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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Examining Thucydides’s Description of the Funeral Oration of Pericles

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Thucydides’s description of Pericles’s Funeral Oration was an ancient version of a modern “pep talk.” The oration was meant to inspire, encourage, and remind the Athenians of their civic duties and to prepare them for the duration of the Peloponnesian war, in addition to honoring the memory of the deceased warriors.


Pericles did not wish his speech to be based solely on the memories and characteristics of the dead. He felt that the focus of his funeral oration should be on the brave deeds of the men, rather than the men themselves. He understood that it would be difficult for him to meet the expectations of the men’s friends and families without alienating the rest of his audience with excessive praise of the dead men. He wanted to show the Athenians that the attention should be focused on the men’s actions to preserve Athens and remind them of all of the reasons that he felt Athens was worthy of their sacrifice.


Pericles knew that the war with Sparta would be long and that victory would require much hardship for the Athenian people. He described for them the different principles of their culture and government and how these provided them with freedom and equality as citizens. He contrasted this by an implied comparison to the harsh, undemocratic Spartan ways of “laborious training.” He stated that the courage of the Athenians was great as it was “by habit and not enforced by law” and that “we can be as brave as those who never allow themselves to rest.”


Pericles wished for the Athenians to remember the beauty of Athens and what it offered to them. There were games, religious celebrations, and many other “relaxations from toil.” They enjoyed “refined” homes and fine goods imported from other countries. He reminded them that there was much to revere about Athens, in times of peace as well as in war.


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Pericles stated that history would remember Athens well, without the need of poets and storytellers. The valor of their fallen soldiers and the “eternal memorials of our friendship and enmity” would be a testament to the great virtues of Athens. In his funeral oration, he was able to honor the dead and also instill in the living citizens the need and value of their own “toil on her (Athens) behalf.”





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