Sunday, October 5, 2014

Pericles' Funeral Oration

As suggested by an earlier post, I began last year to read Thucydides in Greek.  After the Republic I thought that it might be best to next tackle something heavy on sentences like "They built a wall" or "Then all the ships sailed out."  I had forgotten, of course, (as indicated by the op. cit. post), that there is quite a lot of talk in Thucydides.  And the most famous bit of talk is the Funeral Oration.

It is conventionally understood as the great expression of the Athenian spirit, and it is short enough that I hope I can cover it, section by section, occasionally and sporadically, as was the case with the Finnegans Wake posts.  My idea is to begin each post with a part of the oration, copying the Greek text from Book II of the Wikisource History of the Peloponnesian War cite and the English from the Pericles' Funeral Oration cite in the "Links" list to the left.  I will then make whatever comments come to mind.  If I have trouble coming up with interesting things to say I will make some lame excuse for quitting that, with a little luck, won't sound like just some lame excuse for quitting.  I should also note that it looks like it's going to be an unusually busy fall and winter both at work and with my family, and that these occasional fits and outbursts, as always, will remain subject to the requirement of non-virtual life.

Just a note on transliteration of Greek into Roman letters:  When commenting on a word or short phrase I will try to copy out the Greek and follow it with a transliteration.  My only limitation is that I have not yet figured out how to make a "long" sign over Roman vowels, so I will have to use "o" for both omicron and omega, "e" for both eta and epsilon.

How much of the speech is Pericles' and how much is Thucydides' is apparently a vexed question.  Plutarch's Life of Pericles contains not a hint of it.  For our purposes here I won't go much into the question, but plainly it can have some bearing on how we understand it, because Thucydides knew what Pericles could not, that Athens would lose the war.  That awareness goes very much to how to understand Pericles' repeated reasons why the Athenians should prevail.

Here is the introductory material, just before we begin with the speech proper:

᾿Εν δὲ τῷ αὐτῷ χειμῶνι ᾿Αθηναῖοι τῷ πατρίῳ νόμῳ χρώμενοι δημοσίᾳ ταφὰς ἐποιήσαντο τῶν ἐν τῷδε τῷ πολέμῳ πρώτων ἀποθανόντων τρόπῳ τοιῷδε. τὰ μὲν ὀστᾶ προτίθενται τῶν ἀπογενομένων πρότριτα σκηνὴν ποιήσαντες, καὶ ἐπιφέρει τῷ αὑτοῦ ἕκαστος ἤν τι βούληται· ἐπειδὰν δὲ ἡ ἐκφορὰ ᾖ, λάρνακας κυπαρισσίνας ἄγουσιν ἅμαξαι, φυλῆς ἑκάστης μίαν· ἔνεστι δὲ τὰ ὀστᾶ ἧς ἕκαστος ἦν φυλῆς. μία δὲ κλίνη κενὴ φέρεται ἐστρωμένη τῶν ἀφανῶν, ο῏ ἂν μὴ εὑρεθῶσιν ἐς ἀναίρεσιν. ξυνεκφέρει δὲ ὁ βουλόμενος καὶ ἀστῶν καὶ ξένων, καὶ γυναῖκες πάρεισιν αἱ προσήκουσαι ἐπὶ τὸν τάφον ὀλοφυρόμεναι. τιθέασιν οὖν ἐς τὸ δημόσιον σῆμα, ὅ ἐστιν ἐπὶ τοῦ καλλίστου προαστείου τῆς πόλεως, καὶ αἰεὶ ἐν αὐτῷ θάπτουσι τοὺς ἐκ τῶν πολέμων, πλήν γε τοὺς ἐν Μαραθῶνι· ἐκείνων δὲ διαπρεπῆ τὴν ἀρετὴν κρίναντες αὐτοῦ καὶ τὸν τάφον ἐποίησαν. ἐπειδὰν δὲ κρύψωσι γῇ, ἀνὴρ ᾑρημένος ὑπὸ τῆς πόλεως, ὃς ἂν γνώμῃ τε δοκῇ μὴ ἀξύνετος εἶναι καὶ ἀξιώσει προήκῃ, λέγει ἐπ' αὐτοῖς ἔπαινον τὸν πρέποντα· μετὰ δὲ τοῦτο ἀπέρχονται. ὧδε μὲν θάπτουσιν· καὶ διὰ παντὸς τοῦ πολέμου, ὁπότε ξυμβαίη αὐτοῖς, ἐχρῶντο τῷ νόμῳ. ἐπὶ δ' οὖν τοῖς πρώτοις τοῖσδε Περικλῆς ὁ Ξανθίππου ᾑρέθη λέγειν. καὶ ἐπειδὴ καιρὸς ἐλάμβανε, προελθὼν ἀπὸ τοῦ σήματος ἐπὶ βῆμα ὑψηλὸν πεποιημένον, ὅπως ἀκούοιτο ὡς ἐπὶ πλεῖστον τοῦ ὁμίλου, ἔλεγε τοιάδε.

"In the same winter the Athenians gave a funeral at the public cost to those who had first fallen in this war. It was a custom of their ancestors, and the manner of it is as follows. Three days before the ceremony, the bones of the dead are laid out in a tent which has been erected; and their friends bring to their relatives such offerings as they please. In the funeral procession cypress coffins are borne in cars, one for each tribe; the bones of the deceased being placed in the coffin of their tribe. Among these is carried one empty bier decked for the missing, that is, for those whose bodies could not be recovered. Any citizen or stranger who pleases, joins in the procession: and the female relatives are there to wail at the burial. The dead are laid in the public sepulchre in the Beautiful suburb of the city, in which those who fall in war are always buried; with the exception of those slain at Marathon, who for their singular and extraordinary valour were interred on the spot where they fell. After the bodies have been laid in the earth, a man chosen by the state, of approved wisdom and eminent reputation, pronounces over them an appropriate panegyric; after which all retire. Such is the manner of the burying; and throughout the whole of the war, whenever the occasion arose, the established custom was observed. Meanwhile these were the first that had fallen, and Pericles, son of Xanthippus, was chosen to pronounce their eulogium. When the proper time arrived, he advanced from the sepulchre to an elevated platform in order to be heard by as many of the crowd as possible, and spoke as follows."

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