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POL200Y1Y L5101 1
L3: Thucydides II
May 19, 2009
Plague at Athens
Civil War at Corcyra
Pericles' Response to Plague
Athenian Democracy: Stability+ Breakdown
Pericles Funeral Oration
•Distinctive Athenian political culture feature: democrats had in their mind rational
explanations for their actions, specifically with regards to battle; hence in this oration
we see that democrats live more self-consciously. Unlike the others, they shape their
•Athenian thought comes (page 42) out in Pericles' anatomy of Athenian society
oThey sought a harmony between speech and deed so that rational thoughts
are the basis for action.
oDemocracy at Athens became a sort of unity of opposites. The Athenians were
relaxed, free, yet also militarily efficient. They were both egalitarian and
•The funeral oration is thus Thucydides' presentation of the greatest
possibilities of democracy.
oDemocracy was able make it possible for individuals to flourish - this is
•However, is democracy is the system of realized human capacity, it is also prone to
oWhat are these pathologies?
They stem from democracy's excess faith in free deliberation, potential
self-defeating dynamism and its ignorance of its own history
Plague at Athens
•It had both natural and political causes
oEveryone was in the city
Pericles had faith in rationality, human nature and nature itself are
not subject to political control
•The natural disaster received disastrous political responses
•3 points to highlight
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POL200Y1Y L5101 2
oThucydides emphasizes the weakness of traditional religion. Page 47.
Religion gives no solace during this time. The sacred and the secular were
confused; temples became crowded with the dead. Thucydides was, therefore,
skeptical of religious guidance and the dubious nature of oracles.
•Religion was the conventional glue of this community. The
plague helped to disperse the Periclean United Athenians
oHuman law and convention failed to constrain the baser impulses of
survivors. Once political authority and hope had broken down, any noble action
was impossible since punishment was unlikely.
•Pericles idea of suffering lacked credibility
oHe was writing for political leaders so they would know what to look for.
Politics may provide some ground for optimism in the future if they could stop the
worst aspects of the plague.
•Suffering makes people covet what they have. Hence now we see
Athenians stealing private funeral pyres so even funeral ritual has been done
•There was no scapegoating in the Athenian community
oHence, ultimately, what is perhaps a feature of democracy, the Athenians
Civil War at Corcyra
•This is important
•It is an example of human passions at their most destructive and it largely
influenced Hobbes' Leviathan
•This is the backdrop to understanding Athens' strength and weaknesses
•NB: Corcyra was also a naval democracy that had allied itself with Athens and was
oBut Corcyra is an unsuccessful democracy at war
oContrast this to Athens
•The larger war encouraged factionalism (Democrats to Athenians, Oligarchs to
•Thucydides: War is the teacher of violence
oHence Corcyra had perhaps imported international violence into their
oWhile disunity is the key to civic disruption, Corcyra gives us disunity
radicalized when international powers are at its door. The result was that
individuals identified more strongly with their political factions than their cities
as a whole. Though Pericles had united Athens with speech, speech could not
overcome the factionalism in Corcyra. Democracy always contains within it
centrifugal forces which disperse unity and perhaps 'flee the common good in favor
of private interests'. Corcyra attempted speech, "Put out plausible slogans…" (i.e.
'moderate aristocracy'). Thucydides shows us that these slogans have become mere
guises for ulterior motives. Healthy political speech is needed to unify citizens.
•The issue with Corcyra is clearly the pursuit of power for themselves
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