Tag Archives: polis

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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PBS Interactive map of Athens

Here is a useful resource for looking at they layout of the ancient polis of Athens. Athens would have also included the Attic villages surrounding the urban centre.

This PBS interactive map allows you to click on different features like the agora, piraeus, streets, and the acropolis.

Interactive Map of Athens

Map of Attica – the Athenian territory

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The Polis of Athens

City Map of Athens

A useful resource for learning about the features of the Athenian polis is PBS’s “The Greeks Interactive” website. There is a map of Athens where you can see the city’s layout,  zoom in to places like the Acropolis, the Phyx, and the Theatre of Dionysus, and read an informative blurb about each of these features. It also has a section on daily life in Athens as well as the Greek alphabet.

Key terms to know:

  • Agora
  • Theatre of Dionysus
  • Acropolis
  • Pnyx
  • Parthenon
  • Areopagos
  • Athletic stadium
  • Council of Elders
  • Piraeus

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