Pericles Funeral Speech
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In 430 BC, the Greek statesman Pericles delivered a funeral address for the Athenians who had died in the war against Sparta. Pericles used it to rally Athenians to patriotism and the democratic way of life. Because of this it is perhaps the most famous statement on ancient democracy known to date. The main portion of the funeral speech rests in Pericles patriotic ode to democracy.
Athens at the Time of the Speech
Life was very good in Athens at the time when Pericles' gave his speech to honor those who had died in a recent war. From the beginning of his speech, Pericles calls upon the patriotism of the Athenians as he expressed the values of Greek society at this time for the dead. In short, Pericles' entire speech was written to patriotically honor those who died in battle. At the same time, he used the occasion to address the general, overall superiority of Athens to the rest of the world and the importance of the following:
- Public service
- Mutual trust and respect among citizens in maintaining this superiority.
Pericles clearly expressed his patriotism and his belief that Greek society was superior to other countries when he stated, "Our constitution does not copy the laws of neighboring states; we are rather a pattern to others than imitators ourselves".
Pericles and Greek Society
Next, Pericles furthers his patriotic oration by citing the many virtues that were cherished in Greek society during this period. He began by asserting the strong moral standards and laws by which Greek citizens abide. He contended that Athenians "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,". In other words, Greek citizens maintain high moral standards because they know it is the right thing to do, and will follow the laws and act appropriately rather than letting fellow citizens down and risking public humiliation.