The Enduring Necessity of Periclean Politics

in Polis: The Journal for Ancient Greek Political Thought
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Thucydides’ interest in Pericles best comes to sight when we examine Pericles’ first speech in context. Situated at the end of Book i of the History, that speech concludes a set-piece that begins with the Corinthians’ final speech and whose bridge is the ‘digression’ on Cylon, Pausanias and Themistocles. Read as part of this narrative structure, Pericles’ speech represents the successful conclusion of a debate over political rule broadly understood. For Thucydides, that success consists in the ability of Pericles’ rhetoric to invite his audience to reflect on the ends of political life, a rhetoric that Thucydides promises to represent in his historiography.

The Enduring Necessity of Periclean Politics

in Polis: The Journal for Ancient Greek Political Thought




L. StraussThe City and Man (Chicago: University of Chicago Press1964) pp. 139-241; C. Bruell ‘Thucydides’ View of Athenian Imperialism’ American Political Science Review 68 No. 1 (1974) pp. 111-17; and ‘Thucydides and Perikles’ The St. Johns Review 32 (1981) pp. 24-29; C. Orwin The Humanity of Thucydides (Princeton: Princeton University Press 1994); Empire and the Ends of Politics: Plato’s Menexenus and Pericles’ Funeral Oration with trans. introduction and notes by S. Collins and D. Stauffer (Newburyport ma: Focus 1999).


T. Burns‘The Virtue of Thucydides’ Brasidas’The Journal of Politics73.2 (2012) pp. 508-23.


S. FordeThe Ambition to Rule: Alcibiades and the Politics of Imperialism in Thucydides (Ithaca: Cornell University Press1989).


T. Burns‘Nicias in Thucydides and Aristophanes’ Part I: Nicias and Divine Justice in Thucydides’Polis29: 2 (2012) and ‘Nicias in Thucydides and Aristophanes Part II: Nicias and Divine Justice in Aristophanes’ Polis 30:1 (2013).


See e.g. S. Monoson and M. Loraux‘The Illusion of Power and the Disruption of Moral Norms: Thucydides’ Critique of Periclean Policy’American Political Science Review92: 2 (June 1998) pp. 285-97 286 as well as Mary Nichols Thucydides and the Pursuit of Freedom (Ithaca: Cornell University Press 2015) p. 24. See also Taylor Idea of Athens who argues that Thucydides’ treatment of Pericles’ indirect speech at ii.13 suggests that disagreements with Pericles’ advice had been made public (pp. 49-50).


John ZumbrunnenSilence and Democracy: Athenian Politics in Thucydides’ History (University Park: Penn State University2010) p. 49 quoting Marc Cogan Human Thing.


In her gloss of this speech RomillyAthenian Imperialism pp. 116-17 remarks that the Athenians ‘must strive towards achieving the perfect condition that would be theirs if Athens were an island. . . . Pericles’ strategy thus emerges clearly from the analysis which he gives of the situation; it rests entirely on the principle of thalassocracy concerned as a sufficient and wholly satisfactory weapon: sea-power can achieve victory over land’; see also Ibid. p. 115fn11. Foster Periclean Imperialism takes this further arguing that Pericles’ claims for the significance of the Athenian navy ‘border on suggesting its divinity’ (p. 189).


NicholsPursuit of Freedom p. 26 notes that Pericles’ resort to persuasion and not force is additional proof that he governs Athens in accordance with its political freedom. But one might wonder if such freedom is better evinced through public deliberation over the wisdom of Pericles’ counsel. Or are the Athenians just more prone to trusting him?


See CoganHuman Thing p. 138.


See HornblowerCommentary Vol. I p. 206.


See M. MunnMother of the Gods Athens and the Tyranny of Asia: A Study in Ancient Religions (Berkeley: University of California Press2006) p. 21fn22 and pp. 21-22 and S. Hornblower Thucydides and Pindar: Historical Narrative and the World of Epinikian Poetry (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2004).


See B. Dobski‘Thucydides’ Philosophic Turn to Causes’Interpretation: A Journal of Political Philosophy37 2 (2010) pp. 123-55 and ‘Thucydides and the Soul of Victory: Olympic Politics in the Peloponnesian War’ in Socrates: Reason or Unreason as the Foundation of European Identity edited by Ann Ward (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing 2007) pp. 98-111 as well as Ludwig Eros & Polis pp. 261-96 especially 274.


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