"The Whole Earth Is The Sepulchre Of Famous Men"

Context: The Peloponnesian War was a long and intermittent struggle (431–404 B.C.) between Sparta and Athens for the control of Greece. During the winter of 431–430 the Athenians, in accordance with ancestral custom, celebrated the funeral of those who had first fallen in the conflict. This was a public ceremony; three days beforehand the bones of the dead were laid out in tents, and everyone chose some offering and brought it to his own dead. "At the time of the funeral," says Thucydides, "the bones are placed in chests of cypress wood, which are conveyed on waggons; there is one chest for each tribe. They also carry a single empty litter decked with a pall for all whose bodies are missing, and cannot be recovered after the battle." Anyone who wishes to do so may accompany the procession, and most of the population does so. Female relatives lament the dead. The burial place is a beautiful spot outside the city walls, and all who fall in battle are buried there except those who, because of their great valor, were buried on the field at Marathon. After the cypress chests are solemnly interred, a person of great ability and reputation as a speaker is chosen to deliver the funeral oration; Pericles has been selected for the present occasion. The address he undertakes will still be famous over two thousand years after he is gone. In it he speaks first of the Athenians' ancestry and of their heritage; he praises their government and the high level of their society; he describes their greatness, destined to increase. He then speaks of the fallen, and of the bravery with which they met their end. It is because of such men that Athens is great; they valued their ideals and their way of life, and when it became necessary to do so gave their lives that these things might be preserved.

"Such was the end of these men; they were worthy of Athens, and the living need not desire to have a more heroic spirit, although they may pray for a less fatal issue. The value of such a spirit is not to be expressed in words. Any one can discourse to you for ever about the advantages of a brave defence which you know already. But instead of listening to him I would have you day by day fix your eyes upon the greatness of Athens, until you become filled with the love of her; and when you are impressed by the spectacle of her glory, reflect that this empire has been acquired by men who knew their duty and had the courage to do it, who in the hour of conflict had the fear of dishonour always present to them, and who, if ever they failed in an enterprize, would not allow their virtues to be lost to their country, but freely gave their lives to her as the fairest offering which they could present at her feast. The sacrifice which they collectively made was individually repaid to them; for they received again each one for himself a praise which grows not old, and the noblest of all sepulchres–I speak not of that in which their remains are laid, but of that in which their glory survives, and is proclaimed always and on every fitting occasion both in word and deed. For the whole earth is the sepulchre of famous men; not only are they commemorated by columns and inscriptions in their own country, but in foreign lands there dwells also an unwritten memorial of them, graven not on stone but in the hearts of men. . . ."