Pericles Questions

InF_headerKeep your answers brief for easy reference.

  1. Pericles describes Athens as a democratic society but also a law-abiding society. Quote a sentence in section 37 and use it to explain why Pericles believes a free people should be respectful of authority.
  2. Athenians appreciate public debate, says Pericles in section 40. Why does he believe a lot of talk is not an obstacle to action?
  3. The most often quoted line in Pericles’ Funeral Oration is: “…happiness depends on freedom and freedom depends on courage.” Briefly explain what the first part means and then what the second part means, based on sections 38-41 and 42-43.
  4. Who has the most reason for volunteering to fight for Athenian democracy: the rich, the poor, or all citizens equally? See section 43(2).
  5. As a comfort to bereaved parents, Pericles advises having more children. According to section 44(1), what are the two benefits to the state when grieving parents have more children?

PnC_headerIn any controversy, both sides are likely to make one or two good points. It is your job as a voter to decide whether these points are decisive or  secondary.

  1. Pericles makes a number of sweeping claims about the benefits of freedom in Athens. (A): Identify the two claims that would be the hardest to prove with standard forms of evidence (such as statistics, inspections, interviews, etc.). (B):  Identify two claims that would be easier to prove, and briefly explain what evidence could be collected to support them. (C): For this kind of speech, how important is it that Pericles’ claims be provable?
  2.  Section 41 says people in the future will marvel at Athens’ monuments. Put his claim to the test. Looking at photos of the Acropolis, make a list of five factual statements about the culture of Athens – its capabilities, wealth, and values. If helpful, compare materials, technologies, and aesthetics to the pyramids of Egypt, the Eiffel Tower, or the Walt Disney Concert Hall (Los Angeles).
  3. As proof of Athenian military prowess, Pericles says Sparta has always had to beef up its army with allies. In contrast, Athens has divided its forces between an army and a navy (section 39). However, Pericles fails to mention that Athens has also relied on allies, who contributed ships and money to pay for mercenaries. It’s important to notice when key facts are missing. But how do you notice something when it isn’t there? One way is to form the habit of asking embarrassing questions, such as the opposing side might ask. As practice, choose three bold claims about the virtues of Athens, and then think of three embarrassing questions the Corinthians or Spartans might ask to uncover missing facts.

Tips for framing an embarrassing question:

  • Who gains, who loses? (follow the money)
  • What else is in the news right now (that you don’t want to talk about)?
  • When exactly do key events happen (timeline may tell the tale)
  • Where is the weakest link in your story? (unfounded assumptions, unproven cause-effect)
  • Why are you telling me all this? (hidden agenda)

RnW_headerLook for answers to questions raised in your reading.

  1. In a democracy, where all citizens are legally equal, there are still differences between rich and poor. What would Pericles say about such differences in the United States — for example, in our system of military service? Write a 500-word discussion, with references to the appropriate sections of Pericles’ Funeral Oration: 37(1), 40(1), and 42(2).
  2. Pericles came from a wealthy family, yet he led the democratic faction in Athens (opposed by the oligarchic faction). Read two biographical articles about Pericles’ background and his career in public service, and write a 500-word “portrait” of him. Include your impressions of his personality, based on the Funeral Oration. Did he have a positive view of humanity or a negative view?
  3. In section 45(2), Pericles offers the opinion that the greatest accomplishment a woman can achieve is not to be talked about. He was a man of his times, and that was the standard view back then. Taking a more enlightened view, research the roles of women in modern democracy. Have women voters and leaders changed democracy, or simply expanded the talent pool? Write a 500-word discussion, supported by at least one example from US or international history.

What Happened Next

Pericles persuaded Athenians to follow an unconventional strategy in the Peloponnesian War. Instead of sending infantry to fight infantry, which was Sparta’s area of strength, Athens concentrated on its strength in ships and money. While each side ravaged the other’s croplands, Athens had the ability to buy food and run a blockade against supplies coming to the Peloponnese. Over time, the Athenians would prevail, said Pericles — as long as they did not try to add new territory to their empire while the war was still going on.

One unexpected consequence of this strategy was an outbreak of plague in Athens. The city was jammed with citizens who lived outside the city walls before the war and had to come inside. Pericles died of the plague in 429 BC.

Cleon rose to greater influence after the death of Pericles. As a leader, Cleon favored harsh language and decisive action. He helped persuade Athenians to ignore Pericles’ advice against trying to add to the city’s empire. In 415 BC, Athens launched an expedition to Sicily that began its decline and defeat in the war.

Next up, Cleon:

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