Who was Pericles?

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kipling2448 | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Pericles (c. 495-429 BC) was a Greek statesman and military leader during what was known as the Golden Age of Greece or, more specifically, of Athens.  

The son of an Athenian general himself, Pericles (the name means "Surrounded by Glory") was raised in an affluent family and trained as a lawyer.  His greatest reknown, however, comes from his generalship during the Peloponnesian Wars, and from the enduring legacy of his funeral oration, quoted by the historian Thucydides in his History of the Peloponnesian War.  At the massive public funeral for those who died in war, Pericles, according to Thucydides, emphasized the importance of Greek legal doctrine, which would be cited by the drafters of the U.S. Constitution many centuries later:

"If we look to the laws, they afford equal justice to all in their private differences...The freedom we enjoy in our government extends also to our ordinary life.  There, far from exercising a jealous surveillance over each other, we do not feel called upon to be angry with our neighbor for doing what he likes...We throw opone our city to the world, and never by alien acts exclude foreigners from any opportunity of learning or observing, although the eyes of an enemy may occasionally profit by our liberality..."   

Pericles' funeral oration, despite the political machinations that undoubtedly allowed him to rise to the heights of power in ancient Greece, continued to emphasize the philosophy regarding freedom that would be resurrected by the Founding Fathers of the United States, and for which many a Greek soldier died:

"...having judged that to be happy means to be free, and to be free means to be brave, do not shy away from the risks of war."

There were precious few historians -- let alone credible historians -- of the period during which Pericles lived.  Thucydides' history is considered an invaluable record of that period, but the historian's quotations, including the funeral oration attributed to Pericles, have to be considered as potentially embellished by Thucydides.  In any event, there is no question that Pericles was a very important figure in Greek history, and is considered the father of Athens for his role in its development as one of the great cities of history.

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