The Use of Rhetoric In Athenian Democracy Essay

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Rhetoric was a major factor in the development and maintenance of the Athenian government and was used by many in order to gain power and ascend in politics. The ascendance of the great demagogues in Athens during the time of the Peloponnesian war was heavily influenced by their rhetoric and ability to effectively guide the Athenian democracy. The democratic government was composed of two groups: “public speakers […], those who made proposals and publicly argued for or against political projects, and demos, those who as a group decided on the proposals” (Yunis, 1991: 179). With this idea of democracy instilled in Athens, speakers were given an opportunity to present themselves and their proposals in a manner that they anticipated to be the …show more content…
Pericles’ role as a demagogue is blatantly obvious in his speech, “The Funeral Oration”, found in The Landmark Thucydides. In 431 BCE, he is chosen to stand in front of the Athenians in a time of crisis and raise their spirits through an oration given to honour those who had fallen so far in the Peloponnesian War. Times of tragedy and crisis can cause uproar among a society and Pericles faces potential blame from The People. In the first paragraphs of his speech, he speaks of Athenian ancestors and predecessors who had also stood before The People to give similar speeches. He tells The People, “since [their] ancestors have stamped this custom with their approval, it has become [his] duty to obey the law” (Thuc.2.35). He also adds:
I could have wished that the reputations of many brave men were not to be imperiled in the mouth of a single individual, to stand or fall according as he spoke well or ill. For it is hard to speak properly upon a subject where it is even difficult to convince your hearers that you are speaking the truth. (Thuc.2.35)
Pericles lessens his superiority by admitting to human frailty and the possibility that he could fail while giving the speech. These disclosures given to The People are used as a security measure for Pericles; he tells them that he is obligated by law to give the speech and, by referring
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