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Pericles Funeral Speech and Jefferson Declaration of Independence Essay

September 11, 2001, two planes crash into the World Trade Center, people diving out windows to their deaths, a plane crashes into the Pentagon, hijackers overtaken by passengers and crash the plane into a field in Pennsylvania. December 2003, mass graves uncovered in Iraq, compliments of Saddam Husayn. May, 2004, a web page shows terrorists cutting off the head of Nick Berg. August 2004, over 350 children are executed by terrorists in a school in Russia. Democracy is being threatened by enigmatic zealots all over the world.

The United States have fought for Democracy as far back as the Revolutionary War, and both World Wars. Once again our military is being asked to make the ultimate sacrifice in the attack on democracy against these zealots.

Fighting for democracy has been the cause of wars since the days of Pericles.

Pericles states that “Our constitution does not seek to copy the laws of our neighbors; we are an example to others, not imitators of them”. During his time there was usually one ruler that had the power over life and death, the mass of people did not matter. In Athens this was far from the case. Athens created its own government, one that was for the people, and benefited the people. Pericles said with conviction, “As far as public life is concerned, we live as free men”. The people of Athens had a government that supported them; they were all equal in the eyes of the government. The city of Athens stood by itself; it needed no others to help it. She left her gates open to all and did not concern herself with excluding foreigners. Her military stood alone. Athens never advanced into another territory with Allies; she did it alone.

He also marvels in the fact that Athens does not live for the fear of war. He states that they live free, but are always ready if in danger. He even goes so far to say that his enemies are happy with a victory over a small part of the army. Pericles praises Athens for her form of government – democracy – because it is only in a democracy that citizens are encouraged to contribute and participate in self-rule. Democracy brings equality, merit brings public success, social and economic mobility is encouraged, and the law protects all: “We alone consider the man who refuses to take part in city affairs useless,” Pericles announces. And he gets in a dig at Sparta by proudly proclaiming that “rather than look upon discussion as a stumbling-block in the way of action, we think it is an indispensable preliminary to any wise action at all.”

Pericles encourages his audience “to realize the greatness of Athens” and enjoy everything the city has to offer: “Further, we provide many ways to refresh the mind from the burdens of business. We hold contests and offer sacrifices all the year round, and the elegance of our private establishments forms a daily source of pleasure and helps to drive away sorrow. The magnitude of our city draws the produce of the world into our harbor, so that to the Athenian the fruits of other countries are as familiar a luxury as those of his own.” What Pericles talks about in his speech is almost dimmed in importance by how he delivers the message. It is Pericles’ rhetoric that makes this speech famous and the model for so many others in the course of history.

Throughout his speech, Pericles holds up glory as the incentive for men to rush to battle for their freedom: Athens is a glorious city because of the sacrifices of previous generations of men, and this generation, too, must shoulder its burden. And while fighting for your country can help bring about a victory, it also has the benefit of bringing you personal glory, something Pericles believes can be gained in no other way than by dying for your country: “Realize for yourself the power of Athens, and feed your eyes upon her day after day, till you become her devoted lover. Then, when all her greatness breaks upon you, reflect that it was by courage, sense of duty and a keen feeling of honor in action that men were enabled to win all this, and that no personal failure in an enterprise could make them consent to deprive their country of their valor, but they laid it at her feet as the most glorious contribution they could offer.

By this mutual offering of their lives made by them all, they each of them individually received that renown which never grows old. For a sepulcher they have won not so much that tomb in which their bones are here deposited, but that noblest of shrines wherein their glory is laid up to be eternally remembered upon every occasion on which deed or story shall fall for its commemoration. For heroes have the whole earth for their tomb.” Pericles’ speech is certainly persuasive. Its passion is based in reality. It is a powerful to see a nation mourn its war dead. In the end Pericles accomplishes his goal to inspire a city in mass mourning for its lost warriors.

Woodrow Wilson was faced with a call to arms when in 1917 he proclaimed American entrance into World War I a crusade to make the world “safe for democracy.”

Pericles, in his funeral oration, talks of valor as being very honorable. He comments that “Choosing to die resisting, rather than to live submitting” is a bold and courageous act and it deserves praise and glory. He says the soldiers “fled only from dishonor, but met danger face to face”.

Abraham Lincoln was faced with a similar task. The Gettysburg Address was delivered on November 19, 1863, at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, during dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery. Lincoln’s speech is more humble than Pericles, but just as passionate. He is careful in not mentioning either side of the war; he only speaks of the nation as a whole. “Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether the nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as the final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that this nation might live.” Lincoln pays tribute to not only the Union army, but the Confederate as well, by saying “The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.”

There are obvious parallels between Pericles’ and Lincoln’s speeches. They both set out to accomplish the same thing just in different ways. Another famous writer and scholar with a similar view of Athenian society, Sophocles, chose to voice his opinion through playwright. Specifically in his two great tragedies Oedipus the King and Antigone. Pericles and Sophocles, although coming from different ends of the spectrum (the aforementioned oratory or rhetoric and the latter fictional), both consider the individual and the state in their works and come to similar conclusions with some exceptions. Pericles expresses his views in his “Funeral Oration”, where he boasts of the great qualities of Athens, its citizens and soldiers. Sophocles injects his thoughts and ideas into his two masterpieces, Oedipus the King and Antigone.

In the following paper, I will compare the men’s ideas and views on the subject of the individual and the state. In particular, their thoughts on the importance of military excellence, honor, courage, and views on women. Both men considered loyalty in battle and involvement in public matters very important. According to Pericles, military achievements and honor make up for anything wrong one does as a citizen (for example, refusing to take part in city affairs). The Greeks obviously looked upon excellence in the military very highly. of all our neighbors, we alone consider the man who refuses to take part in city affairs as useless….For there is justice in the claim that steadfastness in his nation’s battles provides a cloak to cover a man’s other imperfections; the good action blots out the bad, and his merit as a citizen more than outweighs his faults as an individual (Pericles 58-59, 60). Sophocles expresses similar views on the matter in his play Antigone, Creon talks of loyalty to the state as having utter importance: As I see it, whoever assumes the task, the awesome task of setting the city’s course, and refuses to adopt the soundest policies but fearing someone, keeps his lips locked tight, he’s utterly worthless….But whoever proves his loyalty to the state – I’ll prize that man in death as well as life (Antigone 48-49).

Creon backs up his words with actions. He goes on to talk of Eteocles and Polynices, the two sons of Oedipus: Eteocles will be given a proper burial, since he went down fighting for Thebes, being loyal to his city; Polynices, on the other hand, committed treason and went against everything Creon stands for and believes in, therefore “he must be left unburied, his corpse carrion for the birds and dogs to tear, an obscenity for the citizens to behold! These are my principles. Never at my hands will the traitor be honored above the patriot” (Antigone 49). As examined, patriotism was held very highly by the Greeks, as seen in Pericles’s oration and Sophocles’s plays we again come across an intersection in both statesmen’s ideas, this time on the subject of courage. Pericles, in his funeral oration, talks of valor as being very honorable. He comments that “Choosing to die resisting, rather than to live submitting” (Pericles 60) is a bold and courageous act and it deserves praise and glory.

He says the soldiers “fled only from dishonor, but met danger face to face” (Pericles 60). Do these characteristics bring anyone we know to mind? The answer is yes, and two people come to mind: Antigone and Oedipus. Sophocles’s heroin (Antigone) is the ultimate example of the subject Pericles discusses. True, Antigone was not a soldier, but she went against her uncle’s beliefs and commands, and did what was right according to the gods. In burying her brother and then announcing her actions to the world, she “fled only from dishonor, but met danger face to face.” Antigone questioned Creon and proudly stated she was the offender, and did not regret her actions. Oedipus, instead of giving in to fate, battled it for as long as he could until fate finally beat him. Although it seems that Sophocles writings parallel Pericles views on women’s inferiority, certain excerpts provide a basis that Sophocles’ views contradict those presented in the Funeral Oration.

Pericles states, “if I must say anything on the subject of female excellence….Great will be your glory in not falling short of your natural character; and greatest will be hers who is least talked of among the men whether for good or for bad” (Pericles 61-62). In an excerpt from Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, it is seen that Oedipus gives great weight to Jocasta’s opinion. Oedipus compares stories with Jocasta on the death of the king. He listens to Jocasta’s side of the story, not putting her in a subordinate position or looking at her as inferior (Oedipus the King 23). In Summation, Pericles and Sophocles (although coming from different ends of the spectrum) both consider the individual and the state in their works and come to similar conclusions with some exceptions on the different aspects of the relationship.

They both praise loyalty, involvement in state affairs, and honorable death. To note, in my research I found more expression of Sophocles’s views which correlate with Pericles’s in Antigone and not so much in Oedipus the King. All three of three of the pieces were written in times when the definition of freedom, independence, democracy were still new and not well defined in their respective societies. But still in each piece the message is similar and very clear. That message is that it is necessary and good for people to sacrifice themselves for their beliefs and the good of their society.


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