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pericles speech on democracy

Athens is called a democracy because the many rule, not the few; everyone knew that in Sparta a small minority dominated the vast majority. How could the ordinary man achieve kleos? Prufrock is a modern man who can […], Alfieri’s commentary on the action of the play is integral to Arthur Miller’s A View From the Bridge, communicating directly to the audience and presenting the events from a more […], Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid appears to be a light-hearted film about companionship, fighting, and trickery, but an examination from a cultural standpoint reveals the film’s intellectual depth. The following speech is recorded in the History of the Peloponnesian Wars, written by the famous historian Thucydides, whose account of this conflict covered the causes of the war up to its conclusion in 404B.C. “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” depicts an image of the modern city that is marked by paralysis, alienation, decay, and repression. Courage, strength, military prowess, persuasiveness, cunning, beauty, wealth: these were examples of arete, the excellent qualities of the good, the fortunate, the happy man. Pericles is considered by many to be the supreme practitioner of ancient statecraft who broadened the Athenian democracy to … But the reward of these virtues was kleos, the fame and glory that alone held out the hope of victory over death. He was interested in music and received a special education from … The Spartans, from their earliest childhood, seek to acquire courage by painfully harsh training, but we, living our unrestricted life, are no less ready to meet the same dangers they do. Solon, an Athenian lawmaker of the early sixth century, went further, arguing that a well-governed polis was the best defense against injustice, faction, and turmoil: “It makes all things wise and perfect in the world of men.”. American Enterprise Institute One reason as to why Pericles praised Athenian democracy was to inspire citizens to continue to defend Athens-to rouse up the spirit of the people. Pericles was an influential Greek Statesman during the 460-429 B.C. From the first, the Greeks faced the great truth of man’s mortality squarely. When the Mytilenean poet Alcaeus was sent into exile the loss he complained of was not his house and fields but the scenes of political life: “I yearn, Agesilaidas, to hear the herald summon the assembly and the council” (Alcaeus, fragment 130). For the first time in history a Greek state could conduct its life and plan for the future in the expectation of a lasting peace. The very last line of Lincoln’s speech states, “that the government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth” (quote). Even though women were not citizens, the fact that they had a greater responsibility at home could cover their lack of political opportunities. The Athenian democracy, Pericles asserts, far from reducing all to a low common level, raises all its citizens to the level of noblemen by asking them to take part in political life and so to control their own destiny. Furthermore, he believes that even those who have lost a loved one in the war should be honored, as seen by his comments towards the elderly and the bereaved. He tells the elderly that although they have lost their children, they should be honored that they died in the line of combat to protect Athenian democracy. In Athens, all citizens were equal before the law. Useful reading: Russel Meiggs, The Athenian Empire; Victor Ehrenberg, From Solon to Socrates. By recognizing only individuals, not separate groups, its laws preserved the unity needed by all healthy societies and avoided the shattering rivalries that destroy them. But a free and democratic people, one not constantly fearful of deadly rebellions by furious helots, cannot simply be told permanently to subordinate their personal pursuits to the needs of society. Some time in the eighth century the polis emerged, and its needs at once came into conflict with the old heroic ethos. Greek noblemen lived by the ideal of the accomplished amateur: good at a variety of skills–music, athletics, warfare, among others–but professionally devoted to none. Lincoln appeals to the ideals of the fundamental system of democracy on which America was built upon, and through doing so brings to light the key aspect every American has in common. Last but not least, he continually praises the advantages Athenian democracy holds over Sparta, but only those who are citizens enjoy the full benefits of that democracy, not to mention that a limited part of the population were citizens. Pericles’ long tenure as a political leader, more than thirty years, permitted him to aim at goals that went far beyond the immediate concerns that fully occupy most politicians and statesmen. Although it is true that Pericles seems to refer to only those who are well off in society, he includes everyone by continuously saying that those who are patriots and love Athens will fight for the city. Beyond those advantages, its early champions tried to show that the polis was necessary for civilized life, and therefore deserved the highest sacrifice. However, if Pericles was drawing a line between the democratic and aristocratic features of the Athenian constitution, then it was done so with the intent to harvest talent. Lecture 16 - Radical Democracy in the Age of Pericles. We can outline the ideology behind democracy from his speech. “The people who have the most excuse for despising death are not the wretched and unfortunate…but those who run the risk of a complete reversal in their lives…” Also, Pericles attempts to convince the citizens that there should be no fear of death if one already has an honorable life, as they would be forever respected after their death. And after a life spent in what among our people passes for comfort, he died most gloriously. Sparta’s great reputation depended on its extraordinary military achievements, and these were attributed in turn to its religious piety, single-minded severe system of training, the tight discipline imposed on all aspects of life, and the ascetic Spartan mores. Many of the qualities and characteristics envisioned by Pericles are related to military excellence, as is natural in a speech delivered in wartime to encourage the struggle for victory. If, therefore, we are prepared to meet danger after leading a relaxed life instead of one filled with burdensome training, with our courage emerging naturally from our way of life instead of imposed by law, the advantage is ours. He had made the strategic judgment that the empire as it stood was large enough to meet all the city’s needs. America was “a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Victory would mean “a new birth of freedom,” and would ensure that “government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” The fallen soldiers’ purpose was to preserve a Constitution and a way of life that was unique and worthy of sacrifice. The Spartans were famous for their piety and reverence for law, and their blind obedience to it was thought to be the source of their great military prowess. Sparta’s system appealed especially to aristocrats, such as the young men who conversed with Socrates in the gymnasia. "Pericles' Funeral Oration" (Ancient Greek: Περικλέους Επιτάφιος) is a famous speech from Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War. Sparta had a stronger army, but Athens had the stronger navy. "I Want To Speak Of How Our Empire Became Great" The Athenians excluded women, children, resident aliens, and slaves from political life, but the principle of equality within the political community that they invented was the seed of the modern idea of universal egalitarianism that flowered during the French Enlightenment. At the same time, he intended to create a quality of life never before known, one that would allow men to pursue their private interests but also enable them to seek the highest goals by placing their interests at the service of a city that fostered and relied upon reason for its greatness. His father, Xanthippus (c. 525-475 BCE) was a respected politician and war hero and his mother, Agariste, a member of the powerful and influential Alcmaeonidae family who encouraged the early development of Athenian democracy.Pericles’ family's nobility, prestige, and wealth allowed him to pursue his inclination toward education in any subject he fancied. . . Therefore, they were willing to run risks in its defense, make sacrifices on its behalf, and restrain their passions and desires to preserve it. The willingness to perform military service for his homeland is the most fundamental and demanding duty of the citizen. Instead, it opened the competition for excellence and honor to all, removing the accidental barriers imposed in other constitutions and societies: “Our city is called a democracy because it is governed by the many, not the few. During the war, even in its darkest moments, Pericles could count on a strong response when he reminded the people that they were right to love their city and even to risk their lives for it, because it was uniquely great, and because only by preserving and enhancing it could the ordinary man share in its glory and so achieve a degree of fame and immortality. The Spartans faced this fundamental problem of the polis in its sharpest form. His political program allowed all Athenian citizens to take part in government, to help guide their own destinies and those of their polis, as befits free men, to pursue their own prosperity and happiness in a broad realm of privacy, free of interference and confiscation by the state yet held to a high standard of ethical behavior in the role of a citizen. They also complained of the lack of uniform good character in the citizens, who were unpredictably involved in various activities and masters of none, with negative consequences for their military ability and moral quality. Why did Pericles think Athens could live in peace after so many years of continuous fighting? Pericles delivered a rousing speech lauding democracy on the occasion of funerals, shortly after the start of the war. The more immediate challenge to the democratic vision came from Sparta. Not only does he talk about them at only the very end of his speech, but he also seems to give them a menial task, while giving the glory and honor to the men. He calls for those who are well off to join the battle, knowing that they will be the least likely to throw away their good fortune. These facts were obvious to all and might be expected to deter aggression. Its military power and tradition of leadership among the Greeks, the discipline and devotion to the public good displayed by its citizens, had already created an aura of virtue and excellence that a modern scholar has called “the Spartan mirage.” Pericles needed to confront this challenge, and much of the Funeral Oration is therefore a direct comparison with Sparta. By sending all the men off to war, only the elderly and women are left back at home. When tested, the Athenians behaved with the required devotion, wisdom, and moderation in large part because they had been inspired by the lofty democratic vision and example that Pericles had so effectively communicated to them. His choice of words convince the Athenians to fight for their democracy and the city they love. Through his speech Pericles emphasizes that equality to create a free and law-abiding society. “Discuss the spirit in which we faced our trials and also our constitution and the way of life which has made us great.” By highlighting the various ways in which Athens excels over Sparta concerning not only military proficiency but also regarding individual satisfaction and happiness, Pericles demonstrates that Athens is the pinnacle of perfection and that every citizen should be willing to fight to protect the essence of democracy. Pericles is trying to encourage and raise the spirits of the citizens of Athens because according to him, they live in the greatest city on earth. To win the necessary devotion, the city–or rather its leaders, poets, and teachers–must show that its demands are compatible with the needs of the citizen, and even better, that the city is needed to achieve his own goals. After all, throughout the speech, he seems to refer to only those who are well off, never mentioning those who are not citizens or even the poor. They excluded money, the arts and sciences, philosophy, aesthetic pleasures, and the life of the mind in general, for all these things might foster individualism and detract from devotion to the polis. “But this is good fortune for men to end their lives with honor…”. Washington, DC 20036, Main telephone: 202.862.5800 1789 Massachusetts Avenue, NW These aristocratic values never lost their powerful attraction to all Greeks, and Pericles claimed them for the Athenian democracy. Cookie information is stored in your browser and performs functions such as recognising you when you return to our website and helping our team to understand which sections of the website you find most interesting and useful. Furthermore, Pericles attempts to convince the Athenians that death is preferable to dishonor and that an honorable sacrifice will be looked upon with reverence. Pericles’s famous funeral oration is, without a doubt, one of the greatest speeches passed down in history, yet there is dispute as to the true meaning of democracy put forth. And in his last recorded speech in 430, although its intention was to persuade the Athenians to keep fighting, he said: “For those who are prospering and who have a choice, going to war is folly” (2.61.1). To me, at least, they still seem to indicate some of the important ways in which democracy is likely to go astray. . Since the time of Homer the Greek thirst for glory had centered on brave deeds in war: What would replace these in a world at peace? The aristocrat believed that the poor were not free, because their poverty deprived them of leisure and, therefore, of the opportunity to take part in public life. In what does happiness lie? The Spartan imposed a property qualification for participation in public life; any Athenian citizen could sit on juries or the council and vote and speak in the assembly. . . Part of the answer lay in a quality of life unknown elsewhere, a range of activities that brought the pleasures of prosperity to the appetite, joy and wonder to the spirit, stimulation to the intellect, and pride to the soul. It was still open to each man to seek satisfaction in the pursuit of his own interests and those of his family, if necessary at the expense of the polis. It shares a great deal about life in Athens and events in Greek history. Only facing dangers that the mind can comprehend deserves to be called bravery, and that is what is expected of the men in his polis. Most of Pericles’ answers to these questions can be found in the Funeral Oration that he delivered in the winter of 431/30, less than two years before his death, at the end of the first year of the Peloponnesian War. Plato recognized that the freedom afforded by the Athenian democracy seemed pleasant to many people, but his own judgment was less friendly: Democracy is “an agreeable, anarchic form of society, with plenty of variety, which treats all men as equal, whether they are equal or not” (Republic 558C). In 431 BCE, at the end of the first year of the Peloponnesian War, held their traditional public funeral for all those who had been killed. He was one of those rare individuals who do not merely accept the conditions of the world they find but try to shape it to an image in their own minds. The hostile descriptions emphasize its excessive commitment to equality, complaining of the absurdity of distributing offices by lot and the evils of payment for public service, but even more of the flaws in the democratic principle itself. One way that it gained the needed commitment was by creating, for the first time in history, a true political life which allowed its active citizens to exercise human capacity previously employed by very few. However, he continues to emphasize that this does not make Athens inferior to Sparta at all-in fact it gives Athenians advantages in many ways. When wealthy aristocrats won victories in athletic contests, they could pay poets like Pindar to preserve their memories in verse; they could sponsor public monuments by great architects and sculptors; the richest of them could even erect temples to the gods, dedicated in their own names. The polis was a political community and a sovereign entity competing in a world of similar communities. But modern democracies are also more remote and indirect, less “political” in the ancient understanding of the term. Strictly Necessary Cookie should be enabled at all times so that we can save your preferences for cookie settings. The first is to have a set of good institutions; the second is to have a body of citizens who possess a good understanding of the principles of democracy, or who at least have developed a character consistent with the democratic way of life; the third is to have a high quality of leadership, at least at critical moments. He met both challenges by adapting the first to his own purposes and by rejecting the latter as inferior to the new society he had introduced in Athens. Despite the extremely limited citizen population in Athens, Pericles overflows with patriotism, leading one to contrast it to the United States today. From time to time the helots would break out in revolt, threatening the very existence of Sparta. “These men have shown themselves valiant in action, and it would be enough, I think, for their glories to be proclaimed in action…” Through the use of syntax and diction, Pericles points out the gallant and glorious men who have died in the war, essentially saying that they died for a just cause. Thus, Pericles fundamentally believes that no sacrifice is too small for the sake of keeping democracy safe. The Athenian democracy would encourage merit in its traditional form and reward it with victory, glory, and immortality. In his “Funeral Oration”, Pericles speaks about the Athenian life and their accomplishments as a way of inspiring those who are living and to remind them of what the dead had fought for. He saw the opportunity to create the greatest political community the world had ever known, one that would fulfill man’s strongest and deepest passions–for glory and immortality. Attempts to expand it would not only be unnecessary but endanger what already existed. Pericles' emphasis on sacrifice for freedom is echoed in the famous words, blood, toil, tears and sweat, from Winston Churchill to the British during World War II in his first speech as Prime Minister. Most believe that Pericles was praising Athenian democracy, yet some claim that he was, in fact, downplaying the importance of democracy. Those who wish to help them grow and flourish, as well as those who worry for the future of the older democracies, troubled again, strangely enough, by a growing allegiance to family, tribe, and clan at the expense of the commonwealth, could do worse than to turn for inspiration and instruction to the story of Pericles of Athens and his city, where once, against all odds, a noble democracy triumphed. Through such a display he hoped to win the kind of fame that would gain him immortality as the memory of his great deeds passed on through the generations, sung and embellished by bards like Homer. . Although limited to adult males of native parentage, Athenian citizenship granted full and active participation in every decision of the state without regard to wealth or class. It talks about democracy and Athenian patriotism. The last phase in the political development of Athens and its democracy occurred during the political ascendancy of the democratic leader Pericles. This famous speech by Athenian ruler Pericles praising democracy, after the first year of war with Sparta, describes a form of government that is about to end and not be revived for almost 2,000 years. He even asks the gods to aid the enemy so that he may gain vengeance against Agamemnon because, as Achilles himself says, “he did no honor to the best of the Achaeans.”. They need leaders who understand that individual freedom, self-government, and equality before the law are of the highest value in themselves. He certainly played the chief role in transforming it from a limited democracy where the common people still deferred to their aristocratic betters to a fully confident popular government in which the mass of the people were fully sovereign in fact as well as theory. The speech was delivered by Pericles , an eminent Athenian politician, at the end of the first year of the Peloponnesian War (431–404 BC) as … Twenty-five hundred years later we remember him and his fellow-Athenians precisely because of their devotion to this great civic endeavor. The Athenians gave him a public burial on the spot where he fell [only the men who died at Marathon received the same extraordinary honor] (1.30). The Funeral Oration of Pericles. He believed that man’s capacities and desires could be fulfilled at the highest level only through participation in the life of a community governed by reasoned discussion and guided by intelligence. Some were acquired by effort; others were simply a gift of irrational fate. We alone regard the man who takes no part in politics not as someone who minds his own business but as useless. If we had access to Pericles’ inner thoughts and to the many other speeches he delivered in his long career, we would possibly discover that he took no less pride in Athenians’ peaceful achievements of mind and spirit. In the realm of private disputes everyone is equal before the law, but when it is a matter of public honors each man is preferred not on the basis of his class but of his good reputation and his merit [arete]. Freedom of speech, extended to each and every citizen, was its hallmark and this freedom was the target of ridicule, not only by aristocrats who thought only those bred in political tradition or formally educated should speak, but also by the admirers of Sparta where decisions were made by acclamation without debate. Main fax: 202.862.7177, © 2021 American Enterprise Institute |. In the opening scene of the Iliad, Achilles’ honor and reputation are diminished by Agamemnon’s arrogance, so he retires from the battle and sulks in his tent while the Greeks suffer a series of costly defeats. According to Thucydides, Pericles' funeral oration said that democracy makes it so people can better themselves through merit rather than class or money. The Lydian ruler Croesus, the richest man in the world, expecting to hear his own name, asked the Athenian sage, Who was the happiest of mortals? Pericles Democracy Speech Government. 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