'῎Αρξομαι δὲ ἀπὸ τῶν προγόνων πρῶτον· δίκαιον γὰρ αὐτοῖς καὶ πρέπον δὲ ἅμα ἐν τῷ τοιῷδε τὴν τιμὴν ταύτην τῆς μνήμης δίδοσθαι. τὴν γὰρ χώραν οἱ αὐτοὶ αἰεὶ οἰκοῦντες διαδοχῇ τῶν ἐπιγιγνομένων μέχρι τοῦδε ἐλευθέραν δι' ἀρετὴν παρέδοσαν. καὶ ἐκεῖνοί τε ἄξιοι ἐπαίνου καὶ ἔτι μᾶλλον οἱ πατέρες ἡμῶν· κτησάμενοι γὰρ πρὸς οἷς ἐδέξαντο ὅσην ἔχομεν ἀρχὴν οὐκ ἀπόνως ἡμῖν τοῖς νῦν προσκατέλιπον. τὰ δὲ πλείω αὐτῆς αὐτοὶ ἡμεῖς οἵδε οἱ νῦν ἔτι ὄντες μάλιστα ἐν τῇ καθεστηκυίᾳ ἡλικίᾳ ἐπηυξήσαμεν καὶ τὴν πόλιν τοῖς πᾶσι παρεσκευάσαμεν καὶ ἐς πόλεμον καὶ ἐς εἰρήνην αὐταρκεστάτην. ὧν ἐγὼ τὰ μὲν κατὰ πολέμους ἔργα, οἷς ἕκαστα ἐκτήθη, ἢ εἴ τι αὐτοὶ ἢ οἱ πατέρες ἡμῶν βάρβαρον ἢ ῞Ελληνα πολέμιον ἐπιόντα προθύμως ἠμυνάμεθα, μακρηγορεῖν ἐν εἰδόσιν οὐ βουλόμενος ἐάσω· ἀπὸ δὲ οἵας τε ἐπιτηδεύσεως ἤλθομεν ἐπ' αὐτὰ καὶ μεθ' οἵας πολιτείας καὶ τρόπων ἐξ οἵων μεγάλα ἐγένετο, ταῦτα δηλώσας πρῶτον εἶμι καὶ ἐπὶ τὸν τῶνδε ἔπαινον, νομίζων ἐπί τε τῷ παρόντι οὐκ ἂν ἀπρεπῆ λεχθῆναι αὐτὰ καὶ τὸν πάντα ὅμιλον καὶ ἀστῶν καὶ ξένων ξύμφορον εἶναι ἐπακοῦσαι αὐτῶν.
"I shall begin with our ancestors: it is both just and proper that they should have the honour of the first mention on an occasion like the present. They dwelt in the country without break in the succession from generation to generation, and handed it down free to the present time by their valour. And if our more remote ancestors deserve praise, much more do our own fathers, who added to their inheritance the empire which we now possess, and spared no pains to be able to leave their acquisitions to us of the present generation. Lastly, there are few parts of our dominions that have not been augmented by those of us here, who are still more or less in the vigour of life; while the mother country has been furnished by us with everything that can enable her to depend on her own resources whether for war or for peace. That part of our history which tells of the military achievements which gave us our several possessions, or of the ready valour with which either we or our fathers stemmed the tide of Hellenic or foreign aggression, is a theme too familiar to my hearers for me to dilate on, and I shall therefore pass it by. But what was the road by which we reached our position, what the form of government under which our greatness grew, what the national habits out of which it sprang; these are questions which I may try to solve before I proceed to my panegyric upon these men; since I think this to be a subject upon which on the present occasion a speaker may properly dwell, and to which the whole assemblage, whether citizens or foreigners, may listen with advantage."
Here Pericles veers toward what he suggests is conventionality, the praise of the ancestors. Again there is some parallel in our own pre-eminent funeral oration: "Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers...."
The reference to ancestors living in the land without any break ("αἰεὶ οἰκοῦντες," "ever living") has a significance that may not be readily apparent. A.R. Burn, in The Classical Age (op. cit.) notes that this claim is made, not only by Pericles here in the funeral oration, but also by Thucydides himself in the first pages of his history, and that there was, among the Greeks a certain prestige to being a "native," to being "earth-born" from a particular location, from time immemorial, and that it was a claim that the Spartans, specifically, as Dorians, could not make.
Pericles significantly begins by praising the "ancestors, "προγόνων", but reserves even greater praise for "our own fathers, "οἱ πατέρες ἡμῶν." The ancestors are to be praised for founding the city, but the achievement of the fathers, which here receives grater praise, is the "empire which we now possess," "ὅσην ἔχομεν ἀρχὴν."
"Empire" is not quite the right word, I think, for "arche," "ἀρχὴ," though it is the conventional one. Empire conveys an impression of hugeness, the modern empires on which the sun never set, or the ancient empires, Rome or China, which dominated their own known worlds. There is another connotation of the word, an assemblage of diverse nations, such as the Austro-Hungarian Empire. And a third connotation, the notion in certain manifestations of Christendom that secular power was best unified in a Christian emperor set over other Christian rulers.
Obviously the Athenian "empire" was none of these things. In size it was modest, and indeed dwarfed by the next-door Persian Empire. It was an assemblage of Greek-only polities. But it was this achievement of "arche" which Pericles most praises as the achievement of the fathers--not the ancestors. There is a certain pride in the mere domination of other Greeks, and anyone having read the previous pages of the history will have known that it was this growing power of Athens that most disturbed the generally slow-to-act Spartans.
Nevertheless, he will "pass by" their recent history, for reason of everyone's familiarity with Athens' military valor. Rather, he will concentrate on the unmilitary, the "unvalorous" causes of Athens' dominance, "what the form of government ("ἐπιτηδεύσεως") under which our greatness grew, what the national habits ("τρόπων") out of which it sprang."