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Thucydides' Funeral Oration

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Victoria Wohl

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Reading Notes
Thucydides β€œPericles’ Funeral Oration”
1a.What purpose(s) is Pericles trying to achieve with this speech?
ξ€β€œWhat I want to do is, in the first place, to discuss the spirit in which we faced our
trials and also our constitution and the way of life which has made us great.”
1b.Who is in his audience?
The people of Athens
2a.What are the ideal qualities of the Athenian citizen, as Pericles describes
ξ€β€œWe give obedience to those whom we put in positions of authority, and we obey the
laws themselves, especially those which are for the protection of the oppressed, and
those unwritten laws which it is an acknowledged shame to break.”
2b.How does he display those qualities?
3.What (or whom) does this speech ignore or brush to one side?
Foundational myth for the Athenians
Lots of consequences for how they thought of themselves and how they thought of
Athens hadn’t always been a democracy
In the Archaic period, Athens was run by a tight oligarchic aristocracy
This resulted in the tyranny of Pisistratus who, along with his sons, governed
Athens under a tyranny in the 6th century
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Eventually his sons were assassinated and democracy was implemented
As the 5th century rolled on, democracy increased
Athens was a direct democracy
In a direct democracy, there is no mediation between the people and the government
The people are the government and have a direct hand in the running of the state
Democracy comes from the word demokratia, coming from the word demos (the
people) and kratos (sovereignty)
What this meant in practice was that important decisions of the state (war, taxes,
religion) were made by an assembly of all the citizens, and a forum in this assembly
could be up to 6,000 people who would vote
All public offices were selected from the people by lot, annually, so everyone had the
chance to hold office, with the exception of military leaders
Not everyone was equally happy about this system
The old aristocracy were not happy with democracy
To them, democracy meant the rule of the mob
So, there was always a tension with the elite, who wished to return to an oligarchic
Another tension, group of people who didn’t like democracy, were people living in
Athens who were not citizens
Democracy gave much power to citizens of Athens (men, born to Athenian parents),
but virtually no power to non-citizens (women, foreigners, slaves)
Pericles’ Funeral Oration
How did this speech mediate these tensions mentioned above
After the first year of the Peloponnesian War, 430 BC, Pericles (general) gave a
funeral speech to praise the dead and encourage the living to continue living
This funeral oration was part of a long tradition, the epitaphios logos
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