I subscribe to a magazine called “The New Republic”. Last night I read the latest issue, April 1 & 8, and noticed an advertisment for on page 21 which describes the ancient Athenian ruler Pericles with
Ever since I read some of Thucydides’s history of the Peloponnesian War, to include some of Pericles’ infamous speach, I have believed that Pericles used the War to change Athens’ democracy into a dictatorship–with Pericles being the Dictator-in-Chief.
Yet from *The Teaching Company’*s ad, I get the feeling that they bill Pericles as one of the Great People of freedom.
Have I been wrong all these years? Is Pericles actually a good guy rather than one of history’s power-grabbers? Does anyone know about this in depth?
Surely The New Republic, which I think is a reputable journal, wouldn’t publish a misleading ad–or, by accident, might they?
Pericles’ “Infamous speech”? Why infamous? Whether you admire Pericles or not, his speech has long been regarded in most circles as the greatest apology for democracy ever given.
Moreover, if you HAVE read “The History of the Pelopennesian War,” it should be clear that, in Thucydides’s eyes at least, Pericles was not only a great man but the one indispensible man in Athens.
I didn’t see the full ad you cite in the New Republic, but I’m GUESSING the ad was noting a certain irony in the respective executions of Jesus and Socrates. Jesus was executed by the Romans, which isn’t surprising, considering that the Romans placed much value on order and very little on individual liberty. Rome wasn’t a democracy, and hadn’t made any pretense of being a democracy (even the old Republic wasn’t REALLY a democracy). On the other hand, Athens WAS supposed to be a democracy, and the Greeks were SUPPOSED to respect free inquiry and philosophy. ANd yet, the city of Athens executed Socrates for his allegedly dangerous ideas, just as the non-democratic Romans executed Jesus for his.
It’s worth noting, however, that Socrates was MORE than a mere idle philosopher. He had large numbers of young followers to whom he preached that Athenian democracy was an abomination that needed to be destroyed, and replaced by rule of a virtuosu elite. Some of these followers led armed uprisings against the Athenian government, attempting to replace it with a dictatorship.
Plato, of course, didn’t discuss such things! So, if you rely solely on Plato for your understanding of Socrates, you’re only getting part of the story.
At any rate, while there’s no proof that Socrates instigated bloody rebellions, it’s not hard to understand why Athenians held him responsible for them… and why may of them probably considered hemlock a very LENIENT punishment for him.
Thanks, astorian. I knew that I should have erased the word “infamous”–or at least the first two letters. I even had the cursor there to do the deed.
Thucydides puts me to sleep and I don’t think that Pericles’ speech is very great–just a means to an end, namely switching Athens from a democracy to a dictatorship with Pericles being the dictator. Maybe I think too much about the two not-entirely-disparate fields of advertising and propaganda-during-war.
I note for the record that the U.S. is also not a democracy; that it is, as early Rome, a Republic.
So it seems that I’m wrong a second time; that Pericles’** speech** is considered “great”. But what about Pericles, himself. He is billed as being a great person in** freedom**. I have always believed the opposite. Am I wrong?
You could really have titled this thread better. The New Republic has very little control over its advertisements. It may reject ones that are truly offensive, but not just because they get the historical facts wrong. It would have been better to title this thread something so that people would have known you were talking about The Teaching Company’s courses. It would also be useful for you to tell us which of the courses this claim about Pericles occurs in. I’ve listened to a lot of their courses and I’m not sure which one you’re talking about. Just because The Teaching Company put out this course on tape doesn’t mean that they agree with everything the lecturer says in it. They expect all the lecturers to get the basic facts right, of course, but the lecturers in different courses on tape frequently differ about interpretations, just like the professors at a university might differ about their interpretations.
Many thanks, Wendell Wagner. I wondered why there were so few opinions–and I still don’t feel sure that yet another of my “childhood myths” has been dispelled or whether Pericles was, in truth, an enemy of freedom and a proponent of dictatorship.
I have to leave the Web in a few minutes. Perhaps I’ll try this querry again tomorrow with a better title.
Well, as for Pericles I think he tends to be regarded as a great man. My understanding is that he was the kind of man you could give control of the city to and he would give it back when the crisis was ended.
But its always dangerous to delve into this alot, because many of the ancient Greek philosophers seem to dislike democracy and warn against its excesses, so what they say might be a little biased, but on the other hand they did see a functioning democracy.
I would say Pericles is considered a great defender of freedom because he protected Athens from the excesses of democracy. After he is gone Athens seems to fall apart with squabbling for power. Athens isn’t so much defeated by Sparta as it destroys itself from within. One example is when the citizens get mad and send ships off to kill every man and enslave the women and children of some island because they refused to ally with them (I think), and then the next day regret it and send a ship to stop them, and just barely avert the slaughter. Thats a strong sign that something is wrong in the functioning of your government.
Then when the leaders of the people don’t like a really charismatic general named Alcibiades he is sent out of the city in an expeditionary force and then they decide to try him for blasphemy while he isn’t there to defend himself, so they end up getting rid of their own best general because they just don’t like him.
Thanks, DrMatrix. I was just taking advice from an old-timer,** Wendell Wagner**, with 1.434 KiloPosts, when he said
I didn’t know about being able to ask a moderator to change the title, or even that titles could be changed, and so I read too much into his suggestion.
When you said, galrion, “Well, as for Pericles I think he tends to be regarded as a great man. My understanding is that he was the kind of man you could give control of the city to and he would give it back when the crisis was ended,” I was nonpulsed. I had always thought nearly the opposite: that Pericles was almost the last person the Athenians would have picked to entrust their freedom to.
I admit that at the time I was reading Thucydides on the Pelopennesian War, it was as the text for the first subcourse in the U.S. Navy’s War College corresponding-course. Reading something as a text is always harder than reading it for pleasure or interest.
I skipped around a lot while trying to avoid the deadly fall-asleep-syndrome and was left with the distinct impression that Pericles was just another power-grabbing slut/prostitute/political-opportunist who was in the right place at the right time–right for Pericles, wrong for Athenian Democracy.
As for Freedom in Athens, earlier replies to this thread have led me to conclude that my faith and belief in “Athenian Freedom” might have been misguided; and I say this in the context of having read the paper given to us by Plato about the death of Socrates, as well as a substantial amount of reading about generalized ancient Greek history.
Incidently, as another possible self-myth that might be vulnerable to evaporation before the light of Truth, I have always believed that the Athenian trial actually sentenced Socrates to eviction & expulsion–through the artifice of ordering him to commit suicide. I don’t recall any compulsary device to require his suicide. I have always assumed that the Athenians expected Socrates, who honorably served Athens in war, to leave Athens and move to, say, Thebes. Am I wrong about this too, astorian?
That business about General Alcibiades, galrion, reminds me of what the Soviets did to Marshall Zukov or the Brits did to Col. T.E. Lawrence: Take the products of your best and brightest [soldier] then dump him. “History repeats,” as they say.