Pericles Funeral Oration in Depth

Pericles Funeral Oration in Depth A reconstruction of Pericles' house from The Greeks documentary

In 431, shortly after the Peloponnesian War had broken out, Pericles delivered his famous Funeral Oration to commemorate those troops who had already fallen in battle. Recorded, and probably rewritten by the historian Thucydides, it is one of the primary sources on which our understanding of ancient Athens is based and provides a unique insight into just how Athenian democracy understood itself.

In the speech Pericles relates the special qualities of the Athenians, redefining many traditional Greek virtues in a radical new light.

The idea that the Athenians are able to put aside their petty wants and strive for the greater good of the city is a central theme of the speech. Bound together by bonds of mutual trust and a shared desire for freedom, the people of Athens submit to the laws and obey the public officials not because they have to, as in other cities, but because they want to. Athenians had thus achieved something quite unique - being both ruled and rulers at one and the same time. This had forged a unique type of citizen. Clever, tolerant, and open minded, Athenians were able to adapt to any situation and rise to any challenge. They had become the new ideal of the Greek world.

Pericles' view was obviously a very idealized one, and it ignored the realities of party factionalism, selfishness, and arrogance that were to soon manifest after his death.


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