(in this web):
The Peloponnesian War
the same winter the Athenians gave a funeral at the public cost to those who had
first fallen in this war.
It was a custom of their
ancestors. Three days before the ceremony, the bones of the dead are laid
out in a tent, and their friends bring to their relatives
such offerings as they please. In the funeral procession cypress coffins are
borne in carts, one for each tribe; the bones of the deceased being placed in the
coffin of their tribe. Among these is carried one empty bier for the
missing, that is, for those whose bodies could not be recovered. Any citizen or
stranger who pleases, joins in the procession, and the women relatives are
there to wail at the burial. The dead are laid in the public sepulchre in the
Beautiful Suburb of the city, in which those who fall in war are always buried.
After the bodies
have been laid in the earth, a man chosen by the state, of approved wisdom and
eminent reputation, pronounces an appropriate panegyric over them. Then
all retire. This was the burial custom throughout the whole of the war.
first that had fallen, Pericles son of Xanthippus was chosen to speak their
the time came, he advanced from the sepulchre to an elevated platform
in order to be heard by as many of the crowd as possible, and he spoke as
"Most of my predecessors in this place have commended him who made this
speech part of our law. It is right, they have said, that such a speech should be delivered
at the burial of those who have fallen in battle. For myself, I should have thought
it better to honor the dead with public deeds, such as you now see in this funeral
prepared at the people's cost. I could have wished that the reputations of these
brave men did not depend on the words of a single speaker, to
stand or fall according as he spoke well or ill. For it is hard to speak well
when your hearers may not believe you. On the one hand, the friend who is familiar with
every fact of the story may think that some point has not been told as fully as it
deserves; on the other hand, strangers to the story will suspect exaggeration if
they hear of anything greater than themselves. Men can bear to hear
others praised only so long as they think that their own ability equals the actions
recounted. When that point is passed, envy comes in and with
it disbelief. However, since our ancestors have given this custom their approval,
and it is my duty to obey the law, I will try to satisfy your
several wishes and opinions in what I have to say.
"Our ancestors deserve the first mention today.
They lived in this land without break in the succession from generation
to generation, and handed it down free to the present time by their courage. And if our more remote ancestors deserve praise,
so much more do
our own fathers, who added to their inheritance the empire that we now possess.
Our present generation also has expanded our dominions, so that our mother country
now is furnished with all of the resources necessary for war or for peace.
achievements that gave us these possessions, and the ready courage with which we
and our fathers have stemmed the tide of Hellenic and
foreign aggression, are too familiar to discuss here today. But what was the road by which
reached our present position? What was the form of government under which our greatness
grew? What were the national habits out of which it sprang? These are questions
I will try to answer before I proceed to my praise of these men. They are
fitting subjects for the present occasion, and all assembled here, whether citizens
or foreigners, may listen with advantage.
"Our constitution does not copy the laws of neighboring states; it is rather a pattern
for others. Its administration favors
the many instead of the few. This is why it is called a democracy. Our laws afford equal justice to all in their private
differences. Advancement in public life depends on reputation for capability, not social
standing. Class does not interfere with merit, nor does poverty bar the way. If a man is able to serve
state, he is not hindered by the obscurity of his condition.
"The freedom that we enjoy in our government extends also to our ordinary life. There,
from exercising a jealous surveillance over each other, we do not feel called
upon to be angry with our neighbor for doing what he likes. Yet freedom in our private
does not make us lawless as citizens. We fear and obey our magistrates and our laws, particularly
those that protect the injured, whether these laws are actually on
the statute books, or belong to that code which, although unwritten, yet
cannot be broken without acknowledged disgrace.
"Our city also provides means for the mind to refresh itself from labor. We celebrate games and sacrifices all the year round, and
elegance of our homes and businesses forms a daily source of pleasure. Our city draws the
of the world into our harbor, so that to Athenians the fruits of
other countries are as familiar a luxury as those of their own.
"If we turn to our military policy, there also we differ from our antagonists.
We throw open our city to the world, and never by alien acts exclude
foreigners from any opportunity of learning or observing, although the
eyes of an enemy may occasionally profit by our liberality. In
education, where our rivals from their very cradles by a painful discipline seek
after military manliness, at Athens we live exactly as we please, and yet are just
as ready to encounter every legitimate danger. In proof of this it may
be noticed that the Spartans do not invade our country alone, but
bring with them all of their confederates, but we Athenians advance unsupported
into the territory of a neighbor, and fighting upon a foreign soil
usually vanquish with ease men who are defending their homes. Our united
force was never yet encountered by any enemy, because our navies and armies must
attend to a
hundred different services at once. When the enemy engages with some such fraction
of our strength, they magnify a success against one of our detachments into a
victory over the whole nation, and a defeat into a reverse suffered at the hands
of our entire people. Our habits are formed in freedom, and our courage comes
naturally, and yet we encounter danger and hardships as willingly as our
enemies, for all of their military training, personal deprivation and lack of
"There are many other points in which our city deserves admiration. We
cultivate refinement without extravagance and knowledge without effeminacy.
we employ for use, not for show, and we place the real disgrace of
poverty not in admitting to it but in declining to struggle against it.
Our public officials have, besides politics, their private affairs to attend to,
and our private citizens, though occupied with their personal business, are
still fair judges of public matters. Unlike people of other nations, Athenians
regard those who take no part in civic duties not as unambitious but as useless.
Instead of looking on discussion as a stumbling-block in the way of action,
we think it an indispensable preliminary to any wise action at all. In all of our enterprises we
are both daring and deliberate. The truly courageous individual understands
risks but does not shrink from danger.
are equally singular. We acquire friends by conferring favors, not by receiving
them. The doer of a favor is the firmer member of any friendship; by continued kindness
he keeps the recipient in his debt. It is only the Athenians who confer their benefits not from
of expediency, but in the confidence of liberality.
"In short, I say that as a city we are the school of Hellas. No one in the world,
having only himself to depend
upon, is equal to so many emergencies, and graced by so happy a versatility,
as the Athenian. This is no mere boast thrown out for
the occasion, but plain matter of fact. The power of our state acquired by
these habits is proof. Athens alone of her contemporaries is found when
tested to be greater than her reputation. The admiration
of the present and succeeding ages will be ours, since we have not
left our power without witness, but have shown it by mighty proofs. Far from needing a Homer
to sing our praises, or any other of his craft whose
verses might charm for the moment only to melt away at the touch of reality, we have forced every sea and land to
the highway of our daring, and everywhere, whether for evil or for good, we have
left imperishable monuments behind us. Such is the Athens for which these
men, in the assertion of their resolve not to lose her, nobly fought and died.
Well may every one of their survivors be ready to suffer likewise in
"I have spoken at some length upon the character of our country to show that our stake in the struggle is not the
as theirs who have no such blessings to lose. Yet this celebrated Athens is only what the heroism of these
men and their like have made
her, men whose fame, unlike that of so many of the Hellenes, is deserved. The worth
of these men is to be found in their closing scene. It set the final seal upon their merit,
even in those cases where little merit previously may have been seen.
Steadfastness in his country's battles cloaks a man's other imperfections. Good action
the bad, and the merits of a citizen outweighs the demerits of an individual.
"None of these
men allowed wealth, with its prospect of
future enjoyment, to unnerve his spirit. None allowed poverty, with its hope of a
day of freedom and riches, to tempt him to shrink from danger. No, they held
vengeance upon their enemies to be more desirable than any personal blessings.
Reckoning this to be the most glorious of hazards, they accepted the risk. To make sure of their vengeance,
they made all other wishes wait. In the uncertainty before them, they committed
their hopes to bold action and
trust in themselves. They chose to die resisting, rather than to live
submitting. They fled only from dishonor, and met danger face to face. At the summit of their fortune,
they escaped only from their fear to their glory.
"So died these men as became Athenians. You, their survivors, must have as
much resolve in the field, though you may
pray for a happier issue. Do not be persuaded by speeches about the value of
defending your country, though such speeches of course are proper and fitting.
You personally must realize
the power of Athens, and feed your eyes upon her every day until
love of her fills your hearts. Then, when all her greatness shall break
upon you, remember that it was by courage, duty, and
a keen sense of honor in action that men were enabled to win all this. No personal failure
could make them
deprive their country of their valor, but they laid it at her feet as
the most glorious contribution that they could offer.
"For this offering
their lives, each of them individually now receives
that renown which never grows old, and for a sepulchre, not so much
that in which their bones have been deposited, but that noblest of shrines
wherein their glory is laid up to be remembered whenever deed or story shall call for
its commemoration. For
heroes have the whole earth for their tomb, and in lands far from their own,
where the column with its epitaph declares it, there is enshrined in
every breast a record unwritten with no tablet to preserve it, except that
of the heart.
these as your model and, judging happiness to be the
fruit of freedom, and freedom of courage, never decline the dangers of war. It
is not for the miserable to be most unsparing of their
lives; they have nothing to hope for. It is rather for those who have the most
to lose, those for whom a fall, if it
came, would have the most terrible consequences. And surely, to a man
of spirit, the degradation of cowardice must be immeasurably more grievous than
an unfelt death striking him in the midst of his bravery and patriotism!
"Comfort, therefore, not condolence, is what I have to offer to the
parents of the dead who may be here. Numberless are the chances to which the life of man is
subject, but fortunate indeed are they
whose lot is a glorious death. Happy are they who die happy. I know that this is
hard saying. You will be reminded of your loss when you see in the homes of others blessings
that your home had, once in the past. You who are still of an age to beget children must bear up in the hope
having others in their stead. Not only will they help you to replace those
whom you have lost, but they will be to the public at once a reinforcement and
a security. Fair and just policies are made only by the citizen who brings to
each decision the interests and
apprehensions of a father. Those of you who have passed your prime
must remember that the best part of
your life was fortunate, and that your remaining days will be cheered
by the fame of the departed. For it is only the love of honor that
never grows old. Honor it is, not gain, as some would have it, that
rejoices the heart of age and helplessness.
"Turning to the sons or brothers of the dead, I see an arduous struggle
before you. When a man is gone, all will praise him. Should
your merit be ever so great, you will still find it difficult to overtake, or even to approach, their renown. The living have
to contend with, while those who are no longer in our path are honored with
a goodwill into which rivalry does not enter.
"To those of you
who are now in widowhood, let me say only this on the subject of female excellence.
will be your glory in living up to your natural strength of character. Greatest will be hers who is least talked of among the men, whether
good or for bad.
"My task is now finished to the best of my ability. The requirements of our law are
satisfied. Those who are here interred have received part of
their public honors already; for the rest, their children will be brought up
until adulthood at public expense. The state thus offers a valuable prize,
as the garland of victory in this race of valor, for the reward both
of those who have fallen and their survivors. And where the rewards for
merit are greatest, there are found the best citizens.
"Now that you have brought to a close your lamentations for your
relatives, you may depart."
to Lesson 7
for Powers of Literature
(with Lesson numbers):
Odysseus' voyage 1
Mission to Achilles
Death of Patroklos
Burial of Hektor
Return of Odysseus
City of Dreams
the Homeric king
Socrates gets busted
Socrates on trial
Socrates in jail
Socrates in heaven
Paul does Christ
gospel without text
The Knight of the Cart
Sire Lance's genes
18. Virgil, Aeneid
Aeneas & Dido