Thursday, June 01, 2006

Pericles' Funeral Oration

Having lent Mr Howell my copy of "A War Like No Other", and in the week of Memorial Day in the US, Thucydides has been lurking in the back of my mind.

Here is an extract from Pericles Funeral Oration. Did anyone ever put it better or more succinctly?

Our political system does not compete with institutions which are elsewhere in force. We do not copy our neighbours, but try to be an example. Our administration favors the many instead of the few: that is why it is called democracy.
The laws afford equal justice to all alike in their private disputes, but we do not ignore the claims of excellence. When a citizen distinguishes himself, then he will be called to serve the state, in preference to others, not as a matter of privilege but as a reward of merit; and poverty is no bar…
The freedom we enjoy extends also to ordinary life; we are not suspicious of one another, and do not nag our neighbour if he chooses to go his own way. But this freedom does not make us lawless. We are taught to respect the magistrates and the laws, and never to forget that we must protect the injured. And we are also taught to observe those unwritten laws whose sanction lies only in the universal feeling of what is right.
Our city is thrown open to the world; we never expel a foreigner. We are free to live exactly as we please, and yet we are always ready to face danger. We love beauty without indulging in fancies, and although we try to improve our intellect, this does not weaken our will.
To admit one’s poverty is no disgrace with us; but we consider it disgraceful not to make an effort to avoid it. An Athenian citizen does not neglect public affairs when attending to his private business… We consider a man who takes no interest in the state not as harmless, but as useless; and although only a few may originate a policy, we are all able to judge it.
We do not look upon discussion as a stumbling-block in the way of political action, but as an indispensable preliminary to acting wisely. We believe that happiness is the fruit of freedom and freedom that of valor, and we do not shrink from the dangers of war.
To sum up, I claim that Athens is the School of Hellas, and that the individual Athenian grows up to develop a happy versatility, a readiness for emergencies, and self-reliance.

Strange that I can imagine Churchill barking these words, but I can't imagine Blair whining his way through them.

Meditating upon "we are also taught to observe those unwritten laws whose sanction lies only in the universal feeling of what is right" certainly exposes the madness of much current legislation.

No comments: