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Pericles’ Funeral Oration: Athenian Exceptionalism Essay

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The first year of fighting between Athens and Sparta is drawing to a close. As is customary during war, Athens holds a public funeral to both celebrate and mourn their fallen soldiers. Such ceremonies typically featured an oration given by a respected Athenian – with this year’s coming from renowned statesmen Pericles. Previous orations had focused on celebrating the Athenian military by recounting their trials and accomplishments. Pericles decided to depart from this convention, believing it was no longer novel, nor necessary, “That part of our history which tells of the military achievements which gave us our several possessions, or of the ready valor with which either we or our fathers stemmed the tide of Hellenic or foreign…show more content…
Pericles takes time to laud democracy as a form of government. He believes the division of political power equally amongst citizens inevitably leads to laws that benefit the Athenian people as a whole. This in turn increase overall equality, and by extension, social mobility. Such a government is a just government in the eyes of Pericles, and thus, a shining example of Athenian superiority. “[Athens’] administration favors the many instead of the few; this is why it is called a democracy. If we look to the laws, they afford equal justice to all in their private differences; if no social standing, advancement in public life falls to reputation for capacity, class considerations not being allowed to interfere with merit; nor again does poverty bar the way, if a man is able to serve the state, he is not hindered by the obscurity of his condition.” (2.37.1).
Though a democratic government is great in theory, without educated and capable voters it’s potentially inefficient and incompetent. However, Athenian democracy thrives due to an informed public. Accordingly, so does the society it governs. “Our public men have, besides politics, their private affairs to attend to, and our ordinary citizens, though occupied with the pursuits of industry, are still fair judges of public matters; for, unlike any other nation, regarding him who takes no part in these duties not as unambitious but as useless, we Athenians are able to judge at all events if we cannot
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