History of the Peloponnesian War "The Whole Earth Is The Sepulchre Of Famous Men"
by Thucydides

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"The Whole Earth Is The Sepulchre Of Famous Men"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

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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...

(The entire section is 603 words.)