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Philosophy 219. Pericles and the Founding Fathers. Pericles' Funeral Oration. Pericles' Funeral Oration is presented to us by the historian Thucydides in his classic History of the Peloponnesian War .

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Philosophy 219

Philosophy 219

Pericles and the Founding Fathers

Pericles funeral oration
Pericles' Funeral Oration

  • Pericles' Funeral Oration is presented to us by the historian Thucydides in his classic History of the Peloponnesian War.

    • Though Thucydides was alive (and perhaps present) at the time, we shouldn’t assume that this is a transcript.

  • The occasion was an instance of the time-honored practice of providing public funerals to Athenian soldiers killed in battle. In this case, for the Athenian dead from the first year of the conflict with Sparta.

  • The setting is the public sepulcher, Keramikos, just to the north of the Agora in Athens.

Who was pericles
Who was Pericles?

  • Pericles (c. 495 – 429 BC) is commonly acknowledged as the greatest statesman of ancient Athens.

  • He was the most prominent citizen during what is known as Athens' “Golden Age.”

  • His primary contribution was to transform Athens into the cultural and educational center of the Greek world. He also led the construction of many of Athens’ most famous buildings, including the Parthenon.

What about athens
What about Athens?

  • Though Athens in the 5th century BC can be compared to many of our largest cities (particularly in terms of their size and cultural significance), the key to understanding its political situation is to remember that it was a city-state.

  • The major Greek cities at the time where for the most part independent political entities, with their own, unique political structures.

  • The Peloponnesian war pitted two quite different cities (and their allies and vassal cities) against each other: Athens and Sparta.

Athens and sparta
Athens and Sparta

  • During this period, Sparta was an oligarchy (rule by a small, elite segment of the population), nominally led by two hereditary kings, but actually ruled by a small group of aristocrats known as the Gerousia.

  • Athens was a democracy, ruled by the citizens, organized into three bodies.

    • The Ekklesia, or Assembly, which passed laws and made policy decisions, was open to all citizens of Athens.

    • The Boule, or Council of the 500, was charged with administering decisions made by the Ekklesia.

    • The Prytaneis, or "Presidential Council," was a subcommittee of the boule and charged with the daily affairs of the city.

The oration
The Oration

  • Though nominally a speech honoring the war dead, a lot more appears to be going on in Pericles’ rhetoric.

  • What do you think is Pericles’ aim?


Athens and the u s
Athens and the U.S.

  • What are the similarities that you noticed between the description Pericles offered of Athens and our understanding of our nation?

  • Any relevant differences?

The oration and the declaration
The Oration and the Declaration

  • What about between the rhetoric of the Oration and Jefferson’s in the Declaration of Independence?

  • What is the aim of Jefferson’s rhetoric?

The bill of rights
The Bill of Rights

  • How are the ideals of the Declaration embodied in the Bill of Rights?

  • Let’s take a look at each one and think about its significance.