Every year the Athenians gathered,
to have a massive public funeral
for all the dead who died in war.
And the Athenians as an imperial state and an ancient warrior state
were engaged in warfare almost all the time.
So there were almost always a few soldiers who had to be commemorated.
But in 431, which is the year that the
Peloponnesian War first broke out,
there were of course far more people,
far more young men had been killed.
Most of them actually in northern Greece and around the islands
than had for many many years.
So Pericles was actually asked
not because he was general,
but because he was regarded as having the most beautiful voice in the city.
To deliver the annual speech
in honor of the war dead.
An extraordinarily moving occasion in the civic calendar, because
of course many of the war dead were never going
to be brought back in any form at all.
There were empty coffins, which were ceremonially placed there,
so that people could remember their dead even if they hadn’t been brought back.
Others were brought back just as bones.
And he gave his speech and we are so fortunate
because Thucydides, the great Athenian historian
who was certainly a friend of Pericles
and was almost certainly actually there
and an eyewitness to this extraordinary occasion, recorded the speech.
这场演讲非常庄严 高尚 大气磅礴
Another thing to remember about this extraordinary speech, which is very very solemn,
very very elevated, full of grandeur.
Is that Pericles avoided really blatant,
nationalistic or jingoistic rhetoric
of the kind that we have in some other funeral speeches
that we have from antiquity.
And instead painted a picture
of what he saw the glories of
the Athenian democratic system, that these men had died to defend.
It’s the only occasion in the entire civic annual calendar,
where not only the citizen men, but all the women attended to.
The women, the orphaned children,
the bereaved old ladies and indeed
the resident foreigners.
So this was the one occasion in the civic
calendar where all of Athens was addressed together and
we know that women are listening.
Pericles’ own speech contained very famous lines
that you may have heard even though you don’t know they came from Pericles’ speech
as recorded by Thucydides, like:
Ask not, what your country can do for you,
Ask what you can do for your country.”
And many other beautiful lines in it
made it so influential that actually
Lincoln modelled part of the Gettysburg Address on Pericles’ funeral speech.
And there are resonances of it in Barack Obama’s inauguration speech
and in other speeches he gave around the time when he began his presidency.