Who do you think were the intended audiences of Pericles' Funeral Oration and Xenophon’s description of the Spartan state? How might their purpose and intended audience affect their tone? Can we take these accounts at face value? Why or why not? What else would you like to know from the author?

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One important thing to consider in reading the Funeral Oration is that it was recorded by Thucydides in his History of the Peloponnesian Wars . In other words, it is not exactly a primary source, and its content was almost certainly edited by Thucydides himself, who was an Athenian. Of...

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One important thing to consider in reading the Funeral Oration is that it was recorded by Thucydides in his History of the Peloponnesian Wars. In other words, it is not exactly a primary source, and its content was almost certainly edited by Thucydides himself, who was an Athenian. Of course, the Funeral Address is essentially a paean to the Athenian way of life, as Pericles (and Thucydides) extols Athenian democracy, using the address to give meaning to the deaths of the slain and to the war itself. Pericles asserts that the war was being fought to defend this way of life, which was under threat from the Spartans. The fact that Pericles, a civic leader in time of crisis, was speaking to a crowd of Athenian citizens needs to be remembered. His is not a dispassionate description of Athenian society and political systems. Rather, it is a political speech, heavy in propaganda, that is intended to rally his listeners to make continued sacrifices to the cause.

Xenophon, a historian like Thucydides, provides one of the richest descriptions of Spartan life. Xenophon, who was himself a military leader, was also a professed admirer of Sparta. In his work The Constitution of the Spartans, he explains what he calls the "unique position of Sparta" by pointing to the "peculiar institutions of the Spartans." These he compares favorably to those of Athens. Again, these must be read in light of the fact that Xenophon himself was a defender (literally, he fought for Sparta) of this way of life. This does not mean that his work should be dismissed, but that his depiction of the Spartans is an admiring one that should be read against other accounts.

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In terms of audience, both works were aimed primarily at wealthy males, as slaves and women were generally excluded from civic discourse. Since both texts as we have them were written, the audience would have been very well-educated men or those who could afford literate slaves who could read to them; literacy rates in this period represented a small percentage of the population.

Xenophon's Constitution of the Spartans, although nominally written to supply information about the Spartan state which had not previously been written down and too explain the excellence of its culture, also serves as a form of self-justification for Xenophon, who despite being an Athenian was pro-oligarchic and actually served with Spartan military units. Since the Athenians fought against Sparta in the Peloponnesian Wars, this behavior required substantial apologetics. Because of this element of self-justification and propagandistic support for Sparta, one cannot regard Xenophon as an entirely reliable narrator.

Pericles' Funeral Oration has been preserved in Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War. The audience would have been Athenian and thus the text was designed to stir up civic pride. The speech would have been intended as political propaganda rather than straightforward history and thus is somewhat biased. Moreover, the work as we now read it was not a verbatim transcript of the speech. Thucydides may have done substantial editing.

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