It is imperative for any public speaker to be positive and praising of the land and the populace that he/she represents and presides over. This, then, is also the case with Pericles in his funeral oration. Obviously there are great aspects about Athens and Athenians or history would have forgotten them and we would not still study them and their ways of life. However, it is my opinion that Athenian society was not exactly as Pericles made it out to be in his funeral oration. The purpose of this paper is to cite the good and bad aspects of the speech, and what are and are not exemplary aspects of Athens and Athenians.
Pericles had several good points in his address. One of the best came at the very beginning of his discourse about the greatness of Athens and Athenians. He said that men’s deeds should speak for themselves and not be valued depending on who speaks of them. The idea behind this statement is that if a poor, boring, or long-winded speaker were to relate the tales of their bravery, it may take away from the actual deeds. The medium would lessen the message, so to speak. Another good section of the speech is how the forefathers built the city, the fathers made it rich and powerful and now the present populace is improving Athens still.
In section 44 Pericles expresses that those who are thinking about having children soon will be able to forget about their lost loved ones, and that Athens will benefit from the increased population. This proclamation reveals a lot about how Pericles, and probably most public figures, felt about the people versus the polis. This announcement shows that the polis is of primary concern and that the people in the polis are not as important individually.
Another comment by Pericles was about women being a weaker sex. He says in section 45 that if a woman does not let on to be weaker than she is, it is a great glory. Just imagine what would happen to a public speaker if he/she said that in this day and age!
I feel that Pericles is idealizing Athens to a small degree. He realizes that Athens has many great things about it, however, like in the above examples, he says a few things that do not reflect greatness of any kind.
After reading Pericles funeral oration, it seemed that Athens and Athenians were great, righteous, brave, and just. However, after reading the history of the Corcyran Civil War it appeared that dirtiness, violence, lack of trust and wickedness were the applauded virtues in a person, while bravery, courage and caution were looked down upon. Pericles talked about how honorable and praiseworthy Athenians were, but many people, including them, turned into low, underhanded animals when striving for power. Section 84 says that the Athenians were trying to coerce the Melians into submission by ravaging their lands. Again, this is not a great, brave courageous thing to do, but if anything, speaks poorly for Athens.
The Melian Dialogue enhances what Pericles states in his address, but that does not mean that it is right. The Athenians that met with the Melian leaders were very confident and knew that their army could vanquish their opponents, just a Pericles stated. He talked about the strength of their army and he was correct in that.
In section 40, Pericles states “we alone regard a man who takes no in public affairs, not as a harmless, but as a useless character”. This assertion is put into action in the Melian Dialogue in section 95. The Athenian says to the Melian that if they leave them be, it is a sign of weakness so they must overtaken to show their power. Stated otherwise, Melians are not harmless if they are left alone, but they are very useful to Athens if they are taken over.
The above examples illustrate that Pericles knew what he was talking about and wasn’t solely idealizing Athens. However, although he was correct, the Athenians are not always just and courageous. By saying nothing but good things in his speech, Pericles was not giving the whole truth, but simply doing what all public figures must do; state the best, and leave the rest.