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Standing outside the walls of Athens after the opening battles of the Peloponnesian Wars against Sparta and its allies, Pericles, the leader of Athens delivered an enduring and memorable Funerary Oration, praising those who had fallen and inspiring those who had yet to serve. Pericles’ Funerary Oration demonstrates the Homeric concept of arete to corroborate his assertion that Athens is the School of Hellas by drawing upon the ideals of their ancestors and their political system, invoking their rights, responsibilities, and moral fiber as Athenians, and citing their rightfully dominant status in the region because of their superior ideals and way of life.
Pericles notes how their ancestors founded Athens in liberty and on democratic values, and implores the citizens of Athens to take up arms to defend those ideals. He argues that Athens alone is the School of Hellas; Sparta’s theocracy takes young children from their mother’s arms to kill while in Athens their democracy creates a system which benefits all, the Greek legacy. Pericles beseeches the listeners to not be dismayed by the fallen but to fight for their memory. Their status as equal and contributing members of Athenian society, for the benefit of all, is both their right and their responsibility, for that is the Hellenic way and one still highly valued today. He also praises their moral fiber, inspiring them by telling them stories of Athenians triumphing over extremely prejudicial odds, and coming out on top. They will always be the few against the many, Pericles says, but that should not dismay, it is the Greek sense of honor that will take them to victory over their enemies and their inferior moral fortitude and integrity. Pericles appeals to the Athenian assertion that they are the rightfully dominant power in the region through their Homeric ideal of arete. He argues that their superior way of life, luxuriant compared to the Spartan, lends them power and righteousness over their enemies. Their Hellenic ideals will always triumph; the fire that Prometheus gifted to man must never be extinguished.
Pericles asserts that this is their guaranteed path to victory. He unknowingly reaches all the way back to Hector, who must go fight against the Mycenaean even though he know he will die, in an effort to inspire the Athenians into one spirited last effort. Even though Pericles dies in the plague, and his was with Sparta leads to the destruction of Athens, he is the greatest leader Athens has had the pleasure to birth, and his ideas would inspire those up into today (one needs only to glance at Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address). He details the Hellenic concept of honor and arete, proving to the world in a last spirited stand against their surrounding enemies the values that we should die for, apparent even today, in our support of the military. Pericles uses his Funerary Oration to exemplify these themes and inspire many beyond those listeners outside the walls of Athens that faithful day.
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