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Pericles’ Funerary Oration

It was an Athenian practice that after a war, the remains of the dead would be left in a tent for three days where mourners could make offerings. There was a public procession with the remains carried in cypress coffins. After burial in a state gravesite, a prominent citizen was called upon to make a public oration. This one is from Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War – it is probably not what Pericles said verbatim but would have had the same themes and main points as the actual speech. Pericles gave this speech at the end of the first year of the war against Sparta, which endured for nearly 30 years and left Athens crippled. At this early stage in the war, Athens was still a glorious polis; however, some historians have called this oration a eulogy to Athens itself.

  1. What are Pericles’ initial hesitations about giving this speech?  (3)
  2. Which Athenian values are evident in Pericles’ speech? (3)
  3. “We differ from other states in regarding the man who keeps aloof from public life not as private but as useless” – do you agree with this statement? How does our society value participation in public life? (2)
  4. According to Pericles, what characterizes the way Athenians do favours to one another? (2)
  5. “Their memory has escaped the reproaches of men’s’ lips, but they bore instead on their bodies the marks of men’s’ hands” – with this line and the ones that follow, what can we tell about the way Athenians saw military casualties? Do you agree with this perspective? (3)
  6. How were both Pericles’ Athens and Kennedy’s America somewhat less ideal than these two orators claimed? Why might leaders, particularly in wartime, craft idealized images of their countries? (3)
  7. What does Cahill say about the presence of religion in this speech? Reflect on the way God is invoked in today’s politics. (3)
  8. Comparing the Athenians with the more militarized Spartans, Pericles says, “If we choose to face danger with an easy mind rather than after rigorous training and to trust rather in our native manliness than in state-sponsored courage, the advantage lies with us; for we are spared all the tedium of practicing for future hardships, and when we find ourselves among them we are as brave as our plodding rivals.” (In Cahill 242) This is quite an insult to the Spartans! Write a brief (approx. 1 page) funeral oration from the perspective of a Spartan oligarch after their victory.  (10)

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The Parthenon is one of the world’s most recognizable and most copied buildings. It was built in nine years, beginning in 447 BCE, and was an awesome and tangible representation of Athenian imperial power.

Pericles proposed rebuilding the Acropolis, which had been destroyed in the Greco-Persian wars in 480 BCE. It was put to a vote, and the Athenian Assembly decided to take on this costly project. Their treasury was full of taxes paid by the other city-states of the Delian League, and this seemed like a fitting way to glorify the goddess Athena, the polis and its achievements.

The doric temple of Athena Parthenos is the centrepeice of the new Acropolis. It replaces two older temples to Athena. The friezes along the entablature show the triumph of reason vs. passion, embodied by a human defeating a centaur. On the pediment, statues show Athena being born from Zeus’ forehead, as well as the contest between Athena and Poseidon.

The gold and ivory statue of Athena stood nearly 40 feet tall and was placed next to a reflecting pool.

The Parthenon was converted to a Christian church around 600 CE and later became an Ottoman Mosque in 1480 CE. In 1687, Venetian forces attacked the Ottomans and their ammunition store in the Parthenon, resulting in around 300 casualties and a massive explosion.

In 1806, Thohmas Bruce, the Earl of Elgin, removed some of the surviving Parthenon sculptures and relief panels, and they were sold to the British Museum. The Greek government has been trying to get the Elgin Marbles back since 1983.

Here is the PBS video, “Secrets of the Parthenon,” that we started watching in class today. We were somewhere around 42 minutes in. Please finish it at home, along with the viewing guide questions.

Don’t forget we’re meeting at the ROM tomorrow – please come a bit before 10:00



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