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The Funeral Oration of Pericles

pericles.jpg (2898 bytes)The Funeral Oration of Pericles is from The Peloponnesian War of Thucycides, trans. David Grene, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), pp.107-115.

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34. The same winter the Athenians, according to their ancient custom, solemnized a public funeral of the first slain in this war in this manner. Having set up a tent, they put into it the bones of the dead three days before the funeral; and everyone bringeth whatsoever he thinks good to his own. When the day comes of carrying them to their burial, certain cypress coffins are carried along in carts, for every tribe one, in which are the bones of the men of every tribe by themselves. There is likewise borne an empty hearse covered over for such as appear not nor were found amongst the rest when they were taken up. The funeral is accompanied by any that will, whether citizen or stranger; and the women of their kindred are also by at the burial lamenting and mourning. Then they put them into a public monument which standeth in the fairest suburbs of the city, in which place they have ever interred all that died in the wars except those that were slain in the field of Marathon, who, because their virtue was thought extraordinary, were therefore buried thereright. And when the earth is thrown over them, someone thought to exceed the rest in wisdom and dignity, chosen by the city, maketh an oration wherein he giveth them such praises as are fit; which done, the company depart. And this is the form of that burial; and for the whole time of the war, whensoever there was occasion, they observed the same. For these first the man chosen to make the oration was Pericles the son of Xantippus, who, when the time served, going out of the place of burial into a high pulpit to be heard the farther off by the multitude about him, spake unto them in this manner:

35. “Though most that have spoken formerly in this place have commended the man that added this oration to the law as honourable for those that die in the wars, yet to me it seemeth sufficient that they who have showed their valour by action should also by an action have their honour, as now you see they have, in this their sepulture performed by the state, and not to have the virtue of many hazarded on one to be believed as that one shall make a good or bad oration. For to speak of men in a just measure, is a hard matter; and though one do so, yet he shall hardly get the truth firmly believed. The favourable hearer and he that knows what was done will perhaps think what is spoken short of what he would have it and what it was; and he that is ignorant will find somewhat on the other side which he will think too much extolled, especially if he hear aught above the pitch of his own nature. For to hear another man praised finds patience so long only as each man shall think he could himself have done somewhat of that he hears. And if one exceed in their praises, the hearer presently through envy thinks it false. But since our ancestors have so thought good, I also, following the same ordinance, must endeavour to be answerable to the desires and opinions of everyone of you as far forth as I can.

36. “I will begin at our ancestors; being a thing both just and honest that to them first be given the honour of remembrance in this kind. For they, having been always the inhabitants of this region, by their valour have delivered the same to succession of posterity hitherto in the state of liberty. For which they deserve commendation, but our fathers deserve yet more; for that besides what descended on them, not without great labour of their own they have purchased this our present dominion and delivered the same over to us that now are. Which in a great part also we ourselves that are yet in the strength of our age here present have enlarged and so furnished the city with everything, both for peace and war, as it is now all-sufficient in itself. The actions of war whereby all this was attained and the deeds of arms both of ourselves and our fathers in valiant opposition to the barbarians or Grecians in their wars against us, amongst you that are well acquainted with the sum, to avoid prolixity I will pass over. But by what institutions we arrived at this, by what form of government and by what means we have advanced the state to this greatness, when I shall have laid open this, I shall then descend to these men’s praises. For I think they are things both fit for the purpose in hand and profitable to the whole company, both of citizens and strangers, to hear related.

37. “We have a form of government not fetched by imitation from the laws of our neighbouring states (nay, we are rather a pattern to others, than they to us) which, because in the administration it hath respect not to a few but to the multitude, is called a democracy. Wherein, though there be an equality amongst all men in point of law for their private controversies, yet in conferring of dignities one man is preferred before another to public charge, and that according to the reputation not of his house but of his virtue, and is not put back through poverty for the obscurity of his person as long as he can do good service to the commonwealth. And we live not only free in the administration of the state but also one with another void of jealousy touching each other’s daily course of life, not offended at any man for following his own humour, nor casting on any man censorious looks, which though they be no punishment, yet they grieve. So that conversing one with another for the private without offence, we stand chiefly in fear to transgress against the public and are obedient always to those that govern and to the laws, and principally to such laws as are written for protection against injury, and such unwritten as bring undeniable shame to the transgressors.

38. “We have also found out many ways to give our minds recreation from labour by public institution of games and sacrifices for all the days of the year with a decent pomp and furniture of the same by private men, by the daily delight whereof we expel sadness. We have this farther by the greatness of our city that all things from all parts of the earth are imported hither, whereby we no less familiarly enjoy the commodities of all other nations than our own.

39. “Then in the studies of war we excel our enemies in this. We leave our city open to all men; nor was it ever seen that by banishing of strangers we denied them the learning or sight of any of those things which, if not hidden, an enemy might reap advantage by, not relying on secret preparation and deceit but upon our own courage in the action. They, in their discipline, hunt after valour presently from their youth with laborious exercise, and yet we that live remissly undertake as great dangers as they. For example, the Lacedaemonians invade not our dominion by themselves alone but with the aid of all the rest. But when we invade our neighbours, though we fight in hostile ground against such as in their own ground fight in defence of their own substance, yet for the most part we get the victory. Never enemy yet fell into the hands of our whole forces at once both because we apply ourselves much to navigation and by land also send many of our men into divers countries abroad. But when, fighting with a part of it, they chance to get the better, they boast they have beaten the whole; and when they get the worse, they say they are beaten by the whole. And yet when, from ease rather than studious labour and upon natural rather than doctrinal valour, we come to undertake any danger, we have this odds by it that we shall not faint beforehand with the meditation of future trouble, and in the action we shall appear no less confident than they that are ever toiling,

40. procuring admiration to our city as well in this as in divers other things. For we also give ourselves to bravery, and yet with thrift; and to philosophy, and yet without mollification of the mind.’ And we use riches rather for opportunities of action than for verbal ostentation, and hold it not a shame to confess poverty but not to have avoided it. Moreover there is in the same men a care both of their own and the public affairs and a sufficient knowledge of state matters even in those that labour with their hands. For we only think one that is utterly ignorant therein to be a man not that meddles with nothing but that is good for nothing. We likewise weigh what we undertake and apprehend it perfectly in our minds, not accounting words for a hindrance of action but that it is rather a hindrance to action to come to it without instruction of words before. For also in this we excel others, daring to undertake as much as any and yet examining what we undertake; whereas with other men ignorance makes them dare, and consideration dastards. And they are most rightly reputed valiant who, though they perfectly apprehend both what is dangerous and what is easy, are never the more thereby diverted from adventuring. Again, we are contrary to most men in matter of bounty. For we purchase our friends not by receiving but by bestowing benefits. And he that bestoweth a good turn is ever the most constant friend because he will not lose the thanks due unto him from him whom he bestowed it on. Whereas the friendship of him that oweth a benefit is dull and flat, as knowing his benefit not to be taken for a favour but for a debt. So that we only do good to others not upon computation of profit but freeness of trust.

41. “In sum it may be said both that the city is in general a school of the Grecians, and that the men here have everyone in particular his person disposed to most diversity of actions, and yet all with grace and decency. And that this is not now rather a bravery of words upon the occasion than real truth, this power of the city, which by these institutions we have obtained, maketh evident. For it is the only power now found greater in proof than fame, and the only power, that neither grieveth the invader when he miscarries with the quality of those he was hurt by, nor giveth cause to the subjected states to murmur as being in subjection to men unworthy. For both with present and future ages we shall be in admiration for a power not without testimony but made evident by great arguments, and which needeth not either a Homer to praise it or any other such whose poems may indeed for the present bring delight, but the truth will afterwards confute the opinion conceived of the actions. For we have opened unto us by our courage all seas and lands and set up eternal monuments on all sides both of the evil we have done to our enemies and the good we have done to our friends.

"Such is the city for which these men, thinking to lose it, valiantly fighting have died. And it is fit that every man of you that be left behind should be like minded to undergo any travail for the same.

42. “And I have therefore spoken so much concerning the city in general as well to show you that the stakes between us and them, whose city is not such, are not equal as also to make known by effects the worth of these men I am to speak of, the greatest part of their praises being therein already delivered.For what I have spoken of the city hath by these, and such as these, been achieved. Neither would praises and actions appear so levelly concurrent in many other of the Grecians as they do in these, the present revolution of these men’s lives seeming unto me an argument of their virtues, noted in the first act  were worse than the rest do nevertheless deserve that for their valour shown in the wars for defence of their country they should be preferred before the rest. For having by their good actions abolished the memory of their evil, they have profited the state thereby more than they have hurt it by their private behaviour. Yet there was none of these that preferring the further fruition of his wealth was thereby grown cowardly, or that for hope to overcome his poverty at length and to attain to riches did for that cause withdraw himself from the danger. For their principal desire was not wealth but revenge on their enemies, which esteeming the most honourable cause of danger, they made account through it both to accomplish their revenge and to purchase wealth withal; putting the uncertainty of success to the account of their hope, but for that which was before their eyes relying upon themselves in the action, and therein choosing rather to fight and die than to shrink nd be saved, they fled from shame, but with their bodies they stood out the battle; and so in a moment whilst fortune inclineth neither way, left their lives not in fear but in opinion of victory.

43. “Such were these men, worthy of their country. And for you that remain, you may pray for a safer fortune, but you ought not to be less venturously minded against the enemy, not weighing the profit by an oration only, which any man amplifying may recount to you that know as well as he the many commodities that arise by fighting valiantly against your enemies, but contemplating the power of the city in the actions of the same from day to day performed and thereby becoming enamoured of it. And when this power of the city shall seem great to you, consider then that the same was purchased by valiant men, and by men that knew their duty, and by men that were sensible of dishonour when they were in fight, and by such men as, though they failed of their attempt, yet would not be wanting to the city with their virtue but made unto it a most honourable contribution. For having everyone given his body to the commonwealth, they receive in place thereof an undecaying commendation and a most remarkable sepulchre not wherein they are buried so much as wherein their glory is laid up upon all occasions both of speech and action to be remembered forever. For to famous men all the earth is a sepulchre; and their virtues shall be testified not only by the inscription in stone at home but by an unwritten record of the mind, which more than of any monument will remain with everyone forever. In imitation therefore of these men and placing happiness in liberty and liberty in valour, be forward to encounter the dangers of war. For the miserable and desperate men are not they that have the most reason to be prodigal of their lives, but rather such men as, if they live, may expect a change of fortune and whose losses are greatest if they miscarry in aught. For to a man of any spirit death, which is without sense, arriving whilst he is in vigour and common hope, is nothing so bitter as after a tender life to be brought into misery.

44. “Wherefore I will not so much bewail as comfort you, the parents, that are present, of these men. For you know that whilst they lived, they were obnoxious to manifold calamities. Whereas whilst you are in grief, they only are happy that die honourably as these have done, and to whom it hath been granted not only to live in prosperity but to die in it. Though it be a hard matter to dissuade you from sorrow for the loss of that which the happiness of others, wherein you also when time was rejoiced yourselves, shall so often bring into your remembrance (for sorrow is not for the want of a good never tasted but for the privation of a good we have been used to); yet such of you as are of the age to have children may bear the loss of these in the hope of more. For the later children will both draw on with some the oblivion of those that are slain and also doubly conduce to the good of the city by population and strength. For it is not likely that they should equally give good counsel to the state that have not children to be equally exposed to danger in it. As for you that are past having of children, you are to put the former and greater part of your life to the account of your gain; and supposing the remainder of it will be but short, you shall have the glory of these for a consolation of the same. For the love of honour never groweth old, nor doth that unprofitable part of our life take delight (as some have said) in gathering of wealth so much as it doth in being honoured.

45. “As for you that are the children or brethren of these men, I see you shall have a difficult task of emulation. For every man useth to praise the dead, so that with odds of virtue you will hardly get an equal reputation but still be thought a little short. For men envy their competitors in glory while they live, but to stand out of their way is a thing honoured with an affection free from opposition. And since I must say somewhat also of feminine virtue for you that are now widows, I shall express it in this short admonition. It will be much for your honour not to recede from your sex and to give as little occasion of rumour amongst the men, whether of good or evil, as you can.

46. "Thus also have I, according to the prescript of the law, delivered in word what was expedient; and those that are here interred have in fact been already honoured; and further, their children shall be maintained till they be at man’s estate at the charge of the city, which hath therein propounded both to these and them that live a profitable garland in their matches of valour. For where the rewards of virtue are greatest, there live the worthiest men. So now having lamented everyone his own, you may be gone.”

47. Such was the funeral made this winter, which ending, ended the first year of this war.

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