Monday, July 6, 2015

Pericles' Funeral Oration, paragraph 4

'Καὶ μὴν καὶ τῶν πόνων πλείστας ἀναπαύλας τῇ γνώμῃ ἐπορισάμεθα, ἀγῶσι μέν γε καὶ θυσίαις διετησίοις νομίζοντες, ἰδίαις δὲ κατασκευαῖς εὐπρεπέσιν, ὧν καθ' ἡμέραν ἡ τέρψις τὸ λυπηρὸν ἐκπλήσσει. ἐπεσέρχεται δὲ διὰ μέγεθος τῆς πόλεως ἐκ πάσης γῆς τὰ πάντα, καὶ ξυμβαίνει ἡμῖν μηδὲν οἰκειοτέρᾳ τῇ ἀπολαύσει τὰ αὐτοῦ ἀγαθὰ γιγνόμενα καρποῦσθαι ἢ καὶ τὰ τῶν ἄλλων ἀνθρώπων.

"Further, we provide plenty of means for the mind to refresh itself from business. We celebrate games and sacrifices all the year round, and the elegance of our private establishments forms a daily source of pleasure and helps to banish the spleen; while the magnitude of our city draws the produce of the world into our harbour, so that to the Athenian the fruits of other countries are as familiar a luxury as those of his own.

In this short paragraph the delights of the city of Athens are set out.  "πόνων" is here rendered, "business" but the word also carries the connotation of distress, even suffering.  Athens, like any city, is a place of toil and stress, but it's not without compensations that are finer and greater than those found elsewhere. 

The pairing of "games and sacrifices," "ἀγῶσι μέν γε καὶ θυσίαις" reminds us that the religious activities of the ancient world provided entertainment for the citizens as well as propitiation of the gods.  Ancient drama (like modern drama) arose out of religious ceremonies.  It brings to mind the opening words of Plato's Republic, where Socrates registers his approval of the beauty and high pomp of a festival where he has been making his prayers.   And for Pericles these are matters for pride.

There is also the elegance of private life and the advantages of a dominance that brings abundant goods and luxuries.  I have heard it said that the Athenian of the classical age combined  a severely modest private life with a luxurious public one.  But Pericles, here, is as boastful about "private elegance," as public. And he has no compunction about Athens taking "the fruits of other countries."  Neither for Pericles, nor for any other Greek I can think of, does Democracy preclude empire, or exploitation.

The image that tops this posting comes from my recent trip.  It's a bust from the Vatican Museum--though I don't recall whether it's old enough for Pericles to have sat for it.  I know I should have checked, and it is indeed magnificent, but there are limits to human appreciation, and I must admit, my first impression was, "Oh, no, another giant room full of statues!"


No comments: