catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

Pericles funeral oration

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With the death of the 2000th US soldier in Iraq, it may be of interest to revisit the great funeral speech of Pericles in ancient Greece, celebrating the heroes who fell in defence of the city.

Possibly the most relevant parts for the moment are his words to the relatives of the bereaved but you will have to look into the link to find them because these extracts are my favorite parts of the oration.

Our form of government does not enter into rivalry with the institutions of others. Our government does not copy our neighbors’, but is an example to them. It is true that we are called a democracy, for the administration is in the hands of the many and not of the few. But while there exists equal justice to all and alike in their private disputes, the claim of excellence is also recognized; and when a citizen is in any way distinguished, he is preferred to the public service, not as a matter of privilege, but as the reward of merit. Neither is poverty an obstacle, but a man may benefit his country whatever the obscurity of his condition.


There is no exclusiveness in our public life, and in our private business we are not suspicious of one another, nor angry with our neighbor if he does what he likes; we do not put on sour looks at him which, though harmless, are not pleasant. While we are thus unconstrained in our private business, a spirit of reverence pervades our public acts; we are prevented from doing wrong by respect for the authorities and for the laws, having a particular regard to those which are ordained for the protection of the injured as well as those unwritten laws which bring upon the transgressor of them the reprobation of the general sentiment.

And we have not forgotten to provide for our weary spirits many relaxations from toil; we have regular games and sacrifices throughout the year; our homes are beautiful and elegant; and the delight which we daily feel in all these things helps to banish sorrow.

Because of the greatness of our city the fruits of the whole earth flow in upon us; so that we enjoy the goods of other countries as freely as our own. Our city is thrown open to the world, though and we never expel a foreigner and prevent him from seeing or learning anything of which the secret if revealed to an enemy might profit him. We rely not upon management or trickery, but upon our own hearts and hands.

As an aside, it may that the Achilles heel of Athens was its empire and the heavy handed way it treated its foreign dominions. There may be a lesson in that, in addition to the lessons of the funeral speech.

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Written by Admin

October 29, 2005 at 9:58 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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