Pericles Oratory Over the Athenian Dead

as quoted in Thucydides' History of the Peloponnisean War

Many are those who have praised, here, the man who added a speech to this rite, as if it were a fine thing to orate over men buried from our wars. But here is one who holds that, for men made heroes by their actions, enacted honors are sufficient, public honors like those you have just witnessed, rather than to risk on one man's eloquence, or lack of it, the credibility of so many men's bravery. It is, in fact, hard to fit words exactly to events whose verisimilitude is in question, since the informed and well disposed man may want more than the speaker makes him feel, or know more than he brings to mind, while the uninformed man resents as overstatement any praise that goes beyond what he fels capable of. (Praise of others can only be borne so long as it describes what any hearer feels he might do himself, while resentment leads to disbelief of anything beyond that.) Yet, since our elders have decreed this as appropriate , I , in observance of the form, must try to strike what balance I can with your information and your dispositions

I make the ancestors my opening theme, since it is right, it is appropriate here, to pay them memory's tribute. They, who dwelt nowhere but here, passed this land down to us, generation by generation, kept free by their valor. Yet, worthy as they were, the immediately preceding generation [of Marathon] was even more so: entrusted with this realm, by no little labors of their own they extended it to its current borders . But the greatest contributions we ourselves have made, we the living, most of us not yet beyond our prime, who strengthened the realxn by making it need no other for purposes of war or peace. The wars waged to bring this about, those of our fathers or ourselves, our spirited repulse of Persian or of Greek invaders, I have no need to recall at length-you know them well. But what lay behind those outward deeds, what really made us great - our training, our frame of government, our natural bent - I shall expound, primarily in praise of these men, but also as a fitting thing to be said on this occasion and proper for this audiience to hear, the outsiders in it as well as the citizens.

Our political arrangement cannot be measured in contest with any other city's since we set the pattern for, rather than imitate, them. By title we are a democracy, since the many, not just the few, participate in governing, and citizens are equal in their legal dealings with each other - though the merit of the individual , not just one turn by lot, is taken into account when skill for public service is required, lest poverty or obscure background bar the person who has anything to contribute to the city. Political life we all join in freely, while private life is not narrowly scrutinized for conformity of individual taste, nor are censorious glances indulged that cause social friction though they lack legal force. Yet this tolerant ap- proach to private life does not lead to laxty in the observance of public duty - whoever is charged with public office is obeyed, along with the laws themselves , especially those that protect the wronged or express agreed-on social values (which need no specific legislation).

In the frequent intervals of our duties, we indulge a preference for contests and seasonal festivals, distributed throughout the year and supplemented by tasteful private entertainments, whose enjoyment breaks up monotony. We can afford such pleasures because imports come in, through our empire, from everywhere on earth, making others' property belong to us as much as does our own

Yet we do not share the anxiety for our possessions shown by our enemies we keep our city open, not expelling foreigners to prevent their seeing or hearing things whose exposure could be useful to an enemy. We rely not so much on secret plans or feints as on the spirit of the moment. As for military training, where others insist on early drill of the harshest sort to instill manhod, we prove equal to any threat despite our unstructured regimen. Consider the evidence : Spartans do not come alone but with allies to invade our land, while we unaccompanied make raids on other lands, and easily (in most cases) prevail, though in combat with people desperate for their homes. No eneny, besides, has ever met our total force, since our navy is out on patrol and our land troops are scattered on their several missions. Yet after each engagement with a part of our forces, the enemy boasts that he either beat or was beaten by our entire power. If we recruit ourselves with rest instead of strenuous drill, relying less on system than on our natural gift for valor, the result is that we are not fatigued by facing hardships before they arrive; yet we are no less hardy than those who drill exhaustively - points that, along with others, should dumbfound observers of our city.

We seek an economical refinement, train our minds without softening our bodies. If wealth comes our way, we turn it to prductive deeds, not ostentatious words; if poverty comes, that is no shame to admit, the shame is in submitting to it. Some citizens are concerned equally with public and with private matters, and even those engaged in business keep informed about politics we alone count the unpolitical man not - "leisured" but useless. When not making policy ourselves, we are shrewd judges of it, since we do not consider discussion an enemy of dispatch; our fear is to adopt policy without prior debate. In sharp contrast with others, we are ready to take risks and to calculate the risk. Others are brave in the dark; thinking would just slow them. But the truly brave are those who face danger undeterred by full recognition of life's terrors and its delights.

Our moral code is also different-we win allies by favors done and not received. The doer of favors is more consistent, since he tries to retain the gratitude he has, earned, while the receiver is more grudging, feeling he repays a debt rather than does a worthy thing. We alone act not from narrow calculation of our interest but with the largesse born, of security in ourselves .

In short, our city is itself a schooling for Hellas - none of its citizens depends, in my view, onothers to meet every contingency with an easy poise These are not just words to ornament this occasion but facts proved by the measure of the city's power - how else did she become great but by this genius in her citizen ?" Only she, put to the test, exceeds repute, Only to her can foes succumb without cause for shame, or friends submit without humiliation, considering the quality of her leadership. By the magnitude of the evidence, she gives proof of her power to dumbfound the world, now and hereafter, so that no Homer will be needed to praise her in seducing words, which only distract, where hard assessment is needed to do justice to the facts. Every place on land and sea has been compelled to give entry to our enterprise, and we have left behind lasting tokens of our power to help or to harm.

Such was the city these men fought for, rather than lose to others; and shall we, their survivors, not take up the labor? I have prolonged my description of the city to establish that we do not have the same stake in this struggle as those with less to lose, and to make the praises I speak as clear as the evidence will sustain. Most of my task is accomplished. I have sung a hymn to the city, but the valor of these men and their peers gave the city her beauty. No other Hellenes supply, as these do, deeds weighty enough to equal any praises. The death of these, in my judgment, revealed the courage of some at their first encounter, or confirmed the others' established record, so that no prior fault can detract from this offer of their lives for their country , all private harm is canceled by this public benefaction. The rich soldier did not flinch at the thought of losing his possessions, nor did the poor man put off the day of reckoning until he could taste wealth. Our men, yearning to make the enemy pay the price they set, and calculating their own most glorious risk, dismissed other matters to make this exaction; left vague prospects to the future, investing themselves entirely in the project at hand. Seeing the choice was between suffering by defending, on the one hand, or surviving by surrendering, on the otheri they escaped what could be said against them by taking the impact of what was done against them on their bodies. So, with the outcome still undecided, at the apex of their glory contending with their fear, they left us.

They were such as the city deserves. You, their survivors, may pray for a safer outcome but not adopt a less venturesome attitude. You cannot, after all, prevail with whatever words a speaker may spin out, saying what you already know about the desirability of overcoming foes. Your safety is in deeds, in daily devotion to the city's power, in being smitten with that power and seeing how it grew, how brave men, recognizing what was requisite and ashamed not to supply it by their acts (even when some project failed), did not withhold their further sacrifice but made a dearer pledge of it. In a joint offering of their bodies they won their several rewards of ageless praise, and no grave can more attract the eye of mankind - not merely this, in which they he, but where their glory is laid up imperishable, recallable at any need for remembrance or example. Famous men have all the earth for grave - their epitaph is not inscribed in their land only; it is an unwritten memorial, even in strange lands, not only to their acts but to how they conceived those acts.

Strive, then, with these, convinced that happiness lies in freedom, freedom in bold spirits. Shun not danger from a foe: the unsuccessful man is not the one who should be reckless with his life, his lot might improve, but those whose lot could change disastrously by some future reversal and then how bitter would the disgrace of cowardice seem, looking back on it, when one might have died too strong in the common cause to feel the blow."

For such reasons I would console but not pity these men's parents. Raised in a world of varying chances, they know that this, at least, is gain-to meet an honorable end (as they now have) and to grieve honorably (as do you) for those whose lives were cut off at the fortunate moment. I know this is hard to convince you of, since you will have memories of past joy, seeing others happy as you once were. So now is not for the lack of things one never had, but for the accustomed thing removed. Yet take strength, you who can have other children, in anticipation of them. For you privately, they will lesson the pain over those lost, and for the city they will provide a double service , swelling both the citizenry and its fighting force. No one can make sound or fair proposals in our poli.tics who has no children at stake in the outcome. For those beyond childbearing age, think it gain to have lived through what joys you had, and, seeing what little time is left to grieve, bear yourselves up on their glory. Pride alone perdures, and the one joy in feeble age is not (as some claim) money, but respect from others.

You children and brethren of the fallen have a great competition before you - for all speak well of the dead, and barely will you be granted a similarity to them, not to mention an equality, no matter how great your own achievement. The living meet all the resist- ances of envy, but those who are gone win ungrudging respect.

I shall mention women's role if I must, out of consideration to these men's widows, and by way of sketchy exhortation. Your glory is not to fall below the level of a woman's nature, and not to be talked of among men, for good or ill.

I have spoken the best words I could for this occasion, as the law required; and you have done what was proper for the buried. Henceforth the city will raise at public expense these men's orphans till they come of age, as a useful wreath to victors in such contest. Where valor is rewarded, men serve the city best. Now, your lamentation done, depart.

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