Pericles' Funeral Oration, by Philipp von Foltz, 1852 via wikimedia

Athens’ most famous landmark, the Parthenon, was one of many public works projects undertaken by Pericles, the city’s leading citizen. Painting: “Pericles’ Funeral Oration” (1852) by Philipp von Foltz via wikimedia


A Memorial Day Speech

This city is worth dying for

The war began in 431 BC. It was an Athenian tradition to hold a ceremony once a year in times of war to honor those who died in military service. The ceremony ended with a speech, which in 430 BC was delivered by Pericles (PARE uh kleez), a former general and the city’s most influential politician. This speech (probably embellished and stylized by Thucydides) is unusual for its lack of attention to heroic deeds. Pericles_Intro2It does not mention any campaigns or battles. No individual act of valor is singled out for commendation. There are no images of shining swords or clashing shields. The hero of the speech is the city of Athens.

After introductory remarks about speech-making and the legacy handed down by earlier generations (omitted here), Pericles describes the many ways in which the Athenian culture of freedom improves the lives of citizens. At times, his enthusiasm sounds like the gushing of a city booster, but his words about openness and opportunity for all still echo in the values we affirm today.

In this Funeral Oration, Pericles asserts that his praise of Athens is more than just boasting. Instead he is reminding Athenians of facts that they can see for themselves every day. Read this famous patriotic speech, and see if you agree its claims are well supported.

Pericles Speech:

Pericles Questions:

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