The Peloponnesian War

Pericles' Funeral Oration

In his oration, Pericles sheds new light on traditional Greek virtues by examining not only the accomplishments of the Athenian empire, but the particular qualities and institutions that have facilitated Athenian greatness. Pericles defies the traditional role of a funeral orator as historian of Athenian accomplishments in order to thoroughly redefine what makes Athens great.

Pericles begins his oration by setting out the difficulty of his task: to please those in the audience who were close to the dead with tales of glory and honor without dismissing the citizens of Athens, who Pericles claims only want to hear praise of the dead so long as they can feel satisfied that they are equally great, (II.35). In light of the conflicting appetites of his audience, Pericles declares that he will forsake the funeral orator’s custom of recounting the great accomplishments of Athenian history because they are “too familiar to my hearers for me to dwell upon,” (II.36). Instead, Pericles is interested in exploring the particular spirit of Athens, and those institutions that facilitated its prosperity and greatness.

In the remainder of his oration, Pericles is engaged in a characterization of the essence of Athens. He claims that the uniqueness...

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