Pericles, an inscribed bust in the Vatican



Pericles: Last Speech

(Thucydides Book II, 59-64)

After the second invasion of the Peloponnesians there had been a change in the spirit of the Athenians. Their land had been twice devastated, and they had to contend with the war and the plague at the same time. Now they began to blame Pericles for having persuaded them to go to war and to hold him responsible for all the misfortunes which had overtaken them. They became eager to make peace with Sparta, and actually sent ambassadors there, though they failed to achieve anything. They were then in a state of utter hopelessness, and all their angry feelings turned against Pericles.

Pericles himself saw well enough how bitterly they felt at the situation in which they found themselves. He saw, in fact, that they were behaving exactly as he had expected that they would. He therefore, since he was still strategos, summoned an assembly, with the aim of putting fresh courage into them and of guiding their embittered spirits so as to leave them in a calmer and more confident frame of mind.

Coming before them, he made the following speech:

" I expected this outbreak of anger on your part against me, since I understand the reasons for it; and I have called an assembly with this object in view: to remind you of your previous resolutions and to put forward my own case against you, if we find that there is anything unreasonable in your anger against me and in your giving way to your misfortunes. My own opinion is that when the whole State is on the right course it is a better thing for each separate individual than when private interests are satisfied but the State as a whole is going down hill. However well off a man may be in his private life, he will still be involved in the general ruin if his country is destroyed. On the other hand, so long as the state itself is secure, individuals have a much greater chance of recovering from their personal misfortunes. Therefore, since a State can support individuals in their suffering, but no one person by himself can bear the load that rests upon the State, is it not right for us all to rally to her defense? Is it not wrong to act as you are doing now? For you have been so dismayed by disaster in your homes that you are losing your grip on the common safety; you are attacking me for having spoken in favor of war and yourselves for having voted for it.

"So far as I am concerned, if you are angry with me, you are angry with one who has, I think, at least as much ability as anyone to see what ought to be done, and to explain what he sees, one who loves his city and one who is above being influenced by money. A man who has the knowledge but lacks the power to express it clearly is no better off than if he never had any ideas at all. A man who has both these qualities, but lacks patriotism, could scarcely speak for his own people as he should. And even if he is patriotic as well, but not able to resist a bribe, then this one fault will expose everything to the risk of being bought and sold. So, if at the time when you took my advice and went to war you considered that my record with regard to these qualities was even slightly better than that of others, then now surely, it is quite unreasonable for me to be accused of having done wrong...."

[tr. Rex Warner (adapted)]

April 23, 2011 11:32 AM

John Paul Adams, CSUN

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