclusion, it seems that Pericles defines the ideal Athenian as one who uses his nature towards the betterment of the state– both in society and military endeavors. Something could be said to that fact that this speech was geared towards a eulogy for soldiers; regardless the sacrifice given to the state by a soldier seems to be the ideal for Pericles.

20 Responses to “Pericles’ Athenian”

  1. khoneycutt says:

    Brieanah,

    I like a lot of what you do here. I think you are right to suggest that Pericles is both capturing contemporary Athens and holding up an ideal version–Athens as a pattern for other cities(2.37.1); the school of Hellas (2.41.1), etc. He spends very little time eulogizing the dead or discussing the past and spends a lot of time orienting the attention of the Athenians toward the future.

    It is interesting, as you note, that he deems Athens superior to everyone else even in military matters. Especially after Marathon, Athenians weren’t going to doubt their land prowess, and of course they were masters of the sea. But he points out as if he needs to convince them of it, as if they really don’t believe it.

    It is important that he addresses education; it is no accident that Plato, Xenophon, and Aristotle all treat this subject, too. In some sense, one can judge a society by the education it provides its citizens. Would this include philosophy for Pericles?

    KH

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