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A short while after the Peloponnesian Battle had started in 431, Pericles delivered his speech; famously know by the name Funeral Oration, to commemorate the people who had been defeated and others who had died in battle. The speech is a viable source of knowledge to the present generation on how the ancient Athens was founded as well as the way the Athenian democracy comprehended itself. In the speech, Pericles connected the specific qualities of the ancient Athenians, giving new definitions to the traditional Greek desirable qualities in a fundamental new light. He decided to respect the dead praising the town which they had died trying to defend. Notably, his speech is divided into three main parts: firstly, there is a discussion about the glory of the Athens; secondly, the heroism of the departed; and he finally encourages the people. The speech is an excellent example of audience analysis and a classic statement of the rational position of statism.
Major Theme in the Speech
The central theme of the speech is bringing out the idea that Athenians had the capability of leaving their own petty desires and struggle for the well-being of the entire city. As a result of their togetherness and being held together by the bonds of a common trust plus the deep desire for freedom, Athenians submitted to the law and revered the public officials, not because it was mandatory as with the other cities, but because they wanted to. As a result, the Athenians had attained something unique: being rulers and at the same time being ruled. This molded them to a special kind of citizens with uncommon virtues such as tolerance, wisdom and transparency. They were a real definition of the Greek World. Pericles’ view was undoubtedly a much idealized one, and it paid less attention to the realities of arrogance, party factionalism and selfishness that was later witnessed after his death (Downton Abbey, 2012).
First Part of the Speech
In the very first part of his speech, Pericles starts by praising the Athenians. The Athenians revered the comfort, the culture as well as the viewpoint of humanism. Pericles’ glamorous praise of the Athenian culture is mainly geared in humanist philosophy of the Greeks. He stated that the governance format of the Athenians is in the hands of the whole people and not in the minority like that of their neighbors. Their government was more bent in being a role model for the others but not imitating the rest (Kovaka, 2006).
Typically, this must have sounded pleasantly sweet in the ears of the Athenians especially after mentioning that they were an education to the Greece. He further stressed that the Athenians were not just extravagant people who took no caution in their actions. On the contrary, he affirmed that they were capable of making an estimation of the risks ahead and plan well beforehand. The major challenges that Pericles had are exploring the values of the Athenians and then infuse them to his message.
The first point is designed to play the pride of the Athenians. In a culture that glorifies independent man, humans tend to find meaning via creation of man-made institutions such as the Athenian city-state. Through Pericles’ description of the people, he makes them feel contented with themselves, something that evokes patriotism.
Second Part of the Speech
In this portion of his speech, Pericles spoke passionately in praise of the dead soldiers who had sacrificed their lives for the well-being of the others hence had discolored out evil with good. At this particular point, he starts to draw the attention of his audience towards his main point. Having amused them with facts on the wonders of the Athens, people could do less but just accept the importance of the martyrs who died to protect it (Kovaka, 2006). This portion also uncovers the Greek inclination towards statism and its exploitation by Pericles. Being humanists, Greeks had the conviction that people can build a utopian society. To the Athenians, it was possible to create a good government and it was normal for them to pledge loyalty to the state.
It was believed that all the services performed for the well-being of the state were noble and that any man, irrespective of his past could be labeled a hero if he died in the battle field. This has the implication that if one, at some point is considered a criminal, but dies while defending the city; he would be reckoned a hero despite his previous acts. This is not only weird but also strange in the American society today.
Final Point in the Speech
Pericles concludes his speech boldly. If a modern politician in the present American society talks like this, he or she would indubitably be committing a political suicide. Pericles however succeeded with the Athenians. After building the values of statism on the base of the Greek humanist conscience, he introduces a fatal flaw in his speech and his audience still accepts him. The flaw is lack of respect for the individuals. He believed that personal well-being of individuals was nothing when compared to the state (Kovaka, 2006). As a result, he fails to sympathize with the bereaved and instead he calls for more sacrifice. He persuaded the Greeks that the state must be protected under all costs in order to defend the culture, government and generally the glory of the entire state. He called for further sacrifices from the young men who he asserted that had a lot to do.
In summary, Pericles’ Funeral Oration is an outstanding speech delivered by Pericles, a prominent Athenian politician, in 431BC. The speech was meant to commemorate people who had been defeated and others who had lost their lives in war. It was believed that anything performed for the interests of the state were noble and that any man, irrespective of his past could be labeled a hero if he died in the battle field. Though this was the main aim of the speech, other additional elements featured in the oration. This included praise of the Athenians, the state and a call for determination among others earlier discussed.