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Thucydides famous statement of the Athenian statesman Pericles in History of the Peloponnesian War

By Edited Jun 12, 2016 0 0

Reilly writes about Thucydides famous statement of the Athenian statesman Pericles in his classic History of the Peloponnesian War.  Pericles praises personal freedom and public service but also presents a conflict between the two.  Personal freedom cannot be used while following the laws of public service.  Personal freedom can only take place in private and not in public.  Pericles also presents a conflict between the Athenian democracy and the determined empire.  For the Athenians to be democratic they had to be fair to everyone.  The empire was so very determined they tended to favor doing things that were non-democratic in order to make their empire grow. 

The ancient historian Thucydides shows Pericles praises both freedom and public service in his famous funeral speech of the Athenian statesmen Pericles.  Personal freedom is when a person can do whatever he or she pleases.  Public service is when we do things in a certain way to please all the public.  Personal freedom and public service cannot be achieved at the same time.  Therefore public service always comes before personal freedom.  Pericles presents a conflict between personal freedom and public service when he says:

But while the law secures equal justice to all alike in their private disputes the claim of excellence is also recognized; and when a citizen is in any way distinguished, he is preferred to the public service, not as a matter of privilege, but as the reward of merit (Reilly 91-92). 

In this statement Pericles implies that whenever there is a problem that deals with personal freedom the law is always applied to the situation, which indicates public service wins over personal freedom.  This is a conflict because the law is supposed to give freedom, but instead it takes away the freedom of many.  Pericles goes on to say, “While we are thus unconstrained in our private intercourse, a sprit of reverence pervades our public acts; we are prevented from doing wrong by respect for the authorities and for the laws” (Reilly 92).  Pericles is saying in order to do a good public service we must put our personal freedom behind us.  The law prevents us from doing wrong public services, which takes away our personal freedom.  Pericles would resolve this conflict by putting the government’s decision first, which would most likely be to put personal freedom aside when it comes to public services.  This is because Pericles believed strongly in democracy and doing what is right for everyone as a whole. 

Pericles does present a conflict in his speech between Athenian democracy and their determined empire.  The growth of the empire seems to be more important than the Athenian democracy.  Pericles praises the people who lost their life in order to help their empire grow.  Pericles says, “this empire has been acquired by men who knew their duty and had the courage to do it” (Reilly 94).  Pericles praises the men who died by saying they did the right thing for their country.  The men had to die in order for their empire to grow.  This is not democratic because the men do not want to die, they only died because they felt it was the right thing to do for their empire. 

            Pericles may praise both personal freedom and public service but he will always do what is better for the country as a whole.  Public service is pleasing to everyone so it will always come first over personal freedom even though personal freedom is a right by law.  Pericles believed in a strong government and rule by the government that allowed Athens’ economical clout and international reputation to rise.  The determined empire of Athens went against the Athenian democracy.  Pericles praises all men who died in fighting for Athens because it made them a stronger empire.  Pericles claims the men who died received praise, which means they all benefited from dying.  It is apparent that this was stated to show that it was a democratic thing to die for the empire.  Most would agree dying does not benefit that person in any way.  It benefits the empire by letting it become stronger. 



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