Study Guide for Plutarch's Life of Pericles

Text taken from Thomas North and/or John Dryden
Study Guide by Anne White

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Pericles (ca. 495-429 B.C.)

"We find Plutarch's Lives exceedingly inspiring. These are read by the teacher . . . and narrated with great spirit by the children. They learn to answer such questions as,--'In what ways did Pericles make Athens beautiful? How did he persuade the people to help him?' And we may hope that the idea is engendered of preserving and increasing the beauty of their own neighbourhood without the staleness which comes of much exhortation." Charlotte Mason, Philosophy of Education

Pericles is considered the greatest statesman Athens ever had, although he was not the king, the president, or even the mayor of the city.

The time period covered in this story is the life of Pericles, but especially the fifty years from 480 to 430 B.C., the "Golden Age of Athens." During this time, the city-state of Athens was at its political and cultural peak. It was more or less at peace after the worst battles of the Persian War; it had a strong navy, created during that war; it had also become the leader of a group of states called the Delian League.

The people of Athens believed that everyone could and should contribute to the life of the city: because the city wasn't where they lived, they were the city, in much the same way as Christians who say that the church is the body of believers. The goddess Athena (also called Pallas Athena) for whom Athens was named, wore armour and was called the goddess of victory, but she was also in charge of wisdom and the arts. There is a legend that when Athena's temple was destroyed in the Persian War, a tiny olive shoot (the olive was her special tree) sprouted on the temple site as a sign of hope and rebirth. The Athenians put their faith in that sign, and their efforts into building something both beautiful and strong in her honour.

The Government of Athens

Athens had a system of democratic government (government "by the people") which was unusual at that time. It was ruled by an assembly of all the male citizens (excluding slaves and foreigners), which was intended to give equal chances for all to be heard. There were ways, however, for some men to become more powerful than others, and becoming a general in the army was one of those ways. This is the position that Pericles held for many years. There was also a ruling council or court), called the Areopagus, similar to the Roman Senate; this changed in power and duties over the years. In Pericles' time it seems to have been responsible only for hearing murder trials.

What was Attica?

Attica was the name for the region of Greece which included the city-state of Athens. The word Attic or Attican is sometimes used to describe aspects of Athenian life and culture, such as the "Attic dialect." Attica was bordered by the Aegean Sea to the east, Boeotia to the north, and Megara to the west.

Looking at the Map

Greece is divided in two by the Isthmus of Corinth. The southern section, containing Sparta or Lacedaemonia, is called the Peloponnesus. The Athenians did not get along very well with the cities in the Peloponnesus, particularly Sparta and Corinth.

The Timeline: Wars and More Wars

In each Plutarch study, I try to include notes about the timeline of events (Historic Occasions) that I think will be helpful. Putting dates together for this study has been one of the hardest yet, as my usual sources suggested quite different years for some events. In some cases, such as the end of a war, historians may still be debating when and how it happened. There is also the problem that Plutarch, drawing on his own sources, had to piece together the story himself; and he sometimes moves forward and then backward in the telling. However, specific dates, for this study, are less important than the big events.

It might help to make a timeline or chart showing the years 500-400 B.C. With one colour, shade in or circle the years 499-449, the span of the Greco-Persian Wars. With a second colour, mark the years 460-445, the First Peloponnesian War (it will overlap the first). The "Thirty Years' Peace" between Athens and Sparta began in 446/445, although it did not last that long.

With a third colour, mark 431-404, the Second Peloponnesian War (sometimes just called the Peloponnesian War). Note how few years of that century there were in which Athens was not involved in a major conflict.

The Parthenon was built between 447 and 438, although some work on the buildings continued until 432.

Mark the birth of Pericles in approximately 495, and his death in 429. You might also mark the last fifteen years of his life, in which, according to Plutarch, he was the undisputed leader in Athens.

Helpful Resources

A supplementary book you may find helpful is Temple on a Hill: The Building of the Parthenon, by Anne Rockwell. It was published in 1969 but may still be available in libraries and can also be accessed online.

Older students may find it interesting to compare Plutarch's version with Thucydides' history of the times, The Peloponnesian Wars.

Top Ten Vocabulary Terms in the Life of Pericles

If you recognize these words, you are well on your way to mastering Plutarch's vocabulary for this Life. They will not be repeated in the lessons.

1. barbarians: foreigners, but especially (in this case) the Persians

2. commonwealth: in this case, Athens and its satellites or colonies

3. distemper: This word is used now mainly for a disease afflicting animals; however, it means any disorder. It is used more than once in this Life to describe various group and individual troubles.

4. factions: groups divided by disagreement

5. marketplace: Like the Roman Forum, the Agora in Athens was an public place where business was done and speeches were made.

6. mean: low-ranking, poor

7. oration: speech

8. Ostracismon: or Ostracism. This was a banishment, by the votes of the people, of those who threatened to become too powerful.

9. pulpit for narrations: platform or other place where public speeches were made

10. waste: destroy, ruin

Lesson One


Often we admire things that are achieved or created, says Plutarch. However, sometimes we can admire the product without feeling much esteem for the maker. For instance, in Plutarch's own time (not necessarily that of Pericles), music was enjoyed, and musicians were somewhat admired…but it wasn't a career or even a pastime to which he thought high-minded people should spend their energies. In contrast, he says, acts of virtue "can so affect men's minds as to create at once both admiration of the things done and desire to imitate the doers of them." That is his reason for writing biographies: to celebrate the deeds, and to inspire imitation of virtue.

A warning to readers: you may find this first lesson somewhat . . . abstruse. We begin with the shape of Pericles' head; and then move on to a teacher who seems to have taught him philosophy and political science under cover of music lessons (not unlike Dr. Cornelius in Prince Caspian). That first taste of deep thinking awakened his appetite, and moved him on to the heavyweight philosophers of his time, such as Zeno and Anaxagoras. (Anaxagoras reappears later in the story.)

And if anyone thinks philosophy isn't practical, the lesson ends with an example of how Pericles dealt with bullies.


virtue: We usually use this word to mean moral excellence, but in classical times it also meant "valour," or heroism, courage, and what used to be called "manliness." See the Discussion Questions.

mean occupation: menial job

affection: or desire

Attican: see introductory notes

sophist: In ancient Greece, sophists were like "professors," often masters of one field of knowledge.

out of policy: out of caution

natural philosophy: science

hearer: student


Damon: Damon was a known expert in music; his other activities aren't as clear. It is possible that historians confused him with his father (who had more political involvements).

Zeno: a famous philosopher and member of the Eleatic school of philosophy founded by Parmenides. He lived from about 495 to 430 B.C. We know about his teachings (including his paradoxes) because they are described by philosophers such as Aristotle.

Parmenides: a philosopher who was most active in about 475 B.C.; an explorer of important (and difficult to explain) areas of thought such as metaphysics and ontology. He believed in the impossibility of change ("What exists is now, all at once, one and continuous").

Anaxagoras: A philosopher who lived in Athens for many years. He was interested in all kinds of scientific phenomena, such as the reasons for eclipses. He also taught that all things were formed and existed out of a force of pure reason, called Nous in Greek, which is where he got his nickname. In Plato's writings, Socrates says that when he was young, "I eagerly acquired Anaxagoras' books and read them as quickly as I could."

Historic Occasions

(Please see the introduction to this study for an important note about the timeline of Pericles' life.)

ca. 510 B.C.: Birth of Anaxagoras

499 B.C.: Official beginning of the Greco-Persian Wars

ca. 495 B.C.: Birth of Pericles

490 B.C.: Battle of Marathon

480 B.C.: Athens led a coalition of Greek allies against Persia, creating the "Athenian empire"

480 B.C.: Battle of Thermopylae

479 B.C.: Battle of Plataea

On the Map

See the introductory notes for this study.



Like as the eye is most delighted with the lightest and freshest colours: even so we must give our minds unto those sights which by looking upon them do draw profit and pleasure unto us. For such effects doth virtue bring: that either to hear or read them, they do print in our hearts an earnest love and desire to follow them. But this followeth not in all other things we esteem; neither are we always disposed to desire to do the things we see well done: but contrarily oftentimes, when we like the work, we mislike the workman, as commonly happens in making perfumes and purple colours. For both the one, and the other do please us well: but yet we take perfumers and dyers to be men of a mean occupation.

For it followeth not of necessity that, though the work delight, the workman must needs be praised. And so in like case, such things do not profit those which behold them, because they do not move affection in the hearts of the beholders to follow them, neither do stir up affection to resemble them, and much less to conform ourselves unto them. But virtue, by the bare statement of its actions, can so affect men's minds as to create at once both admiration of the things done and desire to imitate the doers of them. And this is the reason why methought I should continue still to write on the lives of noble men, and why I made also this tenth book: in the which are contained the Lives of Pericles and of Fabius Maximus. For they were both men very like together in many sundry virtues, and specially in courtesy and justice: and for that they could patiently bear the follies of their people, and the companions that were in charge of government with them, they were marvellous profitable members for their country. But if we have sorted them well together, comparing the one with the other: you shall easily judge, that read our writings of their Lives.

Part One

Pericles was of the tribe Acamantis, and the township Cholargus, of the noblest birth both on his father's and mother's side. Xanthippus, his father, who defeated the King of Persia's generals in the Battle of Mycale, took to wife Agariste, the grandchild of Clisthenes (who drove out the sons of Pisistratus, and nobly put an end to their tyrannical usurpation).

[omission for length and content]

Pericles was well proportioned in all the parts of his body, saving that his head was somewhat too long and out of proportion to the rest of his body. And this is the only cause why statues and images of him are made with a helmet on his head: because the workmen as it should seem (and so it is most likely) were willing to hide the blemish of his deformity. But the Attican poets did call him Schinocephalos, or squill-head, from schinos, a squill, or sea-onion.

[omission for length and content]

Part Two

The master that taught him music, most authors are agreed, was Damon…but it is not unlikely, being a sophist, that he out of policy sheltered himself under the profession of music to conceal from people in general his skill in other things; and under this pretense attended Pericles, the young athlete of politics, so to say, as his training master in these exercises.

[omission for length]

Pericles also was a hearer of Zeno the Eleatic, who treated of natural philosophy in the same manner as Parmenides did, but had also perfected himself in an art of his own for refuting and silencing opponents in argument; as Timon of Phlius describes it:

Also the two-edged tongue of might Zeno, who,
Say what one would, could argue it untrue.

But he that saw most of Pericles, and furnished him most especially with a weight and grandeur of sense, superior to all arts of popularity, and in general gave him his elevation and sublimity of purpose and of character, was Anaxagoras of Clazomenae; whom the men of those times called by the name of Nous, that is, "mind," or "intelligence," whether in admiration of the great and extraordinary gift he had displayed for the science of nature, or because that he was the first of the philosophers who did not refer the first ordering of the world to fortune or chance, nor to necessity or compulsion, but to a pure, unadulterated intelligence, which in all other existing mixed and compound things acts as a principle of discrimination, and of combination of like with like. For this man, Pericles entertained an extraordinary esteem and admiration; and, filling himself with this lofty, and, as they call it, up-in-the-air sort of thought, he derived hence not merely (as was natural) elevation of purpose and dignity of language, but, besides this, a composure of countenance, and a serenity and calmness in all his movements, which no occurrence whilst he was speaking could disturb; a sustained and even tone of voice; and various other advantages of a similar kind, which produced the greatest effect on his hearers.

But for proof hereof, the report goeth, there was a naughty busy fellow on a time, that a whole day together did nothing but rail upon Pericles in the marketplace, and revile him to his face, with all the villainous words he could use. But Pericles put all up quietly, and gave him not a word again, dispatching in the meantime matters of importance he had in hand, until night came, that he went softly home to his house, shewing no alteration nor semblance of trouble at all, the man still dogging him at the heels, and pelting him all the way with abuse and foul language. And stepping into his house, it being by this time dark, he ordered one of his servants to take a light, and to go along with the man and see him safe home.

Narration and Discussion

What were the things that Anaxagoras taught Pericles? What does the story of the man bothering Pericles show about what he had learned?

What is "virtue?" In classical culture, virtue meant not only moral excellence and goodness (as we use the word now), but it carried a special meaning of manly excellence and valour. The word itself refers to the Latin root "vir," meaning man. Low-born people, or slaves, or women, were not considered to be "virtuous."

Does the Bible agree or disagree with what he says? (See, for instance, Proverbs 31:4-7; compare that with New Testament passages such as Colossians 3:23-24.)

For older students: What is Plutarch's aim in writing the Life of Pericles? A hint: Plutarch criticizes certain things that "do not profit those which behold them, because they do not move affection in the hearts of the beholders to follow them, neither do stir up affection to resemble them, and much less to conform ourselves unto them." Try removing all the "not" words.

Creative narration: Early teachers have a great influence on us. Even homeschoolers have often had teachers outside their family who have helped to shape their thinking: people in their faith community, other adult friends, or even authors of books. Write a thank-you letter to someone (real or literary) who taught you something valuable.

Lesson Two


We have read about Pericles' early education and the ideas that were sown in him of rhetoric (beautiful and persuasive speech), rational thinking, and wanting to serve his people. Pericles was now in his mid-twenties and had the opportunity to take on a position of high leadership in Athens. Although he was himself an aristocrat and had no real desire to see power given to the lowest classes of people (in his thinking, lower class men make irrational, emotional decisions), he saw that getting support from the masses was his best tactic against the even more aristocratic Cimon.


gravity: graveness, seriousness. An exterior of gravity is an appearance of seriousness.

fashion himself to all companies: get along more easily with people

presumption: to be presumptuous is to show too much confidence in one's own worth or abilities

mere counterfeiting might in time . . .: By acting in a certain way, they might get to like it, and it would eventually become natural to them.

up and down: we would probably say "all over"

lean to the tribe of the poor people: to support the political issues of the lower classes

not popular, nor meanly given: "Popular" means favouring the common people.

glutted: overfilled


Cimon: or Kimon. Athenian statesman and general, the subject of Plutarch's Life of Cimon

Pisistratus: or Peisistratos, a leader in Athens about a hundred years before Pericles.

Aristides: Athenian statesman Aristides "the Just," subject of Plutarch's Life of Aristides

Themistocles: Athenian politician and general, subject of Plutarch's Life of Themistocles

Thucydides, the son of Melesias: leader of the "conservative" party; a political rival of Pericles. (See Lesson Three.) He is not to be confused with Thucydides the historian.

Archidamus: Archidamus II, who reigned in Sparta from approximately 476 B.C. to 427 B.C.

Historic Occasions

472/471 B.C.: Ostracism of Themistocles

470 B.C.: Birth of Socrates

Decade of 470-460: Pericles' entrance into politics

468 B.C.: Death of Aristides


Part One

The poet Ion sayeth that Pericles was a very proud man, and a stately one; and that with his gravity and noble mind, there was mingled a certain scorn and contempt of others: and contrarily, he greatly praiseth the civility, humanity, and courtesy of Cimon, because he could fashion himself to all companies. But Zenon, contrariwise, did counsel all those that said Pericles' gravity was a presumption and arrogance, that they should also follow him in his "presumption": inasmuch as this mere counterfeiting might in time insensibly instill into them a real love and knowledge of those noble qualities.

[omission for length and content]

Part Two

While Pericles was yet but a young man, the people stood in awe of him, because he somewhat resembled Pisistratus; and the most ancient men of the city also were much afraid of his soft voice, his eloquent tongue, and ready utterance, because in those he was Pisistratus up and down. Moreover he was very rich and wealthy, and of one of the noblest families of the city, and those were his friends also that carried the only sway and authority in the state: whereupon, fearing least they would banish him with the banishment of Ostracismon, he would not meddle with government in any case, although otherwise he shewed himself in wars very valiant and forward, and feared not to venture his person.

But after the time that Aristides was dead, that Themistocles was driven away, and that Cimon, being ever in service in the wars as general in foreign countries, was a long time out of Greece: then he came to lean to the tribe of the poor people, preferring the multitude of the poor commonalty above the small number of nobility and rich men, the which was directly against his nature. For of himself he was not popular, nor meanly given: but he did it (as it should seem) to avoid suspicion, that he should pretend to make himself king. And because he saw Cimon was inclined also to take part with the nobility, and that he was singularly beloved and liked by all the better and more distinguished people: he to the contrary inclined himself to the common people, purchasing by this means safety to himself, and authority against Cimon.

So he presently began a new course of life, since he had taken upon him to deal in matters of state: he was never seen to walk in any street but that which led to the marketplace or council-hall. He gave up going to all feasts where he was bidden, and left the entertainment of his friends, their company and familiarity. So that in all his time wherein he governed the commonwealth, which was a long time, he never went out to supper to any of his friends, unless it were that he was once at a feast at his nephew Euryptolemus' marriage: and then he tarried there no longer, but only while the ceremony was a-doing, when they offer wine to the gods, and then immediately rose from table and went his way. For these friendly meetings are very quick to defeat any assumed superiority, and in intimate familiarity an exterior of gravity is hard to maintain. Real excellence, indeed, is most recognized when most openly looked into; and in really good men, nothing which meets the eyes of external observers so truly deserves their admiration, as their daily common life does that of their nearer friends. Pericles now to prevent that the people should not be glutted with seeing him too oft, nor that they should come much to him: they did see him but at some times, and then he would not talk in every matter, neither came much abroad among them, but reserved himself (as Critolaus said they kept the Salaminian galley at Athens) for matters of great importance.

[omission for length]

Thucydides, the son of Melesias, was one of the noble and distinguished citizens, and had been his greatest opponent; and, when Archidamus, the king of the Lacedaemonians, asked him whether he or Pericles were the better wrestler, he made this answer: "When I," said he, "have thrown him and given him a fair fall, by persisting that he had no fall, he gets the better of me, and makes the bystanders, in spite of their own eyes, believe him." Notwithstanding Pericles was ever very grave and wise in speaking. For whenever he went up into the pulpit for orations to speak to the people, he made his prayers unto the gods that nothing might escape his mouth, but that he might consider before whether it would serve the purpose of his matter he treated on.

[omission for length and content]

Narration and Discussion

Why did Pericles avoid social meetings, and begin "reserving himself" for matters of great importance? Compare this to the style of leadership that Jesus showed.

What was Pericles' greatest goal when he spoke in public? How is this still a good rule for speakers (and writers)? (Look up Psalm 19:14.)

In Part One, Plutarch quotes Zeno as saying that "…mere counterfeiting might in time insensibly instill into them a real love and knowledge of those noble qualities." In other words, if we decide to act in a certain way (doing what someone brave would do, even if we feel afraid; or treating someone we don't like much with kindness), positive actions may affect ourselves as much as others. Do you agree? Can you think of examples?

Creative narration: Write or act out a conversation between Pericles and a friend, or an interview with a journalist. What might Pericles have to say about his style of leadership?

Lesson Three


Plutarch begins this passage by quoting Pericles' critics, who said that under his rule the Athenians were "changed from a sober, thrifty people, that maintained themselves by their own labors, to lovers of expense, intemperance, and license." As you read this passage, look for ways in which Pericles' actions were good for the people of Athens, and ways in which they were not.


ill brought up: ill-conceived; a bad idea

entertaining the poor: these and the following actions are the things Cimon did (not Pericles)

enclosures and pales: fences marking private land

largess: gifts

chief archon, or lawgiver . . .: high public positions in Athens

they who had acquitted themselves . . .: those who had carried out their duties well

contraried: threatened

burdened: accused

confines: borders

inveighing: speaking against something with hostility

company, faction: political party, group of supporters

their estate and dignity was obscured: the nobility had polluted themselves, so to speak, by mixing with the lower classes

garrisons: Literally, troops of soldiers stationed in a town. In this case, the "troops" were simply the colonists, but their increased presence in the countries of Athens' allies seemed like a good, not-too-threatening way to keep a handle on the locals (this, apparently, was not an unfounded worry).

curious: Dryden says "busy, meddling" (i.e. in things they had no business with)


Ephialtes: This is one of those names that might go by quickly, but which should be noted even though Plutarch names him here only once. Ephialtes was a politician who worked to decrease the power of the Areopagus (see introductory notes); he was the opponent of those who wanted power to stay in the hands of a select few. Pericles assisted Ephialtes in the campaign for more "power to the people."

Thucydides (the historian): author of History of the Peloponnesian War

Damonides: possibly Damon (see Lesson One), who was the son of Damonides

Thucydides of the town of Alopecia: Thucydides the politician (see Lesson Two)

Historic Occasions

465 B.C.: Cimon, trying to promote co-operation between Athens and Sparta, led troops to Sparta to help put down a rebellion; but Sparta refused Athens' help (although they accepted that of others), and the alliance between Athens and Sparta was broken.

461 B.C.: Assassination of Ephialtes (see note under People)

461 B.C.: Cimon ostracized for ten years

460 B.C.: Birth of Thucydides (the historian)

458/457 B.C.: Athens defeated by Sparta at the Battle of Tanagra

451-449/448 B.C.: Greek fleet sent to Cyprus; death of Cimon; official end of the Greco-Persian Wars

On the Map

Tanagra: a town and its surrounding area, north of Athens, in Boeotia.

country of Attica: the region around Athens (see introductory notes)

town of Alopecia: or Alopeke. North calls it a town, but it was more of a subdivision of Athens.

Chersonese: a region of Thrace


Part One

Now Thucydides (the historian) describes the government of the commonwealth under Pericles as an aristocratical government, that went by the name of a democracy. Others say, on the contrary, that by him the common people were first encouraged and led on to such evils as the custom to divide the enemies' lands, won by conquest, among the people; and of the common money to make the people see plays and pastimes, and that appointed them reward for all things. But this custom was ill brought up. For the common people that before were contented with little, and got their living painfully with sweat of their brows: became now to be very vain, sumptuous, and riotous, by reason of these things brought up then. The cause of the alteration doth easily appear by those things. For Pericles at his first coming, sought to win the favour of the people, as we have said before, only to get like reputation that Cimon had won.

But coming far short of his wealth and ability to carry out the activities that Cimon did (such as entertaining the poor, keeping open house to all comers, clothing poor old people, breaking open besides all enclosures and pales through all his lands, that every one might with more liberty come in, and take the fruits thereof at their pleasure); and seeing himself by these great means outgone far in goodwill with the common people, by Damonides' counsel he brought in this distribution of the common money, as Aristotle writeth. And having won in a short time the favour and goodwill of the common people, by distribution of the common treasure, which he caused to be divided among them; and in a short time having bought the people over, what with moneys allowed for shows, and for service on juries, and what with other forms of pay and largess, he made use of them against the council of Areopagus, of which he himself was no member, as having never been appointed by lot either chief archon, or lawgiver, or king, or captain. For from of old these offices were conferred on persons by lot, and they who had acquitted themselves duly in the discharge of them were advanced to the court of Areopagus.

Part Two

Pericles now by these means having obtained great credit and authority amongst the common people, he troubled the council of the Areopagites in such sort, that he plucked many matters from their hearing, by Ephialtes' help; and in time made Cimon to be banished from Athens, as one that favoured the Lacedaemonians, and contraried the commonwealth and authority of the people. And this was in spite of the fact that Cimon was the noblest and richest person of all the city, and one that had won so many glorious victories, and had so replenished Athens with the conquered spoils of their enemies, as we have declared in his Life: so great was the authority of Pericles amongst the people.

Now the banishment wherewith Cimon was punished (which they called Ostracismon) was limited by the law for ten years; and, in the meantime, the Lacedaemonians being come down with a great army into the country of Tanagra, the Athenians sent out their power presently against them. There Cimon, willing to shew the Athenians by his deeds that they had falsely accused him for favouring the Lacedaemonians, did arm himself, and went on his countrymen's side, to fight in the company of his tribe. But Pericles' friends gathered together, and forced Cimon to depart thence as a banished man. And this was the cause that Pericles fought that day more valiantly than ever he did, and he won the honour and name to have done more in the person of himself that day, than any others of all the army. At that battle also, all Cimon's friends, whom Pericles had burdened likewise to favour the Lacedaemonians' doings, died every man of them that day.

Then the Athenians repented them much that they had driven Cimon away, and wished he were restored, after they had lost this battle upon the confines of the country of Attica: because they feared sharp wars would come upon them again at the next spring. Which thing when Pericles perceived, he sought also to further that which the common people desired: wherefore he straight caused a decree to be made that Cimon should be called home again, which was done accordingly.

[omission for length: Cimon's return to Athens, his return to military leadership, and his death in Cyprus; this can be read in the Life of Cimon.]

Part Three

Those that took part with the nobility, seeing Pericles was now grown very great, and that he went before all other citizens of Athens, thinking it good to have someone to stick on their side against him, and to lessen thereby somewhat his authority, that he might not come to rule all as he would: they raised up against him Thucydides of the town of Alopecia, a grave wise man, and near kinsman of Cimon's. This Thucydides had less skill of wars than Cimon, but understood more about civil government than he, for that he remained most part of his time within the city: where, continually inveighing against Pericles in his pulpit for orations to the people, in short time he had stirred up a like company against the faction of Pericles. For he kept the gentlemen and richer sort (which they call nobility) from mingling with the common people, as they were before, when through the multitude of the commons their estate and dignity was obscured, and trodden underfoot. Moreover he did separate them from the common people, and did assemble them all as it were into one body, who came to be of equal power with the other faction.

But the contention between these two groups was as a deep cut, which divided the city wholly. Therefore Pericles giving yet more liberty unto the common people, did all things that might be to please them, ordaining continual plays and games in the city, many feasts, banquets, and open pastimes to entertain the commons with such honest pleasures and devices: and besides all this, he sent yearly an army of threescore galleys unto the wars, into the which he put a great number of poor citizens that took pay of the state for nine months of the year, and thereby they did learn together, and practice to be good seamen.

Furthermore he sent into the Chersonese a thousand free men of the city to dwell there, and to divide the lands amongst them; five hundred also into the Isle of Naxos; into the Isle of Andros, two hundred and fifty; into Thrace, a thousand to dwell with the Bisaltes; and other also into Italy, when the city of Sybaris was built again, which afterwards was surnamed the city of the Thurians. All this he did to rid the city of a number of idle people, who through idleness began to be curious, and to desire change of things; as also to provide for the necessity of the poor townsmen that had nothing. This served also to intimidate, also, and check their allies from attempting any change, by posting such garrisons, as it were, in the midst of them.

Narration and Discussion

How might too much "generosity" by a politician cause problems?

Why was it important that Pericles (good leader that he was) should have at least one major political opponent? How did he respond to the selection of Thucydides?

For older students: Why was it (strangely enough) better for Pericles' political image to allow his old rival Cimon to return to Athens?

Lesson Four


In this lesson and the next, we read about the greatest achievement of the Golden Age: Pericles' building and beautification program in Athens, and especially the Parthenon.

A note to teachers: this topic obviously encourages the use of photographs, virtual museum tours, and other media. There have been reconstructions and models of the entire Acropolis, some of which you can find online. But don't overdo it: a few pictures at the beginning, and perhaps a short video at the end, should be enough to give a sense of what was happening. There will also be no shortage of possible creative narration ideas! Choose those that suit the time and materials you have available, and those which will most enhance your own students' learning.


sumptuous: splendid, rich-looking

looked askance upon: frowned at

cavilled at: complained about

affront: insult

artificers: craftspeople

stuff: materials

Historic Occasions

447 B.C.: Construction began on the Parthenon

On the Map

Isle of Delos: a Greek island which was considered sacred ; the meeting place of the Delian League, the gathering of Greek city-states


But that which delighteth most, and is the greatest ornament unto the city of Athens, which maketh strangers most to wonder, and which alone doth bring sufficient testimony to confirm that which is reported of the ancient power, riches, and great wealth of Greece to be true and not false, are the stately and sumptuous buildings which Pericles made to be built in the city of Athens. Yet this was that of all his actions in the government which his enemies most looked askance upon and cavilled at in the popular assemblies, crying out how that the commonwealth of Athens had lost its reputation and was ill-spoken of abroad for removing the common treasure of the Greeks from the Isle of Delos into their own custody; and how that their fairest excuse for so doing, namely, that they took it away for fear the barbarians should seize it, and on purpose to secure it in a safe place, this Pericles had made unavailable, and how that:

"Greece cannot but resent it as an insufferable affront, and consider herself to be tyrannized over openly, when she sees the treasure, which was contributed by her upon a necessity for the war, lavished out by us upon our city, to gild her all over, and to adorn and set her forth, as it were some vain woman, hung round with precious stones and figures and temples, which cost a world of money."

Pericles replied to the contrary, and declared unto the Athenians:

"that they were not bound to make any account of this money unto their friends and allies, considering that they fought for their safety, and that they kept the barbarous people far from Greece, without troubling them to set out any one man, horse, or ship of theirs, the money only excepted, which is no more theirs that paid it, than theirs that received it; so they bestow it to that use they received it for. And their city being already very well furnished, and provided of all things necessary for the wars, it was good reason they should employ and bestow the surplus of the treasure in things, which in time to come (and being thoroughly finished) would make their fame eternal."

Moreover he said that,

"whilst they continue building, they should be presently rich, by reason of the diversity of works of all sorts, and other things which they should have need of; and to compass these things the better, and to set them in hand, all manner of artificers and workmen (that would labour) should be set a-work. So should all the townsmen and inhabitants of the city receive pay and wages of the common treasure: and the city by this means should be greatly beautified, and much more able to maintain itself. For such as were strong and able men, of body and of age to carry weapons, had pay and entertainment of the commonwealth, which were sent abroad unto the wars: and others that were not meet for wars, as craftsmen, and labourers: he wished also they should have part of the common treasure, but not without earning it."

[omission for length]

For some gained by bringing material such as stones, brass, ivory, gold, ebony, and cypress. Others got to work and fashioned it: as carpenters, gravers, founders, casters of images, masons. Divers hewers of stone, dyers, goldsmiths, joiners working in artificers' ivory, painters, men that set in sundry colours of pieces of stone or wood, and turners. Other gained to bring stuff, and to furnish them: as merchants, mariners, and shipmasters, for things they brought them by sea. And by land others got also: as cart makers, carriers, carters, cord makers, saddlers, collar-makers, and pioneers to make ways plain, and miners, and such like. Furthermore, every science and craft, as a captain having soldiers, had also their army of the workmen that served them, labouring truly for their living, who served as apprentices and journeymen under the workmasters: so the work by this means did disperse abroad a common gain to all sorts of people and ages, what occupation or trade soever they had. And thus came the buildings to rise in greatness and sumptuousness, being of excellent workmanship, and for grace and beauty not comparable: because every workman in his science did strive what he could to excel others, to make his work appear greatest in sight, and to be most workmanly done in show.

Narration and Discussion

Compare the description of the building of the Parthenon to the description of Solomon's Temple in 1 Kings 6-8 and 2 Chronicles 3-4. What are the similarities in the descriptions, and what are the differences, especially the reasons for building the two temples?

Pericles' critics said that he had not only wasted money on these buildings, but that he had misused funds entrusted to Athens by other cities, who would not benefit from Athens' new temples and music halls. Explain his response.

For older students and further thought: In Lesson One, Plutarch said "…but contrary oftentimes, when we like the work, we mislike the workman, as commonly in making these perfumes and purple colours. For both the one, and the other do please us well: but yet we take perfumers and dyers to be men of a mean occupation." How would you describe current attitudes towards those occupations?

Lesson Five


This lesson continues the story of the building of the Parthenon.


Temple of Pallas: Pallas Athena, or Athena, was the patron goddess of Athens (she was called Minerva by the Romans). The Parthenon, located on the Acropolis, is the temple that was dedicated to her.

Chapel of Eleusin: also called the Telesterion; a sanctuary in Eleusis devoted to Demeter and Persephone. There is some argument over who built it, which may be why Plutarch mentions it here.

Odeon: or Odeion; a building at the foot of the Acropolis, designed for musical contests

distinction: recognition

Panathenaea: or Panathenaic Games. They were held every four years and included religious ceremonies, cultural events, and athletic competitions.

gate and entering . . .: the Propylaea, or gateway to the Acropolis, designed by Mnesicles

otherwise called "Of Health": Both the Greek goddess Athena and her Roman counterpart Minerva were believed to have healing powers. The statue referred to here is one named the Athena Paeconia or Paeonia ("Athena the Healer").

the goddess' image in gold: Phidias' golden statue, the Athena Parthenos, was designed to be the focal point of the Parthenon


Zeuxis: Have you ever read the story of the painting contest between Zeuxis and Parrhasius? You can find a retelling in Fifty Famous People by James Baldwin.

Historic Occasions

438 B.C.: Work completed on the Parthenon


But the greatest thing to be wondered at was the speed and diligence of all the building. For where every man thought those works were not likely to be finished in many men's lives and ages, and from man to man: they were all done and finished whilst one only governor continued still in credit and authority. And yet they say, that in the same time, as one Agatarchus boasted himself, that he had quickly painted certain beasts: Zeuxis, another painter, hearing him, answered:

"And I contrarily do rejoice, that I am a long time in drawing of them. For commonly slight and sudden drawing of anything, cannot take deep colours, nor give perfect beauty to the work: but length of time, adding to the painter's diligence and labour in making of the work, maketh the colours to continue forever."

For this cause therefore the works Pericles made are more wonderful: because they were perfectly made in so short a time, and have continued so long a season.

[omission for length]

Now the chief surveyor general of all these works was Phidias (but there were many other excellent work masters in every science and occupation). For the Temple of Pallas, which is called the Parthenon was built by Ictinus, and Callicrates: and the Chapel of Eleusin was first founded by Coroebus.

[omission for length]

The Odeon, or music-room, which in its interior was full of seats and ranges of pillars, and outside had its roof made to slope and descend from one single point at the top, was constructed, we are told, in imitation of the king of Persia's pavilion; this, likewise, by Pericles' order.


Pericles, also eager for distinction, then first obtained the decree for a contest in musical skill to be held yearly at the Panathenaea; and he himself, being chosen judge, arranged the order and method in which the competitors should sing and play on the flute and on the harp. And both at that time, and at other times also, they sat in this music-room to see and hear all such trials of skill.

Part Two

The gate and entering into the castle was made and finished within the space of five years, under the charge of Mnesicles, that was master of the works. And whilst these gates were a-building, there happened a wonderful chance, which declared very well that the goddess Minerva did not mislike the building, but that it pleased her marvellously. For one of the workmen that wrought there fell by mischance from the height of the castle to the ground, which fall did so sore bruise him, and he was so sick with all, that the physicians and surgeons had no hope of his life. Pericles being very sorry for his mischance, the goddess appeared to him in his sleep in the night, and taught him a medicine, with the which he did easily heal the poor bruised man, and that in short time. And this was the occasion why he caused the image of the goddess Minerva (otherwise called "Of Health") to be cast in brass, and set up within the temple of the castle, near unto the altar which was there before, as they say.

But it was Phidias who wrought the goddess' image in gold, and he has his name inscribed on the pedestal as the workman of it, and indeed the whole work in a manner was under his charge; and he had, as we have said already, the oversight over all the artists and workmen, through Pericles' friendship for him; and this, indeed, made him much envied, and his patron shamefully slandered with stories.

[omission for content]

But Pericles perceived that the orators of Thucydides' faction, in their common orations, did still cry out upon him that he did vainly waste and consume the common treasure, and that he bestowed upon the works all the whole revenue of the city. One day when the people were assembled together, before them all he asked them if they thought that the cost bestowed were too much. The people answered him, "A great deal too much." "Well," said he then, "the charges shall be mine (if you think good), and none of yours: provided that no man's name be written upon the works, but mine only."

When Pericles had said so, the people cried out aloud, they would none of that (either because that they wondered at the greatness of his mind, or else for that they would not give him the only honour and praise to have done so sumptuous and stately works), but willed him that he should see them ended at the common charges, without sparing for any cost.

Narration and Discussion

How was it that the Parthenon was able to be completed so quickly, but with so impressive a result?

How did Pericles handle criticism that he had spent too much public money on the buildings? Tell the story (or act it out).

For further thought #1: Plutarch says that most quality projects take time (the Parthenon being the exception). Choose one activity you tend to rush through, and deliberately slow it down. Did you enjoy it more, or have a better result? Another way to explore the time that things take is to set a timer, say for brushing your teeth, or making an unrehearsed speech; and to continue the activity for the full amount of time rather than guessing. You might be surprised how long two minutes take!

For further thought #2: However, G.K. Chesterton also said that "anything worth doing is worth doing badly," meaning that it's not only how well we do something, but also about the value that some activities have, whether we do them well or not, and whether we win or not. What is something in which you strive for perfection? What is something that you enjoy doing for its own sake, even "badly?"

Lesson Six


Pericles was now the captain of a ship full of excited and excitable people. His chief instrument in steering was the power of persuasive speech; which, Plutarch says, he used skillfully and carefully.


antagonist: opponent; one who is against you

confederacy: group of people

schism: (pronounced sism); a division or gap

populace: the common people

loose, remiss, licentious: uncontrolled, having few moral boundaries (or being willing to ignore the transgressions of others)

modulations: tone of voice, manner of speaking

austerity: strict manner, sternness

expedient: useful, beneficial

preferred: proposed

patrimony, paternal estate: inheritance from one's father

groat: small coin

like a common: a piece of land held "in common" by the people of a village or town, and used for purposes such as the grazing of animals

diversity: difference

contemplative: devoted to the study of spirituality or philosophy

civil: participating in the life of the community, taking part in business dealings, local government etc.

honest: positive, virtuous. Dryden uses the word "noble."

Historic Occasions

444/442 B.C.: Political power struggle in Athens; ostracism of Thucydides


Part One

At length, coming to a final contest with Thucydides which of the two should ostracize the other out of the country, and having gone through this peril, he threw his antagonist out, and broke up the confederacy that had been organized against him.

So that now all schism and division being at an end, and the city brought to evenness and unity, he got all Athens, and all affairs that pertained to the Athenians, into his own hands: their tributes, their armies, and their galleys, the islands, the sea, and their wide-extended power, partly over other Greeks and partly over barbarians; and all that empire which they possessed, founded and fortified upon subject nations and royal friendships and alliances.

After this he was no longer the same man he had been before, nor as tame and gentle and familiar as formerly with the populace, so as readily to yield to their pleasures and to comply with the desires of the multitude, as a steersman shifts with the winds. Quitting that loose, remiss, and in some cases, licentious court of the popular will, he turned those soft and flowery modulations to the austerity of aristocratical and regal rule. But he yet held still a direct course, and kept himself ever upright without fault, as one that did, said, and counselled that which was most expedient for the commonwealth. He many times brought on the people, by persuasions and reasons, to be willing to grant that which he preferred unto them; but many times also, he drove them to it by force, and made them against their wills do that which was best for them. He followed the method of a wise physician, who, in a long and changeable disease, doth grant his patient sometimes to take his pleasure of a thing he liketh, but yet after a moderate sort; and another time also he doth give him a sharp or bitter medicine that doth vex him, though it heal him.

For there arising and growing up, as was natural, all manner of distempered feelings among a people which had so vast a command and dominion, he alone, as a great master, knowing how to handle and deal fitly with each one of them, and, in an especial manner, making that use of hopes and fears, as his two chief rudders: with the one to check the career of their confidence at any time; with the other to raise them up and cheer them when under any discouragement. He plainly showed by this that rhetoric, or the art of speaking, is, in Plato's language, the government of the souls of men, and that her chief business is to address the affections and passions, which are, as it were, the strings and keys to the soul, and require a skillful and careful touch to be played on as they should be.

All of which, not the force of his eloquence only brought to pass, as Thucydides (the historian) witnesseth: but the reputation of his life, and the opinion and confidence they had of his great worthiness, because he would not any way be corrupted with gifts, neither had he any covetousness in him.

For, when he had brought his city not only to be great, but exceeding great and wealthy, and had in power and authority exceeded many kings and tyrants, yea even those which by their wills and testaments might have left great possessions to their children: he never for all that increased his father's goods and patrimony left him by the value of a groat in silver. And yet the historiographer Thucydides doth set forth plainly enough the greatness of his power [omission for length]. For after he had prevailed against the politician Thucydides, and had banished him, he yet remained chief above all others for the space of fifteen years. He had therefore attained a regal dignity to command all, which continued as aforesaid, where no other captain's authority endured but one year.

Part Two

Pericles was not altogether idle or careless in looking after his own finances. His paternal estate, which of right belonged to him, he so ordered that it might neither through negligence be wasted or lessened, nor yet, being so full of business as he was, cost him any great trouble or time with taking care of it; and put it into such a way of management as he thought to be the most easy for himself, and the most exact. All his yearly products and profits he sold together in a lump, and supplied his household needs afterwards by buying everything that he or his family wanted out of the market.

[omission for length: how Pericles' tight management of household finances irritated his family members, but nevertheless kept him from going into debt]

Part Three

But these things were far contrary to Anaxagoras' wisdom. For he, despising the world, and casting his affection on heavenly things, did willingly forsake his house, and suffered all his land to lie fallow and to be grazed by sheep like a common.

But (in my opinion) great is the diversity between a contemplative life and a civil life. For the one employeth all his time upon the speculation of good and honest things: and to attain to that, he thinketh he hath no need of any exterior help or instrument. The other applying all his time upon virtue, to the common profit and benefit of men: he thinketh that he needeth riches, as an instrument not only necessary, but also honest. As, look upon the example of Pericles: who did relieve many poor people.

However, there is a story that Anaxagoras himself, while Pericles was taken up with public affairs, lay neglected; and that, now being grown old, he wrapped himself up with a resolution to die for want of food; which being by chance brought to Pericles' ear, he was horror-struck, and instantly ran thither, and used all the arguments and entreaties he could to him, lamenting not so much Anaxagoras' condition as his own, should he lose such a counsellor as he had found him to be; and that, upon this, Anaxagoras unfolded his robe, and, showing himself, made answer: "Pericles," said he, "even those who have occasion for a lamp supply it with oil."

Narration and Discussion

"After this he was no longer the same man he had been before." Explain.

Pericles was skilled in rhetoric (persuasive speaking and writing): so much so that he could persuade an entire city to do as he thought best. With another such man in power, this could have caused disaster. What made Pericles stand apart?

Describe Pericles' system of managing his own money and business. Why did he choose to be so rigid and exact with his household and business expenses?

A very old philosophical problem: Which is better: to earn money, and to use it for good purposes, such as helping others; or to leave material things behind so that you can focus on higher matters? Is there a middle position? (Christian students may want to look at Biblical passages relating to riches and money.)

For close reading and careful thought: On a first reading, we may assume that Anaxagoras had become poor, and that the lesson to be drawn is that those who have wealth should help those in need. However, Plutarch seems here to be illustrating his previous point about the value and uses of wealth. Anaxagoras neglected his own lands so that he could concentrate on "contemplation," possibly as a way of pointing his finger at those who, like Pericles, paid such attention to finances that they had little time for philosophy. We also know, from other accounts, that Anaxagoras had been accused of heresy (he said that the sun and the stars were just burning rocks); and his accusers may have included Pericles. By lying down on the street, he was protesting his mistreatment with a hunger strike. It seems that his verbal rebuke may have meant "Stop hounding me about heresy," or possibly, "I was trying to teach you something," rather than "I am dying of neglect." In any case, Pericles seems to have given him the "oil" that he required. (Or was it Pericles who needed oil?)

Lesson Seven


This lesson begins with a planned great meeting of Greeks from many places. Plutarch then explains that the meeting never actually took place, but that he thought it worth mentioning just to show "the spirit of the man." The fact that it didn't take place, however, shows something of the changing climate in Athens, and is a first hint that Pericles' plans would not always bear fruit.


effected: done, completed

crossing the design underhand: conspiring to prevent the gathering

upon no occasion, and to no purpose: without any good reason

tarry time: wait things out; Dryden says "wait and be ruled by time"

journey to the Chersonese: see Historic Occasions


Tolmides: an Athenian general known for many military successes

Historic Occasions

Note: These events took place before the building of the Parthenon. After this decade of frequent wars, there were several years of peace which allowed the Athenians to focus on city improvements.

454 B.C.: Pericles led battles against the Sicyonians and Acarnanians

448 B.C.: Athens assisted the Phocians in the "Sacred War"

447 B.C.: Expulsion of the "barbarians" from the Thracian peninsula

447 B.C.: Death of Tolmides at the Battle of Coronea, a battle which lost Boeotia as part of the Athenian empire

446 B.C.: Euboea and Megara revolted against Athens, but Pericles' campaign to quell the uprising was delayed by a threatened invasion of Attica by the Spartans

445 B.C.: Pericles successful in recovering Euboea

On the Map

Euboea: an island near Athens, of military and agricultural importance

Chersonese: The word "Chersonese" meant "peninsula," so there were several places with that name. The Chersonese referred to here was Thracian Chersonese, now called the Gallipoli Peninsula, on the Aegean Sea.

Oeniadae or Oiniadai: a town in ancient Acarnania, and the people of that town


Part One

The Lacedaemonians began to show themselves troubled at the growth of the Athenian power. Pericles, on the other hand, to elevate the people's spirit yet more, and to raise them to the thought of great actions, proposed a decree to summon all the Greeks, in what part soever, whether of Europe or Asia, every city, little as well as great, to send their deputies to Athens to a general assembly, or convention, there to consult and advise concerning the Greek temples which the barbarians had burnt down, and the sacrifices which were due from them upon vows they had made to their gods for the safety of Greece when they fought against the barbarians; and also concerning the navigation of the sea, that they might henceforward pass to and fro and trade securely and be at peace among themselves.

[omission for length: the list of cities and states invited to this conference]

Nothing was effected, nor did the cities meet by their deputies, as was desired: the Lacedaemonians, as it is said, crossing the design underhand, the attempt being disappointed and baffled first in Peloponnesus. I thought fit, however, to introduce the mention of it, to show the spirit of the man and the greatness of his thoughts.

Part Two

Furthermore, when Pericles was chosen general in the wars, he was much esteemed because he ever took great regard to the safety of his soldiers. For by his goodwill he would never hazard battle which he saw might fall out doubtful, or in any way dangerous. He did not envy the glory of generals whose rash adventures fortune favoured with brilliant success, however much they were admired by others, nor did he think them worthy of his imitation; but he always used to say to his citizens that, so far as lay in his power, they (those generals) should continue immortal, and live forever.

And when he saw that Tolmides, the son of Tolmaeus (trusting to his former victories, and the praise and commendation of his good service) did prepare upon no occasion, and to no purpose, to enter into the country of Boeotia, and that he had procured also a thousand of the lustiest and most valiant men of the city, to be contented to go with him in that journey, over and above the rest of the army he had levied: he went about to turn him from his purpose, and to keep him at home, by many persuasions he used to him before the people's face, and spoke certain words at that time that were remembered long after: "That if he would not believe Pericles' counsel, yet that he would tarry time at the least, which is the wisest counsellor of men." These words were prettily liked at that present time. But within few days after, when news was brought that Tolmides himself was slain in a battle he had lost, near unto the city of Coronea, wherein perished also many other honest and valiant men of Athens: his words spoken before did then greatly increase Pericles' reputation and goodwill with the common people, because he was taken for a wise man, and one that loved his citizens.

Part Three

But of all his journeys he made, being general over the army of the Athenians, the journey to the Chersonese was best thought of and esteemed, because it fell out to the great benefit and preservation of all the Grecians inhabiting in that country. For besides that he brought thither a thousand citizens of Athens to dwell there (in which doing he strengthened the cities with so many good men), but also by shielding the neck of land (which joins the peninsula to the continent) with bulwarks and forts from sea to sea, he put a stop to the inroads of the Thracians, who lay all about the Chersonese; and closed the door against a continual and grievous war.

Nor was he less admired and talked of abroad for his sailing around the Peloponnesus, having set out from the port of Megara with a hundred galleys. For he not only laid waste the sea coast, as Tolmides had done before; but also, advancing far up into the mainland with the soldiers he had on board, by the terror of his appearance he drove many within their walls; and at Nemea, with main force, routed and raised a trophy over the Sicyonians, who stood their ground and joined battle with him. And having taken on board a supply of soldiers into the galleys out of Achaia, then in league with Athens, he crossed with the fleet to the opposite continent, and, sailing along by the mouth of the river Achelous, overran Acarnania and shut up the Oeniadae within their city walls; and having ravaged and wasted their country, weighed anchor for home with the double advantage of having shown himself formidable to his enemies, and at the same time safe and energetic to his fellow-citizens.

[omission for length: further adventures at that time]

Narration and Discussion

Pericles disliked taking on military adventures without good reason, especially ones that would risk lives. Give examples of this.

Creative narration: Choose an unusual way to answer the question above.

For older students: Pericles said that he respected the bravery of certain military heroes, but that he chose not to imitate them in foolishly risking the lives of soldiers. He made a similar statement on his deathbed (see Lesson Twelve). Why was this so important to him?

For further thought: Does Pericles' statement offer us a way to learn from other ancient "heroes" without necessarily imitating their errors?

Lesson Eight


As tensions built within and around Greece, Athens struggled to hold onto dependencies that resented its interference. The rebel on this occasion was the Isle of Samos, and the issue was dominion of the sea. Who had better ships? Who had stronger friends? Athens believed its power was superior; but Samos was ready to put up a good fight.


made a truce: the Thirty Years' Peace

digression: leaving the main story

oligarchical government: government run by a few select people

tract of time: waiting it out

they would bring it to hazard of battle: they were more than ready to fight

made to draw lots: that is, they did this every day during the siege

lighted on the white bean: a method of choosing, similar to getting the short straw


Pissuthnes . . .: or Pissouthnes. A governor (or satrap) of the kingdom of Lydia, including the region of Ionia. He was extremely wealthy, and may have been a grandson of Darius the Great.

Melissus of Samos: a philosopher of the same school as Zeno, and the commander of the Samian fleet

Historic Occasions

446/445 B.C.: Thirty Years' Peace declared between Athens and Sparta

440 B.C.: War against Samos

On the Map

Isle of Samos, Samians: Samos is an island in the Aegean Sea. It was known for its vineyards, and it was also the birthplace of Pythagoras.

Isle of Lemnos: an island in the Aegean Sea

Isle of Tragaea: now called Agathonisi. A small island near Patmos.


Part One

After this, having made a truce between the Athenians and Lacedaemonians for thirty years: he proclaimed open wars against those of the Isle of Samos, accusing them that, being commanded by the Athenians to pacify the quarrels which they had against the Milesians, they would not obey.

But because some hold opinion that he took upon him this war against Samos for the love of Aspasia: it shall be no great digression of our story, to tell you by the way, what manner of woman she was, and what a marvellous gift and power she had, that she could entangle with her love the chiefest rulers and governors at that time of the commonwealth, and that the philosophers themselves did so largely speak and write of her.

First of all, it is certain that she was born in the city of Miletum, and was the daughter of one Axiochus: she gave herself to entertain the greatest persons and chiefest rulers in her time. Some say that Pericles resorted unto her because she was a wise woman, and had great understanding in matters of state and government. For Socrates himself went to see her sometimes with his friends; and other men brought their wives many times with them to hear her talk.

Yet notwithstanding it seemeth most likely that the affection Pericles did bear her grew rather of love, than of any other cause. For he was married unto a kinswoman of his own; but not liking her company, he gave her with her own goodwill and consent unto another, and married Aspasia whom he dearly loved. Forever when he went abroad, and came home again, he saluted her with a kiss.

[omission for content]

Part Two

But to our matter again. Pericles was charged that he made wars against the Samians, on the behalf of the Milesians: for these two cities were at wars together, fighting for the city of Priena, but the Samians were the stronger. Now the Athenians commanded them to lay aside their arms, and to come and plead their matter before them, that the right might be decided: but they refused it utterly. Wherefore Pericles went thither and took away their oligarchical government; taking for hostages fifty of the chiefest men of the city; and as many children, which he left to be kept in the Isle of Lemnos. Some say every one of these hostages offered to give him a talent; and besides those, many others offered him the like, who were anxious not to have a democracy.

Moreover, Pissuthnes the Persian, lieutenant to the king of Persia, for the goodwill he bare those of Samos, did send Pericles ten thousand crowns to release the hostages. But Pericles never took a penny: and having that done that which he determined at Samos, and established a democracy among them, he returned again to Athens.

Notwithstanding, the Samians rebelled immediately after, having recovered their hostages again, by means of this Pissuthnes that stole them away, and did furnish them also with all their munition of war. Whereupon Pericles returning against them once more, he found them not idle, nor amazed at his coming, but resolutely determined to receive him, and to fight for the dominion of the sea. So there was a great battle fought between them, near the Isle of Tragaea. And Pericles won the battle: having, with four and forty sail only, nobly overcome his enemies, which were threescore and ten in number, whereof twenty of them were ships of war.

[omission for length: Pericles put the city of Samos under siege]

Melissus (the son of Ithagenes, a great philosopher) being at that time general of the Samians: he perceiving that few ships were left behind at the siege of the city, and that the captains also that had charge of them were no very expert men of war, he persuaded his citizens to make a sally upon them. Whereupon they fought a battle, and the Samians overcame; the Athenians were taken prisoners, and they sunk many of their ships. Now they being lords again of the sea, did furnish their city with all manner of munition for wars, whereof before they had great want.

[omission for length]

Pericles being advertised of the overthrow of his army, returned presently to the rescue. Melissus went to meet him, and gave him battle: but he was overthrown and driven back into his city, where Pericles walled them in round about the city, desiring victory rather by time and charge, than by danger, and loss of his soldiers. But when he saw that they were weary with tract of time, and that they would bring it to hazard of battle, and that he could by no means withhold them: he then divided his army into eight companies, whom he made to draw lots, and that company that lighted on the white bean, they should be quiet and make good cheer, while the other seven fought. And they say that from thence it came, that when any have made good cheer, and taken pleasure abroad, they do yet call it a white day, because of the white bean.

[omission for length]

At the last, at nine months' end the Samians were compelled to yield. So Pericles took the city, and razed their walls to the ground: he brought their ships away, and made them pay a marvellous great tribute, whereof part he received in hand, and the rest payable at a certain time, taking hostages with him for assurance of payment.

But Duris the Samian describes these matters marvellous pitifully, burdening the Athenians, and Pericles himself, with unnatural cruelty: whereof neither Thucydides, nor Ephorus, nor Aristotle himself maketh mention. And sure I cannot believe it is true what is written.

[omission for length and content]

Narration and Discussion

How is it typical of Pericles that he "desired victory rather by time and charge, than by danger?" How did he keep his soldiers from exhausting themselves during the long siege at Samos?

Creative narration: You are a soldier whose company has just drawn the white bean. Make a list of things you plan to do on your "white day."

For older students: Describe Pericles' relationship with Aspasia.

Lesson Nine


Pericles attempted to balance military threats to Athens with the survival of his own political career.


all but in actual hostilities: were very close to war

aid and succour: assistance and support

affront: insult, annoy

angry: because Athens had interfered

supplications: appeals

redress: correcting an unfair situation

ordinance: decree

was in great estimation: was highly respected

enticed: persuaded (in this case, probably bribed)

every whit: every bit

miscarried with the people: made himself unpopular

impeachment: a charge of misconduct or treason against the state

affiance: trust

tenements: land holdings

Historic Occasions

433 B.C.: Battle of Sybota, between Corcyra and Corinth, with Athenian assistance for Corcyra led by Lacedaemonius

432 B.C.: Battle of Potidaea, another battle leading towards full-on-war

431 B.C.: Archidamus of Sparta invaded Attica; beginning of the Second Peloponnesian War

On the Map

Corcyra: A Greek city, an ally of neither Athens or Sparta, but which received aid from Athens during this conflict

Megara, Megarians: A Greek city, allied with Corinth. Pericles' trade embargoes against Megara caused great anger in that region.

Aeginetans: those of Aegina, an island in the Saronic Gulf (near Corinth), which was considered a rival for power with Athens

Potidaea: a colony founded by Corinth


Part One

After this was over, the Peloponnesian War beginning to break out in full tide, he advised the people to send help to the Corcyraeans, who were attacked by the Corinthians; and to secure to themselves an island possessed of great naval resources, since the Peloponnesians were already all but in actual hostilities against them.

The people readily consenting to the motion, and voting an aid and succour for them, he despatched Lacedaemonius, Cimon's son, having only ten ships with him, as it were out of a design to affront him; for there was a great kindness and friendship betwixt Cimon's family and the Lacedaemonians. Therefore did Pericles cause Lacedaemonius to have so few ships delivered him, and further, sent him thither against his will, to the end that if he did so notable exploit in this service, that then they might the more justly suspect his goodwill to the Lacedaemonians. But Pericles being blamed for that he sent but ten galleys only, which was but a slender aid for those that had requested them, and a great matter to them that spoke ill of them: he sent thither afterwards a great number of other galleys, which came when the battle was fought.

But the Corinthians were marvellous angry, and went and complained to the council of the Lacedaemonians, where they laid open many grievous complaints and accusations against the Athenians, and so did the Megarians also: alleging that contrary to common right and the articles of peace sworn to among the Greeks, they had been kept out and driven away from every market and from all ports under the control of the Athenians. The Aeginetans, also, professing to be ill-used and treated with violence, made supplications in private to the Lacedaemonians for redress, though not daring openly to call the Athenians in question.

In the meantime also, the city of Potidaea, subject at that time unto the Athenians (and which was built in old time by the Corinthians) did rebel, and was besieged by the Athenians, which did hasten on the wars. Notwithstanding this, ambassadors were first sent unto Athens upon these complaints; and Archidamus, king of the Lacedaemonians, did all that he could to pacify the most part of these quarrels and complaints, attempting to reconcile the friends and allies. So it is very likely that the war would not upon any other grounds of quarrel have fallen upon the Athenians, could they have been prevailed with to repeal the ordinance against the Megarians, and to be reconciled with them. Upon which account, since Pericles was the man who mainly opposed the idea of repealing it, and stirred up the people's passions to persist in their contention with the Megarians, he was regarded as the sole cause of the war.

[omission for length and content]

Yet some hold opinion that Pericles did it of a noble mind and judgement, to be constant in that he thought most expedient. For he judged that this commandment of the Lacedaemonians was but a trial, to prove if the Athenians would grant them: and if they yielded to them in that, then they manifestly shewed that they were the weaker. Others contrarily say, that it was done of a self-will and arrogance, to show his authority and power, and how much he did despise the Lacedaemonians.


But the shrewdest proof of all, that bringeth best authority with it, is reported after this sort. Phidias the image maker (as we have told you before) had undertaken to make the image of Pallas: and being Pericles' friend, was in great estimation about him. But that procured him many ill-willers. His enemies enticed Menon, one of the workmen that wrought under Phidias; and made him come into the marketplace to pray assurance of the people that he might openly accuse Phidias, for a fault he had committed about Pallas' image. His accusation was heard openly in the marketplace, but no mention was made of any theft at all: because that Phidias (through Pericles' counsel) had from the beginning so laid on the gold upon the image, that it might be taken off, and weighed every whit. Whereupon Pericles openly said unto his accusers, "Take off the gold and weigh it."

But the reputation of his works was what brought envy upon Phidias, especially that where he represents the fight of the Amazons upon the goddess' shield; he had introduced a likeness of himself in a bald old man holding up a great stone with both hands, and had put in a very fine representation of Pericles fighting with an Amazon [omission]. So Phidias was clapped up in prison, and there died of a sickness, or else of a poison (as some say) which his enemies had prepared for him: and all to bring Pericles into further suspicion, and to give them the more cause to accuse him. But howsoever it was, the people gave Menon his freedom, and set him free; and gave the captains charge they should see him safely kept, and that he took no hurt.

[omission for length and content]

Part Two

[omission: During a time of zealous public inquisition, Aspasia and Anaxagoras were both accused of heresy.]

As for Aspasia, Pericles saved her, even for the very pity and compassion the judges took of him, for the tears he shed in making his humble suit for her, all the time he pleaded her case: as Aeschines writeth. But for Anaxagoras, fearing that he could not do so much for him: he sent him out of the city. And finding that in Phidias' case he had miscarried with the people, being afraid of impeachment, he kindled the war, which hitherto had lingered and smothered, and blew it up into a flame: hoping by that means to disperse and scatter these complaints and charges, and to allay their jealousy; the city usually throwing herself upon him alone, and trusting to his sole conduct, upon the urgency of great affairs and public dangers, by reason of his authority and the sway he bore. These are given out to have been the reasons which induced Pericles not to suffer the people of Athens to yield to the proposals of the Lacedaemonians; but their truth is uncertain.

But the Lacedaemonians knowing well that if they could weed out Pericles, and overthrow him, they might then deal as they would with the Athenians: they commanded them they should purge their city of "the Pericles pollution" (referring to some scandal relating to his mother's family). But this fell out contrary to the hope and expectation of those that were sent to Athens for this purpose. For instead of bringing Pericles into further suspicion and displeasure, the citizens honoured him the more, and had a better affiance in him than before, because they saw his enemies did so much fear and hate him.

Wherefore, before King Archidamus entered with the army of the Peloponnesians into the country of Attica, Pericles told the Athenians that if King Archidamus fortuned to waste and destroy all the country about, and should spare his lands and goods for the old love and familiarity that was between them, or rather to give his enemies occasion falsely to accuse him: that from thenceforth, he gave all the lands and tenements he had in the country unto the commonwealth.

Narration and Discussion

Tell the story of Phidias. Why was he was accused of theft? How did he clear himself of the charge? Why was he imprisoned anyway?

How did all these attempts to discredit Pericles backfire?

For older students: Why was Pericles so stubborn about Megara? Some historians thought it was such an unimportant matter (and Megara such an unimportant place) that Pericles must have been holding some personal grudge, or otherwise that he was "war-mongering" to distract the public from other issues. Another possibility is that Pericles believed that any such apology or change of policy would damage Athens' powerful image, which was already in danger. If you have a group, you could debate this issue.

Creative narration: "Therefore did Pericles cause Lacedaemonius to have so few ships delivered him…" This might inspire an interesting telephone conversation between the various parties.

Lesson Ten


The Spartans (Lacedaemonians) invaded Attica by land, because they had little sea power. Their plan was to force the Athenians to come out from behind the safety of their walls and fight. As we have learned already, Pericles hated risking lives unnecessarily, so he tried another tactic: "harassing" (or damaging) the coast of the Peloponnesus by sea.

It was Pericles' hardest test, both in fighting the enemy and in managing his own people. Some trusted his judgment; others were harder to convince. Not go out and fight? Wasn't that a cowardly thing to do? Could the Athenians have held out and forced the Spartans to leave without any bloodshed?

It might have worked, "had not some divine power crossed human purposes."

Sidebar: Pericles' Funeral Oration

"Any one can discourse to you for ever about the advantages of a brave defense, which you know already. But instead of listening to him I would have you day by day fix your eyes upon the greatness of Athens, until you become filled with the love of her; and when you are impressed by the spectacle of her glory, reflect that this empire has been acquired by men who knew their duty and had the courage to do it, who in the hour of conflict had the fear of dishonor always present to them, and who, if ever they failed in an enterprise, would not allow their virtues to be lost to their country, but freely gave their lives to her as the fairest offering which they could present at her feast."

"Such is the city for whose sake these men nobly fought and died; they could not bear the thought that she might be taken from them; and every one of us who survive should gladly toil on her behalf."

Those who have heard of Pericles' Funeral Oration may wonder where it fits into the story. This famous speech appears in Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War, but it is not mentioned by Plutarch. According to Thucydides, it was given by Pericles at a public funeral for soldiers, at the end of the first year of the war. Questions about its authenticity are less important here than its theme: focusing on the "glory" of Athens and the need for courageous citizenship. This speech is believed to have inspired Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.


burning and spoiling: damaging and probably looting

assemble the people in council: Dryden says "convene the people into an assembly"

cast away: lost

dastardliness: cruelty, wickedness

Satyr-king, instead of swords . . .: These verses (only the first of which is included here) have been translated quite differently by different English translators. They had both satirical and serious meanings for the original audience; for us, it is enough to know that Pericles' enemies were saying that he was cowardly and no longer able to rule effectively. (Teles was apparently known for cowardice.)

jaded: exhausted, demoralized; "sick and tired"

parted: divided

protracted: stretched out

had not some divine power . . .: This refers to the Plague of Athens, which began at that time.


Cleon: a political rival of Pericles

Hermippus: a writer of plays; it was he who accused Aspasia of heresy.

On the Map

Acharnes: a suburb of Athens


So it fortuned that the Lacedaemonians, with all their friends and confederates, brought a marvellous army into the country of Attica, under the leading of King Archidamus, burning and spoiling all the countries he came alongst. They came unto the town of Acharnes, where they encamped, supposing the Athenians would never suffer them to approach so near, but that they would give them battle for the honour and defense of their country, and to show that they were no cowards. But Pericles wisely considered how the danger was too great to hazard battle, where the loss of the city of Athens stood in peril, seeing there were threescore thousand footmen of the Peloponnesians, and of the Boeotians together: for so many was their number in the first voyage they made against the Athenians. And as for those that were very desirous to fight, and to put themselves to any hazard, being mad to see their country thus wasted and destroyed before their eyes, Pericles did comfort and pacify them with these words:

"That trees being cut and hewn down, did spring again in short time; but men being once dead, by no possibility could be brought again."

Therefore he never dared assemble the people in council, fearing lest he should be enforced by the multitude to do something against his will. But as a wise captain of a ship, when he sees a storm coming on the sea, gives order to make all things safe in the ship, preparing everything ready to defend the storm, according to his art and skill, not harkening to the passengers' fearful cries and pitiful tears, who think themselves cast away: even so did Pericles rule all things according to his wisdom: having walled the city substantially about, and set good watch in every corner. He passed not for those that were angry and offended with him; neither would be persuaded by his friends' earnest requests and entreaties; neither cared for his enemies' threats nor accusations against him; nor yet reckoned of all their foolish scoffing songs they sang of him in the city, to his shame and reproach of government, saying that he was a cowardly captain, and that for dastardliness he let the enemies take all, and spoil what they would.

Cleon, also, already was among his assailants, making use of the feeling against him as a step to the leadership of the people, as appears in these verses of Hermippus:

Satyr-king, instead of swords,
Will you always handle words?
Very brave indeed we find them,
But a Teles lurks behind them.

All these notwithstanding, Pericles was never moved in anything, but with silence did patiently bear all injuries and scoffings of his enemies; and did send, for all that, a navy of a hundred sail unto Peloponnesus; whither he would not go in person, but stayed behind, to keep the people in quiet until such time as the enemies had raised their camp, and were gone away.

Yet to soothe the common people, jaded and distressed with the war, he relieved them with distributions of public moneys, and ordained new divisions of subject land. For having turned out all the people of Aegina, he parted the island among the Athenians according to lot. Some comfort, also, and ease in their miseries, they might receive from what their enemies endured. For the fleet, sailing round the Peloponnese, ravaged a great deal of the country, and pillaged and plundered the towns and smaller cities; and by land he himself entered with an army the Megarian country, and made havoc of it all. Whence it is clear that the Peloponnesians, though they did the Athenians much mischief by land, yet suffering as much themselves from them by sea, would not have protracted the war to such a length, but would quickly have given it over, as Pericles at first foretold they would, had not some divine power crossed human purposes.

Narration and Discussion

How did Pericles manage the people in time of war? Explain how he handled criticism and complaints.

Creative narration: You are a writer in fifth-century Athens. Write verses either criticizing or praising Pericles.

Lesson Eleven


The Plague of Athens changed not only the course of the war, but that of the Athenian empire; and much of the blame fell on Pericles. Was it a judgment from God, or the gods? Could it have been prevented?


plague: An exact medical name for the epidemic has never been agreed upon. Based on descriptions from that time (such as that of Thucydides the historian), plus recently-discovered DNA evidence, it seems to have resembled typhus, typhoid, or some type of viral hemorrhagic fever.

the flower of Athens' youth: the best young people

The sickness having troubled their brains . . .: Dryden translates this "distempered and afflicted in their souls."

bruited abroad: spread rumours

heart of the summer: not a typo, although "heat of the summer" would mean the same thing

pent: penned up

shrouded: covered over, in the same sense as being covered in fog

fold: place where sheep are kept

ill token: sign of bad luck

master of his galley: captain of his ship

in amaze withal: frozen with fear

the most part of voices: a majority vote

common griefs: public (political) troubles

prodigal and lavish of expense: she liked to spend money

put him in suit: took him to court over it

sophists, master rhetoricians: philosophers (see Lesson One)

kinsfolks: relatives

pull down his countenance: to have a sad face. Dryden says, "He did not shrink or give in…nor betray or lower his high spirit and the greatness of his mind under all his misfortunes."

constancy: dependability, steadiness

copious: a great amount


Xanthippus, Paralus: sons of Pericles by his first wife

Historic Occasions

430 B.C.: Plague of Athens

On the Map

Epidaurus: The major city of the region called Epidauria, on the Saronic Gulf. It was believed to be a sacred place of healing.


Part One

For first of all there came such a sore plague among the Athenians, that it took away the flower of Athens' youth, and weakened the force of the whole city besides. Furthermore, the bodies of them that were left alive being infected with this disease, their hearts also were so sharply bent against Pericles that, the sickness having troubled their brains, they fell to flat rebellion against him, as the patient against his physician, or children against their father, even to the hurting of him (at the provocation of his enemies). Those enemies bruited abroad that the plague came of no cause else but of the great multitude of the countrymen that came into the city on heaps, one upon another's neck in the heart of the summer, where they were compelled to lie many together, smothered up in little tents and cabins, remaining there all day long, cowering downwards and doing nothing, where before they lived in the country in a fresh open air, and at liberty. "And of all this," said they, "Pericles is the only cause, who, procuring this war, hath pent and shrouded the countrymen together within the walls of a city, employing them to no manner of use nor service, but keeping them like sheep in a fold, maketh one to poison another with the infection of their plague sores running upon them, and giving them no leave to change air, that they might so much as take breath abroad."

Part Two

Pericles, to remedy this, and to do their enemies a little mischief, armed a hundred and fifty ships, and shipped into them a great number of armed footmen and horsemen also. Hereby he put the citizens in good hope, and the enemies in great fear, seeing so great a power. But when he had shipped all his men, and was himself also ready to hoist sail, suddenly there was a great eclipse of the sun, and the day was very dark, so that all the army was stricken with a marvellous fear, as of some dangerous and very ill token towards them. Pericles seeing the master of his galley in amaze withal, not knowing what to do: cast his cloak over the master's face, and hid his eyes, asking him whether he thought that any hurt or no. The master answered him, he thought it none. Then said Pericles again to him, "There is no difference between this and that, saving that the body which maketh the darkness is greater, than my cloak which hideth thy eyes."

But Pericles hoisting sail notwithstanding, did no notable or special service answerable to so great an army and preparation. For he, laying siege unto the holy city of Epidaurus, when every man expected they should have taken it, was compelled to raise his siege for the plague that was so vehement: that it did not only kill the Athenians themselves, but all others also (were they never so few) that came to them, or near their camp.

Wherefore perceiving the Athenians were marvellously offended with him, he did what he could to comfort them, and put them in heart again: but all was in vain, he could not pacify them. For by the most part of voices, they deprived him of his charge of general, and condemned him in a marvellous great fine and sum of money, the which those that tell the least do write, that it was the sum of fifteen talents: and those that say more, speak of fifty talents.

Part Three

Now his common griefs were soon blown over: for the people did easily let fall their displeasures towards him, as the wasp leaveth her sting behind her with them she hath stung. But his own home and household causes were in very ill case: both for that the plague had taken away many of his friends and kinsmen from him, as also for that he and his house had continued a long time in disgrace.

For Xanthippus (Pericles' son and heir), being a man of a very ill disposition and nature, and having married a young woman very prodigal and lavish of expense: he grudged much at his father's hardness, who scantly gave him money, and but little at a time. Whereupon he sent on a time to one of his father's friends, in Pericles' name, to pray him to lend him some money, who sent it unto him. But afterwards when the friend came to demand it again, Pericles did not only refuse to pay it him, but further, he put him in suit. But this made the young man Xanthippus so angry with his father that he spoke very ill of him in every place where he came; and, in mockery, reported how his father spent his time when he was at home, and the talk he had with the sophists and the master rhetoricians.

[omission for length: further quarrels between Pericles and his son]

But so it is, this quarrel and hate betwixt the father and the son continued without reconciliation unto the death. For Xanthippus died in the great plague, and Pericles' own sister also; moreover, he lost at that time, by the plague, the greater part of all his friends and kinsfolks, and those specially that did him greatest pleasure in governing of the state. But all this did never pull down his countenance, nor anything abate the greatness of his mind, what misfortunes soever he had sustained. Neither saw they him weep at any time, nor mourn at the funerals of any of his kinsmen or friends, but at the death of Paralus, his younger son: for the loss of him alone did only melt his heart. Yet he did strive to show his natural constancy, and to keep his accustomed modesty. But as he would have put a garland of flowers upon his son's head, sorrow did so pierce his heart when he saw his face, that then he burst out in tears, and shed copious tears: which they never saw him do before, all the days of his life.

Narration and Discussion

Proverbs 18:14 says, "The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity; but a wounded spirit who can bear?" How did this describe the state of the Athenians during the time of plague? Pericles had as much reason to grieve as the others, but Plutarch says, "All this did never pull down his countenance, nor anything abate the greatness of his mind, what misfortunes soever he had sustained." Explain how he may have been able to do this.

Creative narration: What might have Pericles have thought or said about the avalanche of public and personal tragedies? Older students might write this as a dramatic monologue.

Lesson Twelve and Examination Questions


How would you like to be remembered by people? Is it always our great achievements that mean most to us, and to others? Although weakened in body and mind, Pericles found enough strength to assert, on his deathbed, what he felt was his one true achievement as the leader of Athens.


come abroad: come out of one's house

untowardly: untoward; inappropriate, wrong

enrolled: made an official citizen

worn a black gown: worn mourning

choler: anger

demagogues: usually, people who use flattery and make false promises to gain favour; but perhaps in this case it refers to any would-be popular leaders

invidious arbitrary power: power causing widespread resentment because so much of it depended on the wishes of one person

bulwark of public safety: means of protection for the people

mischief and vice: corruption, illegal dealings

weak and low: kept under restraint

attaining incurable height . . .: becoming so powerful that it would be unstoppable


Alcibiades: (450-404 B.C.), the subject of Plutarch's Life of Alcibiades. After his father's death at the Battle of Coronea (Lesson Seven), Pericles became one of his guardians.

Historic Occasions

429 B.C.: Death of Pericles

428/427 or 424/423 B.C.: Birth of Plato


The city having made trial of other generals for the conduct of war, and orators for business of state, when they found there was no one who was of weight enough for such a charge, or of authority sufficient to be trusted with so great a command, regretted the loss of him, and invited him again to address and advise them, to reassume the office of general. He, however, lay at home in dejection and mourning; but was persuaded by Alcibiades and others of his friends to come abroad and show himself to the people; who having, upon his appearance, apologized for their untowardly treatment of him, he undertook the public affairs once more.

[omission for length and content: Pericles, reinstated as governor of Athens, attempted to revoke a law which he had made himself, giving citizenship only to children born of two Athenian parents. This change was now personally important to him since his surviving son (by Aspasia) did not meet that requirement. After discussion, it was agreed to allow Pericles the Younger full citizenship.]

About the time when he son was enrolled, it should seem the plague seized Pericles, not with sharp and violent fits, as it did others that had it, but with a dull and lingering distemper, attended with various changes and alterations, slowly, by little and little, wasting the strength of his body, and undermining the noble faculties of his soul. So that Theophrastus, in his Morals, when discussing whether men's characters change with their circumstances, and their moral habits, disturbed by the ailings of their bodies, leave aside the rules of virtue, has left it upon record that Pericles, when he was sick, showed one of his friends that came to visit him an amulet or charm that the women had hung about his neck; as much as to say, that he was very sick indeed when he would admit of such a foolery as that was.

In the end, Pericles drawing close to death, the nobility of the city, and such his friends as were left alive, standing about his bed, began to speak of his virtue, and of the great authority he had borne; considering the greatness of his noble acts, and counting the number of the victories he had won (for he had won nine battles as general of the Athenians, and had set up as many tokens and triumphs in honour of his country). They reckoned up among themselves all these matters as if he had not understood them, imagining his senses had been gone. But he, contrarily, being yet of perfect memory, heard all what they had said, and thus he began to speak unto them:

"That he marvelled why they had so highly praised that in him which was common to many other captains, and wherein fortune dealt with them in equality alike; and all this while they had forgotten to speak of the best and most notable thing that was in him, which was this: that no Athenian had ever worn a black gown through his occasion."

And sure so was he a noble and worthy person. For he did not only shew himself merciful and courteous, even in most weighty matters of government, among so envious people and hateful enemies: but he had this judgement also to think, that the most noble acts he did were these, that he never gave himself unto hatred, envy, nor choler, to be revenged of his most mortal enemy, without mercy shewed towards him, though he had committed unto him such absolute power and sole government among them.

[omission for length]

The course of public affairs after his death produced a quick and speedy sense of the loss of Pericles. Those who, while he lived, resented his great authority as that which eclipsed themselves, presently after his quitting the stage, making trial of other orators and demagogues, readily acknowledged that "there never had been in nature such a disposition as his was, more moderate and reasonable in the height of that state he took upon him, or more grave and impressive in the mildness which he used. And that invidious arbitrary power, to which formerly they gave the name of monarchy and tyranny, did then appear to have been the chief bulwark of public safety; so great a corruption and such a flood of mischief and vice followed which he, by keeping it weak and low, had withheld from notice, and had prevented from attaining incurable height through a licentious impunity."

Narration and Discussion

Comment on Pericles' last statement to his friends. Is it true that no Athenian ever wore mourning because of Pericles' decisions? If Pericles was wrong, could his statement be caused by his weakened state of mind, or was it truly the thing of which he was most proud?

For older students and further thought: Some people (for instance, the founding fathers of the United States?) believe that power inevitably corrupts and that too much political power in itself is a bad thing. Was Pericles the exception?

Examination Questions

Younger Students:

1. How did Pericles seek to win the favour of the people?

2. (alternative) "In what ways did Pericles make Athens beautiful? How did he persuade the people to help him?"

Older Students:

1. (Middle-school students) Same questions as above.

2. (alternative) "How did Pericles manage the people in time of war lest they should force him to act against his own judgment?"

3. High school: Pericles "gave himself to all matters he had learned of Anaxagoras." What were some of these matters, and how did Pericles make use of them?


Plutarch's Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans. Englished by Sir Thomas North. With an introduction by George Wyndham. Second Volume. London: Dent, 1894.

Plutarch's Lives: The Dryden Plutarch. Revised by Arthur Hugh Clough, Volume 1. London: J.M. Dent, 1910.

AmblesideOnline Plutarch Readings:

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