Verse > Anthologies > Robert Bridges, ed. > The Spirit of Man: An Anthology

Robert Bridges, ed. (1844–1930).  The Spirit of Man: An Anthology.  1916.
Hist. ii. 37

Thucydides (c. 460–395 B.C.)
Pericles is speaking.

.. WE 1 have a form of government not fetched by imitation from the laws of our neighbouring states (nay we are rather a pattern to others than they to us), which, because in the administration it hath respect not to the few but to the multitude, is called a democracy. Wherein there is not only an equality amongst all men in point of law for their private controversies, but in election to public offices we consider neither class nor rank, but each man is preferred according to his virtue or to the esteem in which he is held for some special excellence: nor is any one put back even through poverty, because of the obscurity of his person, so long as he can do good service to the commonwealth. Moreover this liberty which we enjoy in the administration of the state, we use also one with another in our daily course of life, neither quarrelling with our neighbour for following his own humour, nor casting on him censorious looks, which, tho’ they be no punishment, yet they grieve. So that conversing among ourselves without private offence, we stand chiefly in fear to transgress against the public, and are obedient to those that are for the time in office, and to the laws, and principally to such laws as are written for protection against injury, and those which being unwritten, bring undeniable shame to the transgressors.
  We have also found out many ways whereby to recreate our minds from labour, both by public institution of games and sacrifices for all seasons of the year, and also in the comfort and elegancy of our homes, by the daily delight whereof we expel sadness. We have this further, that, owing to the greatness of our city, all things from all parts of the earth are imported hither, whereby we no less familiarly enjoy the commodities of other nations than our own. Then in the practice of war, we excel our enemies in this: we leave our city open to all men, nor is it ever seen that by the banishing of strangers we deny them the learning or sight of anything, from the knowledge of which an enemy might reap advantage: for we trust not to secret preparation and deceit, but on our own courage in the action. They in their discipline hunt after valour presently from their youth with laborious exercise, and yet we that live remissly undertake as great dangers as they …  2
  Such is the city for which these men, since they disdained to be robbed of it, valiantly fighting have died. And it is fit that every man of you that is left, should be like-minded, to undergo any travail for the same. I have therefore spoken so much concerning the city in general, as well to show you that the stakes between us and our enemies, who have nothing comparable to it, are not equal: as also to establish on a firm foundation the eulogy of those of whom I will now speak,—the greater part of their praises being hereby delivered … There was none of these who preferring the further enjoyment of his wealth was thereby grown cowardly … They fled from shame, but with their bodies they stood out the battle; and so, in a moment big with fate it was from their glory, rather than from their fear that they passed away. Such were these men, worthy of their country: and for you that remain, you may pray for a safer fortune; but you ought to be no less venturously minded against the foe: not weighing the profit … but contemplating the power of Athens, in her constant activity; and thereby becoming enamoured of her. And when she shall appear great to you, consider then that her glories were purchased by valiant men, and by men that learned their duty; by men that were sensible of dishonour when they came to act; by such men as, tho’ they failed in their attempt, yet would not be wanting to the city with their virtue, but made unto it a most honourable contribution. And having each one given his body to the commonwealth they receive in stead thereof a most remarkable sepulchre, not that wherein they are buried so much as that other wherein their glory is laid up, on all occasions both of word and deed, to be remembered evermore; for TO FAMOUS MEN ALL THE EARTH IS A SEPULCHRE: and their virtues shall be testified not only by the inscription on stone at home but in all lands wheresoever in the unwritten record of the mind, which far beyond any monument will remain with all men everlastingly. Be zealous therefore to emulate them, and judging that happiness is freedom, and freedom is valour, be forward to encounter the dangers of war.  3
Note 1. Thucydides. Hist. ii. 37. His version of the great Funeral Oration spoken by Pericles over the Athenians who fell in the first year of the Peloponnesian war: Chiefly from Hobbes’ translation. The style of Thucydides, when he passes from mere narration and engages in reflection or argument or rhetoric, becomes uncomfortably conscious of grammar and seems often in great difficulties. This quality, due perhaps to his not being a native Greek, is wholly bad; and yet he will again and again win a powerful beauty from it; as a man struggling desperately through a raging torrent may show movements of more forceful grace than one who is walking unimpeded. Such a manner is inimitable in modern English without affectation: But it happens that Hobbes in his old age translated Thucydides (helped probably by a French version?) and his masterful diction, encountering obstacles, dealt with them so as to produce a not dissimilar effect. For that reason I took his translation, and, where I altered it in order to give a more faithful interpretation, I attempted to maintain his strenuous style. If the result has any merit it is due to him; but I have made too many changes to be able to leave his name to it. [Trans. R. Bridges.] [back]

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