History of the Peloponnesian War

Pericles’s Funeral Oration (Perikles hält die Leichenrede) by Philipp Foltz (1852).

History of the Peloponnesian War

By Noah Apter

Author’s Statement:

Pericles’s Funeral Oration comes down the centuries as one of the most difficult pieces of ancient Greek literature to properly translate. To us classicists, it seems that Thucydides wishes to help us sharpen our teeth on his grammar. Why? It is in the nature of speeches to differ from narrative texts, the former tending to be “live,” while narratives deliver recollections of events past. Pericles’s epitaphios logos is designed to persuade those soldiers standing in the cold of winter. It is ornate, baroque, and rousing, with rhetorical devices rarely encountered in sequential narratives. The author has stepped back to allow our victorious general to speak for himself.

This is the second part of my translation of Pericles’s speech. Sections 4041 are primarily focused on the glory of Athens and her citizens. Pericles’s primary aim here is to praise Athens so that people will continue to fight for her glory, her freedom, her democratic values. And praise he does.


Thucydides 2.40-2.41

40: ‘φιλοκαλοῦμέν τε γὰρ μετ᾽ εὐτελείας καὶ φιλοσοφοῦμεν ἄνευ μαλακίας: πλούτῳ τε ἔργου μᾶλλον καιρῷ ἢ λόγου κόμπῳ χρώμεθα, καὶ τὸ πένεσθαι οὐχ ὁμολογεῖν τινὶ αἰσχρόν, ἀλλὰ μὴ διαφεύγειν ἔργῳ αἴσχιον. [2] ἔνι τε τοῖς αὐτοῖς οἰκείων ἅμα καὶ πολιτικῶν ἐπιμέλεια, καὶ ἑτέροις πρὸς ἔργα τετραμμένοις τὰ πολιτικὰ μὴ ἐνδεῶς γνῶναι: μόνοι γὰρ τόν τε μηδὲν τῶνδε μετέχοντα οὐκ ἀπράγμονα, ἀλλ᾽ ἀχρεῖον νομίζομεν, καὶ οἱ αὐτοὶ ἤτοι κρίνομέν γε ἢ ἐνθυμούμεθα ὀρθῶς τὰ πράγματα, οὐ τοὺς λόγους τοῖς ἔργοις βλάβην ἡγούμενοι, ἀλλὰ μὴ προδιδαχθῆναι μᾶλλον λόγῳ πρότερον ἢ ἐπὶ ἃ δεῖ ἔργῳ ἐλθεῖν. [3] διαφερόντως γὰρ δὴ καὶ τόδε ἔχομεν ὥστε τολμᾶν τε οἱ αὐτοὶ μάλιστα καὶ περὶ ὧν ἐπιχειρήσομεν ἐκλογίζεσθαι: ὃ τοῖς ἄλλοις ἀμαθία μὲν θράσος, λογισμὸς δὲ ὄκνον φέρει. κράτιστοι δ᾽ ἂν τὴν ψυχὴν δικαίως κριθεῖεν οἱ τά τε δεινὰ καὶ ἡδέα σαφέστατα γιγνώσκοντες καὶ διὰ ταῦτα μὴ ἀποτρεπόμενοι ἐκ τῶν κινδύνων. [4] καὶ τὰ ἐς ἀρετὴν ἐνηντιώμεθα τοῖς πολλοῖς: οὐ γὰρ πάσχοντες εὖ, ἀλλὰ δρῶντες κτώμεθα τοὺς φίλους. βεβαιότερος δὲ ὁ δράσας τὴν χάριν ὥστε ὀφειλομένην δι᾽ εὐνοίας ᾧ δέδωκε σῴζειν: ὁ δὲ ἀντοφείλων ἀμβλύτερος, εἰδὼς οὐκ ἐς χάριν, ἀλλ᾽ ἐς ὀφείλημα τὴν ἀρετὴν ἀποδώσων. [5] καὶ μόνοι οὐ τοῦ ξυμφέροντος μᾶλλον λογισμῷ ἢ τῆς ἐλευθερίας τῷ πιστῷ ἀδεῶς τινὰ ὠφελοῦμεν. 

41: ‘ξυνελών τε λέγω τήν τε πᾶσαν πόλιν τῆς Ἑλλάδος παίδευσιν εἶναι καὶ καθ᾽ ἕκαστον δοκεῖν ἄν μοι τὸν αὐτὸν ἄνδρα παρ᾽ ἡμῶν ἐπὶ πλεῖστ᾽ ἂν εἴδη καὶ μετὰ χαρίτων μάλιστ᾽ ἂν εὐτραπέλως τὸ σῶμα αὔταρκες παρέχεσθαι. [2] καὶ ὡς οὐ λόγων ἐν τῷ παρόντι κόμπος τάδε μᾶλλον ἢ ἔργων ἐστὶν ἀλήθεια, αὐτὴ ἡ δύναμις τῆς πόλεως, ἣν ἀπὸ τῶνδε τῶν τρόπων ἐκτησάμεθα, σημαίνει. [3] μόνη γὰρ τῶν νῦν ἀκοῆς κρείσσων ἐς πεῖραν ἔρχεται, καὶ μόνη οὔτε τῷ πολεμίῳ ἐπελθόντι ἀγανάκτησιν ἔχει ὑφ᾽ οἵων κακοπαθεῖ οὔτε τῷ ὑπηκόῳ κατάμεμψιν ὡς οὐχ ὑπ᾽ ἀξίων ἄρχεται. [4] μετὰ μεγάλων δὲ σημείων καὶ οὐ δή τοι ἀμάρτυρόν γε τὴν δύναμιν παρασχόμενοι τοῖς τε νῦν καὶ τοῖς ἔπειτα θαυμασθησόμεθα, καὶ οὐδὲν προσδεόμενοι οὔτε Ὁμήρου ἐπαινέτου οὔτε ὅστις ἔπεσι μὲν τὸ αὐτίκα τέρψει, τῶν δ᾽ ἔργων τὴν ὑπόνοιαν ἡ ἀλήθεια βλάψει, ἀλλὰ πᾶσαν μὲν θάλασσαν καὶ γῆν ἐσβατὸν τῇ ἡμετέρᾳ τόλμῃ καταναγκάσαντες γενέσθαι, πανταχοῦ δὲ μνημεῖα κακῶν τε κἀγαθῶν ἀίδια ξυγκατοικίσαντες. [5] περὶ τοιαύτης οὖν πόλεως οἵδε τε γενναίως δικαιοῦντες μὴ ἀφαιρεθῆναι αὐτὴν μαχόμενοι ἐτελεύτησαν, καὶ τῶν λειπομένων πάντα τινὰ εἰκὸς ἐθέλειν ὑπὲρ αὐτῆς κάμνειν.



40: For we are both lovers of beauty with a sense of thrift and lovers of wisdom without softness: we make use of wealth as an opportunity for action more than as a topic for boasting; and it is not a shameful thing for one to admit that he is poor, but it is a more shameful thing to not avoid action. We attend to domestic affairs and political matters at the same time, and for the others pursuing deeds, there is a satisfactory understanding of political matters: for we alone think that the man who takes no part at all in these public affairs is useless, not simply minding his own business, and truly we ourselves judge, in fact, the matters at hand or we rightly ponder them: for we believe that hindrance to action is not discussion but more so lacking advanced education in speech before encountering the requirements of action. For in this too we excel, so that our very same men dare most but also reflect on that which they undertake: for other men, ignorance brings courage, and calculation brings hesitation. Men who know the most distinct pains and pleasures and still do not turn away from dangers on account of these things should be judged justly as the strongest in their souls.

And in matters related to virtue, we stand opposite to most men; for we acquire our friends not by receiving benefits but by providing them to others. The one who has given a favor is a more reliable friend, such that he perpetuates the feeling of obligation in the recipient through his goodwill to him. The one indebted is a duller friend since he knows that he pays back virtue not as a favor but as a debt. And we Athenians alone fearlessly aid others, not due to a calculation of profit but rather our faith in liberty. 


41: In short, I say that our entire city is the school of Hellas and that, as it seems to me, each man among us, both with much grace and much versatility, could readily show himself to be self-sufficient in varied ways. The very power of our city, the power which we have acquired from our ways, shows that this is not merely a boast of words in the present moment but the truth of the matter. For Athens is the sole power of all her contemporaries that is stronger than her repute when put to the test, and she alone neither provokes irritation in enemies because of the quality of those by whom he is defeated when he invades nor does she provoke blame among her subjects because they were ruled by those unworthy. We shall be a source of wonder to those now and those to come, through great proofs, and because we furnish power that is well-witnessed, not at all needing Homer to sing our praises nor anyone who will make the moment joyful with verses but whose conjecture will be discredited by the truth of the matter. We have compelled every sea and land to be a stomping ground for our daring, and we have jointly left everlasting memorials in our wake, both of evil to enemies and of good to friends. Such then is Athens for which these men nobly fought and died, judging it their duty not to lose her; and it is fitting that every survivor left behind be willing to suffer for her. 


Noah Apter (College ’25) is a student at the University of Pennsylvania majoring in Philosophy and Classical Studies.