Political Sociology: A Reader

By S. N. Eisenstadt | Go to book overview

treat the kings with contempt from fear of the elders, who being selected from the best citizens would be sure all of them to be always on the side of justice; so that that part of the state which was weakest owing to its subservience to traditional custom, acquired power and weight by the support and influence of the elders. The consequence was that by drawing up his constitution thus he preserved liberty at Sparta for a longer period than is recorded elsewhere.

Lycurgus then, foreseeing, by a process of reasoning, whence and how events naturally happen, constructed his constitution untaught by adversity, but the Romans while they have arrived at the same final result as regards their form of government, have not reached it by any process of reasoning, but by the discipline of many struggles and troubles, and always choosing the best by the light of the experience gained in disaster have thus reached the same result as Lycurgus, that is to say, the best of all existing constitutions.


22
The Funeral Oration

Thucydides

34. In the course of this winter the Athenians, in accordance with the custom of their forefathers, buried at the public expense those who had first fallen in the war, after the following manner. Having erected a tent, they lay out the bones of the dead three days before, and each one brings to his own relative whatever [funeral offering] he pleases. When the funeral procession takes place, cars convey coffins of cypress wood, one for each tribe, in which are laid the bones of every man, according to the tribe to which he belonged; and one empty bier is carried, spread in honor of the missing, whose bodies could not be found to be taken up. Whoever wishes, both of citizens and strangers, joins in the procession; and their female relatives attend at the burial to make the wailings. They lay them then in the public sepulcher, which is in the fairest suburb of the city, and in which they always bury those who have fallen in the wars (except, at least, those who fell at Marathon; but to them, as they considered their valor distinguished above that of all others, they gave a burial on the very spot). After they had laid them in the ground, a man chosen by the state—one who in point of intellect is considered talented, and in dignity is pre-eminent—speaks over them such a panegyric as may be appropriate; after which they all retire. In this way they bury them:

and through the whole of the war, whenever they had occasion, they observed the established custom. Over these who were first buried, 1 at any rate, Pericles son of Xanthippus was chosen to speak. And when the time for doing so came, advancing from the sepulcher on to a platform, which had been raised to some height, that he might be heard over as great a part of the crowd as possible, he spoke to the following effect:

35. "The greater part of those who ere now have spoken in this place, have been accustomed to praise the man who introduced this oration into the law; considering it a right thing that it should be delivered over those who are buried after falling in battle. To me, however, it would have appeared sufficient, that when men had shown themselves brave by deeds, their honors also should be displayed by deeds—as you now see in the case of this burial, prepared at the public expense—and not that the virtues of many should be periled in one individual, for credit to be given him according as he expresses himself well or ill. For it is difficult to speak with propriety on a subject on which even the impression of one's truthfulness is with difficulty established. For the hearer who is acquainted [with the facts], and kindly disposed [toward those who performed them], might perhaps think them somewhat imperfectly set forth, compared with what he both wishes and knows; while he who is unacquainted with them might think that some points were even exaggerated, being led to

____________________
From Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, trans. Rev. Henry Dale (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1893), pp. 110-118.

-190-

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