If you walk around a town a bit, and keep your eyes open, you will be surprised how many monuments there are to those Philadelphians who fell in the defense of democracy and freedom and who are honored for what Pericles calls “extraordinary valor.” On the left is the reconstructed ancient memorial which lists the names and of each Athenian soldier – according to his tribe – who died fighting the Persians at Marathon. Below are views of the Philadelphia memorial (along Penn’s Landing, but across the street from the river) that recognizes in much the same way – names inscribed in marble – the similar very special sacrifice made by each and every Philadelphian soldier who died in the defense of freedom in South Vietnam. The design of this Philadelphian Vietnam Memorial has its model in Washington D.C.
We can only hope that Pericles’ words also apply to ourselves:
“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 sepulchre 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 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, 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 jab 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.”
The institutions of Athenian democracy back up Pericles’ claim: ordinary citizens made up almost all the governing bodies of 5th century Athens, including the Ekklesia, the boule, and the prytaneis. The Ekklesia, or Assembly, which passed laws and made policy decisions, met on the Hill of the Pnyx (all citizens were eligible to attend such meetings and speak up). The Boule, or Council of the 500, was charged with administering decisions made by the Ekklesia and met in the Bouleterion in the Agora. The prytaneis, or “Presidential Council,” was a subcommittee of the boule and lived at state expense in the tholos, or “Round Building” in the Agora. By Pericles’ time, the Areopagus (named for the Hill of Ares it sits on) had lost a lot of its power since the previous era, but it was still the court where murder cases were tried.
Pnyx Bouleterion Areopagus Tholos
You might see similarities with our own representative federal system as well as with state and city-level government. In fact, things aren’t really all that different here in Philadelphia today, except that perhaps American citizens are more likely to wonder what “our country can do for us rather than what we can do for our country.” But even our own Philadelphia literally revolves around City Hall (it is the hub of the city planner’s wheel) – where laws are conceived, legislated and enforced – and where average citizens participate in self-governing by voting and serving on juries. And I bet the nine dollars a day earned by jurors today is about equivalent to the two obols they got in Pericles’ time!
“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.”
stadium theater agora
fruits of the harbor more fruits!
Pericles’ description of the “greatness of Athens” also applies to Philadelphia.” How many of us take advantage of the pleasures our city offers?
Pericles persuades the people of Athens to allow public funds to be spent on the bulding of the Parthenon by suggesting that if they refuse to finance the project, they forfeit all future bragging rights: “Let it be charged to my account, not yours – only let the new edifices be inscribed with my name, not that of the people of Athens.” (Plutarch’s Life of Pericles; tr: Eduard C. Lindeman) Of course, although the people of Athens then encouraged Pericles to use public funds, and the Parthenon officially became the achievement of a city, it is Pericles whose name will always be connected with it. If you visit City Hall in Philadelphia and look closely at the corner stone of the building (left open to view in a deep hole somewhere in one of the covered walkways), you will find this notice marking City Hall similarly as a “Public Buildings of the City of Philadelphia” and on this notice you will find all the names of the men who held office during that time. Certainly their duty as officers of the public trust resulted in this monument to their age.
In much the same way that Pericles built a City of Temples atop the Acropolis (above), the city of Philadelphia chose to design the new Fairmount Waterworks in much the same way (below). Greek Revival architecture (a big interest of mine and soon to appear in its own right on this website) sought to re-capture the glory and of a fresh and impressive democracy by copying the magnificent architecture of the Greeks of Pericles’ Age.
(sorry – photos not yet available…)
Other examples of Greek Revival architecture in Philadelphia:
The 2nd National Bank was designed to look exactly like the Parthenon, except without the decorative sculpture…
What Pericles talks about in his oration is almost eclipsed 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 (in your IH Guide you will find Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, but one example). Rhetoric can be defined as “the power to persuade.” Throughout his speech, Pericles holds up glory as the richest incentive for men to jump into the fray: 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 hawks as a rare and precious commodity and gained in no other way but by dying for your country:
Pericles’ speech is certainly persuasive – and its emotionality is very much based in reality. Go to Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. and see what Pericles is talking about. It is a powerful experience to see a nation pay homage to its war dead.