Rhetoric and Demographic Leadership

Pericles’ skill as an orator was definitely the key to his success as a leader. Pericles’ Funeral Oration stands as the great example of epideictic oratory, particularly the form, which is known to the Greeks as ‘epitaphios logos’. The speech was delivered in 430 B.C.E., after the first year of the Peloponnesian War. Moreover, the speech was mandated according to the laws of the democracy. The basic concern of the speech was to esteem those who have died during the war. Pericles viewed this event as an alternative to promote more complicated themes than memorials, although plaint, solace, and memorial of the dead definitely were  the fundamental themes of the speech. Only after one year of what Pericles knew would have to raise the spirits of people and persuade them to continue the struggle by reviewing for them what they had already possessed and what they might lose. The Funeral Oration, then, is an oration as much about the living as about the dead. The speech is an eulogy of Athens’ accomplishments, created to arouse the feelings of an empire, which is still fighting.

To carry out his purpose, Pericles divided the Funeral Oration into four parts, the introduction, praise of the Athenian democracy,  praise for the fallen heroes, and advice for the living. He followed the traditional rhetorical practices of the time in each section: humbling himself in the poem as a way of establishing credibility, focusing on the topoi for epideictic orator in the body of the speech, i.e., the arête or virtues of moral excellence, and concluding with an emotional appeal to patriotism among those who were present. As a result, the speech is a classic example of the use of Aristotle’s three modes of proof: ethos, logos and pathos.


Although strong themes and meanings relating the creation of Ethos, Pathos, and Logos may arguably be alleged to Pericles, the examples of rhetoric art and captivating equivoque obviously occur thanks to Thucydides. It does not mean Pericles was not able to use wordplay as an ingenious politician and supporter of literature; rather it is caused by the fact that the manuscript analyzed nowadays is the Thucydides’ interpretation of the Pericles’ speech. Pericles starts the speech with stoicism and esteem, worshiping the ancestors of Athens. “I shall begin with our ancestors, it is both just and proper that they should have the honor 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 valor” (Thucydides 40). While alluding the ancestors of the Athenians, Pericles creates an intense ethos with his audience. The Athenians were a modest society believing that they had status of the most civilized society on Earth at that time. It is an obvious fact in the comparison to their neighbors and enemies such as the Spartans. Athenians were very reverent towards those who had started, carried on a war, and won the city they lived in. Pericles continues his praises and proceeds to a glorification of the power and skills of the Athenian army and naval forces. He praises Athenians for being open and independent, while being welcoming to foreigners. However, he also indicates that despite being indolent and focusing on delightful way of life, they stay the strongest military power in Greece. Pericles explains that the Athenians are dignified and feared across the land, due to the fact that their opponents amplify their might when they attack Athens, and amplify even more when Athens show that they are able to aggrandize their own fame.

Then, Pericles moves to the Athenian nature and Athenian individual abilities. “In generosity we are equally singular, acquiring our friends by conferring, not by receiving, favors” (Thucydides 43). The favor-oriented character of Athens, which is underlined in the paragraph, must have been a question of honor for the society. It definitely contrasts against the ossified, martial character of the Spartans and the non-judgmental character of Persian Empire. This phrase obviously earned praise from Pericles’ audience, not because his audience was Athenian, but because of the pride it gave to the dead Athenian soldiers. The phrase is not meant to address the listeners preeminently, but the dead soldiers as well, earning his trust and dependence with their families and friends. At this point Pericles concludes, for the most part, his glorification of Athenian culture. “In short, I say that as a city we are the school of Hellas, while I doubt if the world can produce a man who, where he has only himself to depend upon, is equal to so many emergencies, and graced by so happy a versatility, as the Athenian. And that this is no mere boast thrown out for the occasion, but plain matter of fact, the power of the state acquired by these habits proves” (Thucydides 44).

Moreover, he connects all of his commendations so as if they were all one reasoned demonstration depicting Athenian supremacy. His final word on the topic was not, as he indicated, a simple ostentation. He manifested it with all of his speech thus far. Finally, Pericles holds force prestige and affiance in Athens as a military leader. If there is anyone who should be honoring Athens, it should be Pericles. After all, as he gets to the point of the speech, Pericles proceeds to the expressing gratitude and paying tribute to the soldiers killed in action. As  it is particular to the Greek living in Athens, Pericles does not obviate dramatic effects, rather he makes use of it to the full extend. Such phrases as, “the Athens that I have celebrated is only what the heroism of these and their like have made her,” and “none of these allowed either wealth with its prospect of future enjoyment to unnerve his spirit, or poverty with its hope of a day of freedom and riches to tempt him to shrink from danger” (Thucydides 44), corroborate the above-mentioned words. However, Pericles desires to finish his speech on an abrupt note. He does not bewail the soldiers killed in the action, nor does he propose commiseration to their families, as he states in the fourth to last paragraph. The lost lives are not something to be bewailed, he says, as men can notionally die at any time. “Fortunate indeed are they who draw for their lot a death so glorious as that which has caused your mourning, and to whom life has been so exactly measured as to terminate in the happiness in which it has been passed” (Thucydides 45). Pericles underlines that people should count themselves felicitous, because these men decided to die in such a way as to sacrifice for their city and society. That is why Pericles proposed them to appease in the fact that they had not made the sacrifice with no purpose. This is the ideal of a memorial speech: the fallen soldiers chose to die as heroes, and should be honored for it.

Plutarch, in his Life of Pericles, paints Pericles as politically cunning and attributes his success to his ability to mesmerize the people with lavish celebrations and building projects (Plutarch 94). He praises Pericles for the clever oratory skills and ability to persuade his opponents through speech. Thus, Pericles used his skills to promote the democratic cause in Athens. He then encouraged directly and indirectly, the rebuilding and the beautification of Athens after the Persian Wars. Therefore, Pericles’ leadership, inspiration, and military ability, brought Athens into its greatness during the fifth century BC. Plutarch believed that with the help of rhetoric art and the money converted from Athens’ loath co-belligerence, Pericles mould Athens into a splendid city and a forceful empire (Plutarch 101). Pericles clearly asserted the verity of what Plato said about rhetoric, that it is the government of the souls of people, and its main purpose is to apply to the emotions, which are the major strings of the soul, and involve an ingenious touch to be played on with effect. The unparalleled rhetoric skill possessed by Pericles allowed him not only to intensify his role as an imperious leader of the Athenian politics, but also to easily force his imperialist policies into application. It seems that Pericles offers a deceptive view of Athens and Athenians. In the speech, Pericles expounds the particular characteristics of the Athenians, overriding a lot of traditional Greek moral standards in a drastic new light. He depicted a new ideal of the Greek world. His view seems to be obviously the idolized one, and it makes no reckoning to the realities of party atomism, egoism, and arrogance that have been soon brought to the force after his death.

Works Cited

Plutarch. Lives that Made Greek History. Trans. P. Mench. Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company Inc, 2012, Print.

Thucydides. On Justice, Power, and Human Nature: Selections from History of the Peloponnesian War. Trans. P. Woodruff. Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company Inc, 1993. Print.