AmblesideOnline: Plutarch's Life of Pericles

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Study Guide by Anne White

Lesson 1
Lesson 2
Lesson 3
Lesson 4
Lesson 5
Lesson 6
Lesson 7
Lesson 8
Lesson 9
Lesson 10
Lesson 11
Lesson 12

Introduction to Pericles

"The fullest ancient account of the career of Pericles comes from a biography....written in his native Greek by Plutarch of Chaeronea toward the end of the first century A.D. Plutarch was a moralist rather than a historian, and he lived five centuries later than his subject, but his Life of Pericles has great value. Plutarch had an excellent library containing many works now lost to us, some written by contemporaries of Pericles and by men of the next generation. He read the inscriptions of ancient documents and saw paintings, sculptures, and buildings that no longer exist. When used with care, his work is an outstanding source of authentic information." Donald Kagan, Pericles of Athens and the Birth of Democracy

"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. Again, they will answer,- "How did Pericles manage the people in time of war lest they should force him to act against his own judgment?" And from such knowledge as this we may suppose that the children begin to get a sympathetic view of the problems of statesmanship." Charlotte Mason,
Philosophy of Education

In writing last term's notes for Plutarch's Life of Dion, I found there were not many sources of information on him besides Plutarch himself. This is not so with Pericles! He is mentioned, to one extent or another, in any school book on Ancient Greece; many AmblesideOnline students will already have read something about him in history lessons (see the list below). To others, this story may be new. My hope is that this study will be interesting for those who have heard much of it before, and still helpful to those who are just learning about the Golden Age.

Here are the AmblesideOnline books I found that refer to Pericles: since many of you will have these already, they are a good place to get some background material on the story. In particular you could look up the Persian Wars, since the story of Pericles begins shortly after that war. It would also be helpful to find a book or website with pictures of the Acropolis in Athens, since Pericles was responsible for the buildings there.

A Child's History of the World, by V. M. Hillyer. Chapters 23, Greece vs. Persia; 24, Fighting Mad; 25, One Against a Thousand; 26, The Golden Age; 27, When Greek Meets Greek. Or Hillyer and Huey's Young People's Story of the Ancient World, chapters from Greece vs. Persia to The Golden Age of Pericles.

Van Loon's The Story of Mankind treats Pericles briefly, but gives less information than Hillyer does.

H. A. Guerber Story of the Greeks, chapters LVII through LXIII.

These books are useful for further information:

Temple on a Hill: The Building of the Parthenon, by Anne Rockwell. Don't be deceived by the large print: this book goes beyond the Parthenon itself and describes the background of the Persian War and the reasons for the Peloponnesian War (which ended the Golden Age). It was published in 1969 but may still be available in libraries.

Famous Men of Greece, published by Greenleaf Press; chapter 18.

The Greeks, by H. D. F. Kitto. This classic Pelican Book is still available on Amazon. The relevant chapter is "Classical Greece: The Fifth Century." Kitto's genuine enthusiasm for Greek classics is enough to make you want to check out Sophocles and Thucydides yourself. Good reference for parents or high school students.

Pericles of Athens and the Birth of Democracy, by Donald Kagan, who is a professor at Yale University and has been writing about this period for many years. THE reference if you really just love Pericles and can't get enough. :-) In print and likely to be at the library.

Everyday Things in Ancient Greece, by Marjorie and C. H. B Quennell. Not much on Pericles, but lots on Greece.

The Pageant of the Past, by D. C. Trueman and J. H. Trueman. This is a Canadian high school text from the 1960's, and obviously not as easy to find as Kitto's and Kagan's books. If you can get hold of a copy, it is well written and has great maps. A historical atlas would be a good alternative (and you can find maps online).

Theras and His Town, by C. D. Snedeker. Historical fiction about Athens and Sparta.

Helpful Websites

The Age of Pericles: Athens as Metropolis


Version of Plutarch Used:

These study notes are based on the e-text of White's Plutarch for Boys and Girls, which is an abridged version of the Dryden/Clough translation (also available online). The editor did not usually change or add anything to Dryden's text; however, he did cut material freely, which sometimes makes it difficult to follow the historical events described. The text included with these notes is pretty much White's; in a few places where it seemed that the cutting was more confusing than helpful, I have added things back in (in square brackets) or noted that there is an omission.

Older students can use the original Dryden/Clough text, but parents may want to preview it first.

Suggestions for Using the Notes:

When I use these lessons with my daughter, we read through the introduction with and discuss briefly any questions that are asked there; we usually run through the vocabulary list, or at least a few of the most difficult words. I read the text out loud, she narrates orally, and then we do the discussion questions. You can use these notes in any way that suits you, though! You may assign written narrations or a written response to one of the discussion questions, or narration in some other form such as drama; the student could read the text out loud or just read it to him or herself. In Lesson One, you should allow extra time to go through some of the general introductory material.

Lesson 1

The time period covered in the story is the life of Pericles, about 495 to 429 B.C., but mostly the fifty years from 480 to 430 B.C., the Golden Age of Athens. During this time, the city of Athens was at its most powerful both politically and culturally. It was more or less at peace after the destruction of the Persian Wars, and had a very strong navy; it had also become the leader of a group of states called the Delian League. The Athenians did not get along very well with the cities in the Peloponnesian area of Greece, particularly Sparta and Corinth and their allies; this was partly due to jealousy over Athens' growing power. (Here is one online map of Classical Greece:
; there are many others, but some of them are very hard to read.)

Athens had a system of government which was unusual at that time: it was ruled by an assembly of all the male citizens (excluding slaves and foreigners), and that was called a democracy (government by the people). There were ways, however, for some men to become more powerful than others, and one way was to be elected general of the army (at least one of them; Donald Kagan says that there were ten of them at once, all of equal power). (All male citizens made up the army just as they made up the government.) This is the position that Pericles held for many years. He is considered the greatest statesman Athens ever had, though he was not the king, the president or even the mayor of the city.

The men 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 say that the church is not a building or denomination but the entire body of believers. The goddess Athena, for whom Athens was named, wore armor and was called the goddess of victory, but was also in charge of wisdom and the arts. There is a legend that when Athena's temple was destroyed in the Persian Wars, 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 honor.

Plutarch's story of Pericles gets off to a bit of a slow start, but there is a reason for it; he is building up to a description of someone of importance, and the introduction is meant to emphasize this. (Just for comparison: look at the opening chapters of the Gospels.) He begins with a long section (shortened in the version we are using) discussing virtue. You may want to try writing your own definition before reading Plutarch's. A dictionary will give some interesting variations on what "virtue" has meant in different times: the Random House College Dictionary mentions moral excellence and goodness, but also gives an archaic meaning of manly excellence and valor, and refers to the Latin root "vir," meaning man.

Finally he begins speaking of Pericles himself, describing his ancestry, appearance, and his most famous personality traits. (How are the Gospels similar or different in this respect?) As the story continues, he will come back many times to those key points of Pericles' personality, and show how they contributed to his success and that of Athens...which, in Pericles' viewpoint, were really the same thing.

Note on pronunciation: Pericles is usually pronounced "Pair-a-cleeze."


emulation - effort or desire to equal or excel others
sordid - morally ignoble or base; vile; the opposite of honorable
Muses - the nine goddesses who ruled over various arts
mean occupations - lowly, unimportant activities
negligence - neglect
ingenuous - innocent, naive; someone without much experience


We are inspired by acts of virtue with an emulation and eagerness that may lead on to imitation. In other things there does not immediately follow upon the admiration and liking of the thing done, any strong desire of doing the like. Nay, many times, on the very contrary, when we are pleased with the work, we slight and set little by the workman or artist himself, as, for instance, in perfumes and purple dyes, we are taken with the things themselves well enough, but do not think dyers and perfumers otherwise than low and sordid people. It was not said amiss by Antisthenes, when people told him that one Ismenias was an excellent piper, "It may be so, but he is a wretched human being, otherwise he would not have been an excellent piper." And King Philip, to the same purpose, told his son Alexander, who once at a merry meeting played a piece of music charmingly and skillfully, "Are you not ashamed, my son, to play so well?" For it is enough for a king or prince to find leisure sometimes to hear others sing, and he does the muses quite honor enough when he pleases to be but present, while others engage in such exercises and trials of skill.

He who busies himself in mean occupations produces, in the very pains he takes about things of little or no use, an evidence against himself of his negligence and indisposition to what is really good. Nor did any generous and ingenuous young man, at the sight of the statue of Jupiter at Pisa, ever desire to be a Phidias, or, on seeing that of Juno at Argos, long to be a Polycletus, or feel induced by his pleasure in their poems to wish to be an Anacreon or Philetas or Archilochus. 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. The goods of fortune we would possess and would enjoy; those of virtue we long to practice and exercise; we are content to receive the former from others, the latter we wish others to experience from us.

And so we have thought fit to spend our time and pains in writing of the lives of famous persons; and have composed this tenth book upon that subject, containing the life of Pericles, and that of Fabius Maximus [see note below], who carried on the war against Hannibal, men alike, as in their other virtues and good parts, so especially in their mild and upright temper and demeanor, and in that capacity to bear the cross-grained humors of their fellow-citizens and colleagues in office which made them both most useful and serviceable to the interests of their countries. Whether we take a right aim at our intended purpose, it is left to the reader to judge by what he shall find here.

Pericles was of the tribe of 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 at 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, and moreover made a body of laws, and settled a model of government admirably tempered and suited for the harmony and safety of the people.

Pericles in other respects was perfectly formed physically, only his head was somewhat longish and out of proportion. For which reason almost all the images and statues [ ] that were made of him have the head covered with a helmet, the workmen not apparently being willing to expose him. The poets of Athens called him "Schinocephalos," or squill-head, from "schinos," a squill, or sea-onion.

NOTE ABOUT FABIUS MAXIMUS: Plutarch wrote his lives in pairs, and the life of Fabius will be studied next term.


This section is difficult to narrate since it doesn't have a real storyline. For this lesson, you may want to focus on these questions instead.

What is Plutarch's aim in writing the Life of Pericles?

So far we haven't heard a great deal about Pericles himself: only some details about his ancestry and appearance. How do those two things tie in with Plutarch's ideas of virtue?

Why does Plutarch believe that perfumers and pipers must be wretched human beings? Do you agree? What point is he trying to make about leading a virtuous life? Does the Bible agree or disagree with what he says? (See, for instance, Proverbs 31:4-7; but compare it with New Testament passsages such as Colossians 3:23-24.) You might want to debate these questions or write a dialogue between people representing the Athenian and Christian viewpoints.

Lesson 2 - The Vulcan Education of Pericles


On the old television show "This is Your Life," someone famous was always reintroduced to childhood friends, army buddies, and other people that had an influence on his or her life. Often the host would bring on the stage "your old third grade teacher, Mrs. Peabody." You could almost see these supposedly mature, confident celebrities shrinking to eight-year-old size again in front of these little grey-haired ladies, expecting them to correct their grammar in front of a million people.

Early teachers can have a great influence on us. (What teachers do your parents remember best?) Even homeschoolers often have teachers outside of their own family who have helped to shape their thinking -- people at church or other adult friends, or even authors of books that have influenced us. (Maybe we should say that Plutarch is one of our teachers!) Pericles was influenced by several teachers, and two of them are discussed in this section -- Zeno and Anaxagoras. They each taught him certain skills and views of the world. Anaxagoras in particular had a very strong bent towards reason and logic that would have done credit to Mr. Spock. (If you don't know who that is, ask your parents.)


hearer - student
natural philosophy - the science of nature
refuting - proving wrong
furnished - equipped
elevation (and sublimity) of purpose - a desire to do great things; lofty ambitions
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 - Anaxagoras taught that all things were formed and existed out of pure reason, a kind of spiritual intelligence that controlled the universe. This force of reason was called Nous in Greek, which is where he got his nickname.
buffooneries - coarse joking
mob-eloquence - talk that appeals to the mass of common people, reflecting the lowest intellectual level
composure of countenance - showing little emotion in one's face
diviner - fortune teller
cleaving the skull in sunder - cutting the skull in half


Pericles was a hearer of Zeno, the Eliatic, 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 mighty 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 displayed for the science of nature, or because 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, derived hence not merely, as was natural, elevation of purpose and dignity of language, raised far above the base and dishonest buffooneries of mob-eloquence, 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. Once, after being reviled and ill-spoken of all day long in his own hearing by some abandoned fellow in the open market-place where he was engaged in the despatch of some urgent affair, he continued his business in perfect silence, and in the evening returned home composedly, the man still dogging him at the heels, and pelting him all the way with abuse and foul language; and stopping 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.

Nor were these the only advantages which Pericles derived from Anaxagoras's acquaintance; he seems also to have become, by his instructions, superior to that superstition with which an ignorant wonder at appearances, for example, in the heavens, possesses the minds of people unacquainted with their causes, eager for the supernatural, and excitable through an inexperience which the knowledge of natural causes removes, replacing wild and timid superstition by the good hope and assurance of an intelligent piety.

There is a story that once Pericles had brought to him from a country farm of his, a ram's head with one horn, and that Lampon, the diviner, upon seeing the horn grow strong and solid out of the midst of the forehead, gave it as his judgement that, there being at that time two potent factions, parties, or interests in the city, the one of Thucydides and the other of Pericles, the government would come about to that one of them in whose ground or estate this token or indication of fate had shown itself. But that Anaxagoras, cleaving the skull in sunder, showed to the bystanders that the brain had not filled up its natural place, but being oblong, like an egg, had collected from all parts of the vessel which contained it, in a point to that place from whence the root of the horn took its rise. And that, for the time, Anaxagoras was much admired for his explanation by those that were present; and Lampon no less a little while after, when Thucydides was overpowered, and the whole affairs of the state and government came into the hands of Pericles.


It might be fun to do a scene from "This is Your Life" with Pericles and Anaxagoras, but it might also be difficult at this point since we haven't read much about the later life of Pericles. You could keep it in mind for later, though! What were the things that Anaxagoras taught Pericles? What does the illustration of the man bothering Pericles show about Pericles' character?

How were the two explanations for the ram's horn different? How were they both right?

Lesson 3: Pericles in Power


Charlotte Mason liked to talk about the importance of ideas. She said that a student's job is to learn how to absorb true and right ideas and to reject wrong ones, rather than to accept wrong ideas and then try to make them seem right! What are some of the ideas you have learned from Plutarch or your other studies? Did you ever pick up a wrong idea about something that had to be corrected later? (If your younger brothers or sisters watch Mr. Rogers on T.V., watch along with them sometimes and see how he repeats the same simple ideas again and again -- for example, that it is all right to talk about feelings.)

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. In this section, Pericles is now in his mid-twenties and has the opportunity to take on a position of high leadership in Athens. Although he is himself an aristocrat and has no real desire to see power given to the lowest classes of people (in his thinking, lower class men make irrational, emotional decisions), he sees that getting support from the masses is his best offense against the even more aristocratic Cimon. His strategy works: he rises to the top and takes on a new and even more serious attitude befitting his position.

Note on Characters: In this section, we are introduced briefly to Thucydides, the son of Melesias. This Thycydides became a political rival of Pericles; but he is not the same person as Thycydides the historian (who wrote the History of the Peloponnesian Wars). Both men come into the story, but they are always distinguished by the names of their fathers or by the positions they held.


apprehension - uneasiness, anxiety
volubility - ease and fluency of speech
intercourse - connections with people
exterior of gravity - a serious outward manner
the Salaminian galley - I think this was an important warship, possibly used at the battle of Salamis
the council of Areopagus a small group of senior leaders (kind of an executive committee) whose power had diminished as democracy in Athens grew, and whose influence was cut down almost to nothing at this point
Pericles's dexterity - Pericles's skill in rhetoric, in public speaking (PUNCTUATION NOTE: Personally I prefer Pericles' as a possessive form, but Dryden/Clough always write Pericles's, so that's the way it will appear in this study. You can pronounce it as you like.)


Pericles, while yet but a young man, stood in considerable apprehension of the people, as he was thought in face and figure to be very like the tyrant Pisitratus [his ancestor], and those of great age remarked upon the sweetness of his voice, and his volubility and rapidity in speaking, and were struck with amazement at the resemblance. But when Aristides was now dead, and Themistocles driven out [471 B.C.], and Cimon [the previous leading citizen and chief rival of Pericles] was for the most part kept abroad by the expeditions he made in parts out of Greece [take a deep breath here!], Pericles, seeing things in this posture, now advanced and took his side, not with the rich and few, but with the many and poor, contrary to his natural bent, which was far from democratical; but, most likely, fearing he might fall under suspicion of aiming at arbitrary power, and seeing Cimon on the side of the aristocracy, and [Cimon being] much beloved by the better and more distinguished people, he [Pericles] joined the party of the people, with a view at once both to secure himself and procure means against Cimon.

He immediately entered, also, on quite a new course of life and management of his time. For he was never seen to walk in any street but that which led to the market-place and the council-hall, and he avoided invitations of friends to supper, and all friendly visits and intercourse whatever; in all the time he had to do with the public, which was not a little, he was never known to have gone to any of his friends to a supper, except that once when his near kinsman Euryptolemus married, he remained present till the ceremony of the drink-offering, and then immediately rose from the 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 best 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, however, to avoid any feeling of commonness, or any satiety on the part of the people, presented himself at intervals only, not speaking on every business, nor at all times coming into the assembly, but, as Critolaus says, reserving himself, like the Salaminian galley, for great occasions, while matters of lesser importance were despatched by friends or other speakers under his direction. And of this number we are told Ephialtes made one, who broke the power of the council of Areopagus, giving the people, according to Plato's expression, so copious and so strong a draught of liberty, that, growing wild and unruly, like an unmanageable horse, it, as the comic poets say, -

"--got beyond all keeping in,
Champing at Euboea, and among the islands leaping in."

The style of speaking most consonant to his form of life and the dignity of his views he found, so to say, in the tones of that instrument with which Anaxagoras had furnished him; of his teaching he [Pericles] continually availed himself, and deepened the colors of rhetoric with the dye of natural science.

A saying of Thucydides, the son of Melesias, stands on record, spoken by him by way of pleasantry upon Pericles's dexterity. Thucydides was one of the noble and distinguished citizens, and had been his greatest opponent; and, when Archidamus, the king of the Lacedaemonians [the Spartans], 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, he by persisting that he had no fall, gets the better of me, and makes the bystanders, in spite of their own eyes, believe him."


After narrating this passage, discuss some of these questions:

Was it necessary for Pericles to take on the new attitude of superiority that he did? Think of a worker who is promoted to manager and who now has authority over his former co-workers and friends. What are some of the problems that could cause? Do you feel Pericles was justified in becoming aloof and often sending someone else to make his speeches?

Compare this to the style of leadership that Jesus showed (always available to talk to people, being a constant example for others, enjoying time with his friends). To quote Plutarch: "Real excellence, indeed, is best 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." If this is what Plutarch believes, then why does he admire Pericles so much?

For further thought: Christian pastors sometimes have difficulty deciding how to relate to their congregationsthey can be accused of being too aloof or too familiar! What are the problems that these two extremes can cause? You might want to discuss this with a pastor or someone else in a position of authority and leadership.

What did Thucydides mean by his remark about Pericles' ability to argue and persuade?

Lesson 4: The Rule of Pericles


Was Pericles a great ruler, or not? Plutarch begins this passage by quoting some of Pericles' detractors, 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." It doesn't sound much like the virtuous example that Plutarch has been praising up until now.

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. Does the evidence show that the accusations against Pericles were just?


appropriations of subject territory - taking over and colonizing areas outside of Athens
intemperance - excessive indulgence of natural appetites or passions (such as drunkenness)
license - excessive or undue freedom or liberty; doing whatever they wanted
caress - treat with favor and kindness
largess - gifts
to a man - every one of them
discreet - judicious, prudent


The rule of Pericles has been described as an aristocratical government, that went by the name of a democracy, but was, indeed, the supremacy of a single great man; while many say, that by him the common people were first encouraged and led on to such evils as appropriations of subject territory, allowances for attending theatres, payments for performing public duties, and by these bad habits were, under the influence of his public measures, changed from a sober, thrifty people, that maintained themselves by their own labors, to lovers of expense, intemperance, and license.

At the first, as has been said, when he set himself against Cimon's great authority, he did caress the people. Finding himself come short of his competitor in wealth and money, by which advantages the other [Cimon] was enabled to take care of the poor, inviting every day some one or other of the citizens that was in want to supper, and bestowing clothes on the aged people, and breaking down the hedges and enclosures of his grounds, that all that would might freely gather what fruit they pleased. Pericles, thus outdone in popular arts, turned to the distribution of the public moneys; and in a short time having bought the people over, what with moneys allowed for shows and for service on juries, and what with the other forms of pay and largess, he made use of them [the common people] against the council of Areopagus [the most elite of the leadership], and directed the exertions of his party against this council with such success, that most of those causes and matters which had been formerly tried there, were removed from its cognizance. Cimon, also, was banished by ostracism as a favorer of the Lacedaemonians [Spartans] and a hater of the people, though in wealth and noble birth he was among the first, and had won several most glorious victories over the barbarians, and had filled the city with money and spoils of war. So vast an authority had Pericles obtained among the people.

The ostracism was limited by law to ten years; but the Lacedaemonians, in the meantime, entering with a great army into the territory of Tanagra, and the Athenians going out against them, Cimon, coming from his banishment before his time was out, put himself in arms and array with those of his fellow-citizens that were of his own tribe [his kinsmen], and desired by his deeds to wipe off the suspicion of his favoring the Lacedaemonians, by venturing his own person along with his countrymen. But Pericles's friends, gathering in a body, forced him to retire as a banished man. For which cause also [this battle against the Spartans] Pericles seems to have exerted himself more than in any other battle, and to have been conspicuous above all for his exposure of himself to danger. All Cimon's friends, also, to a man, fell together side by side, whom Pericles had accused with him of taking part with the Lacedaemonians. Defeated in this battle on their own frontiers, and expecting a new and perilous attack with return of spring, the Athenians now felt regret and sorrow for the loss of Cimon, and repentance for their expulsion of him. Pericles, being sensible of their feelings, did not hesitate or delay to gratify it, and himself made the motion for recalling him home. He [Cimon], upon his return, concluded a peace [treaty] betwixt the two cities; for the Lacedaemonians entertained as kindly feelings towards him as they did the reverse towards Pericles and the other popular leaders.

Cimon, while he was admiral, ended his days in the Isle of Cyprus. And the aristocratical party, seeing that Pericles was already before this grown to be the greatest and foremost man of all the city, but nevertheless wishing there should be somebody set up against him, to blunt and turn the edge of his power, that it might not altogether prove a monarchy, put forward Thucydides of Alopece [the one who made the comment about wrestling], a discreet person, and a near kinsman of Cimon's, to conduct the opposition against him. And so Pericles, at that time more than at any other, let loose the reins to the people, and made his policy subservient to their pleasure, contriving continually to have some great public show or solemnity, some banquet, or some procession or other in the town to please them, coaxing his countrymen like children, with such delights and pleasures as were not, however, unedifying. Besides that, every year he sent out threescore galleys, on board of which there went numbers of the citizens, who were in pay eight months, at the same time learning and practicing the art of seamanship.

He sent, moreover, a thousand of them into the Chersonese as planters, to share the land among them by lot, and five hundred more into the isle of Naxos, and half that number to Andros, a thousand into Thrace to dwell among the Bisaltae, and others into Italy, when the city Sybaris, which now was called Thurii, was to be repeopled. And this he did to ease and discharge the city of an idle, and, by reason of their idleness, a busy, meddling crowd of people; and at the same time to meet the necessities and restore the fortunes of the poor townsmen, and to intimidate, also, and check their allies from attempting any change, by posting such garrisons, as it were, in the midst of them.


After narrating this passage, discuss some of these questions:

How did Pericles get around the problem of not having a great deal of personal money to spend on what could be called "buying votes?" Do you think politicians today do something similar? Do you agree with this way of influencing people? Is there any other way to persuade people to support your cause?

Outline Cimon's fall from popularity, his attempt to make a comeback, and the peoples' reaction. How is it that he still could not come back into full power over Pericles?

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? What does it mean that he "made his policy subservient to their pleasure?"

Lesson 5: The Buildings on the Acropolis


This lesson will be a little different, because the subject under discussion is the greatest achievement of the Golden Age: the Parthenon and the other buildings on the Acropolis.

In Anne Rockwell's book Temple on a Hill, she says, "A building the size of the Parthenon might easily overwhelm an individual, but Greek architects of that time held man in high esteem and built, not to minimize him but to make him feel at ease, and yet ennoble him with something greater than himself. To have succeeded as they did was a remarkable achievement, for many buildings of such size lack the human scale of the Parthenon. It is this, perhaps, as much as any other thing about it, that has made it so perfect a building."

The writing is fairly straightforward, the vocabulary is not difficult, and there should be no great problems in getting through this passage. Consider it a gift, and enjoy taking some time to use books, videos and/or online resources to learn more about the building of the Parthenon. (I can't begin to list all the websites that show photographs and diagrams of the Parthenon; you (teacher or student) can probably find even better sites than I can. One way to get started is to go to or another search engine, and look up words like Acropolis, Parthenon, Athens, "virtual tour", Pericles. Remember that on Google you can click on "Images" if you just want to look for sites with pictures. If you're browsing the Net or looking through books about Ancient Greece, you might want to bookmark (literally or on the computer) any good maps you find of 5th century Greece or the Athenian Empire around the Mediterranean; that will definitely help with upcoming lessons.)


outvie - compete, outdo each other
antique - belonging to the past; in this sense, I think it means timeless
mysteries - secret religious rites
architrave, frieze - two parts of a classical temple found between the columns and the eaves


That which gave most pleasure and ornament to the city of Athens, and the greatest admiration and even astonishment to all strangers, and that which now is Greece's only evidence that the power she boasts of and her ancient wealth are no romance or idle story, was his [Pericles's] construction of the public and sacred buildings.

The materials were stone, brass, ivory, gold, ebony, and cypress-wood; the artisans that wrought and fashioned them were smiths and carpenters, moulders, founders and braziers, stone-cutters, dyers, goldsmiths, ivory-workers, painters, embroiderers, turners; those again that conveyed them to the town for use, merchants and mariners and ship-masters by sea; and by land, cartwrights, cattle-breeders, wagoners, rope-makers, flax-workers, shoe-makers and leather-dressers, road-makers, miners. And every trade in the same nature, as a captain in an army has his particular company of soldiers under him, had its own hired company of journeymen and laborers belonging to it banded together as in array, to be as it were the instrument and body for the performance of the service of these public works distributed plenty through every age and condition.

As then grew the works up, no less stately in size than exquisite in form, the workmen striving to outvie the material and the design with the beauty of their workmanship, yet the most wonderful thing of all was the rapidity of their execution. Undertakings, any one of which singly might have required, they thought, for their completion, several successions and ages of men, were every one of them accomplished in the height and prime of one man's political service. Although they say, too, that Zeuxis once, having heard Agatharchus, the painter, boast of despatching his work with speed and ease, replied, "I take a long time." For ease and speed in doing a thing do not give the work lasting solidity or exactness of beauty; the expenditure of time allowed to a man's pains beforehand for the production of a thing is repaid by way of interest with a vital force for its preservation when once produced. For which reason Pericles's works are especially admired, as having been made quickly, to last long. For every particular piece of his work was immediately, even at that time, for its beauty and elegance, antique; and yet in its vigor and freshness looks to this day as if it were just executed. There is a sort of bloom of newness upon those works of his, preserving them from the touch of time, as if they had some perennial spirit and undying vitality mingled in the composition of them.

Phidias had the oversight of all the works, and was surveyor-general, though upon the various portions other great masters and workmen were employed. For Callicrates and Ictinus built the
Parthenon; the chapel at Eleusis, where the mysteries were celebrated, was begun by Coroebus, who erected the pillars that stand upon the floor or pavement, and joined them to the architraves; and after his death Metagenes of Xypete added the frieze and the upper line of columns; Xenocles of Cholargus roofed or arched the lantern on the top of the temple of Castor and
Pollux; and the long wall, which Socrates says he himself heard Pericles propose to the people, was undertaken by Callicrates.

The Odeum, 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's order; which Cratinus again, in his comedy called The Thracian Women, made an occasion of raillery, -

So, we see here,
Jupiter Long-pate Pericles appear,
Since ostracism time he's laid aside his head,
And wears the new Odeum in its stead.

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 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.

The propylaea, or entrances to the Acropolis, were finished in five years' time, Mnesicles being the principal architect. A strange accident happened in the course of building, which showed that the goddess was not averse to the work, but was aiding and co-operating to bring it to perfection. One of the artificers, the quickest and the handiest workmen among them all, with a slip of his foot, fell down from a great height, and lay in a miserable condition, the physician having no hopes of his recovery. When Pericles was in distress about this, Athena appeared to him at night in a dream, and ordered a course of treatment which he applied, and in a short time, and with great ease, cured the man. And upon this occasion it was that he set up a brass statue of Athena, surnamed Health, in the citadel near the altar, which they say was there before. But it was Phidias who wrought the goddess's 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's friendship for him.

When the orators, who sided with Thucydides and his party, were at one time crying out, as their custom was, against Pericles, as one who squandered away public money and made havoc of the state revenues, he rose in the open assembly and put the question to the people, whether they thought that he had laid out much; and saying, "Too much, a great deal," "Then," said he, "since it is so, let the cost not go to your account, but to mine; and let the inscription upon the buildings stand in my name." When they heard him say thus, whether it were out of a surprise to see the greatness of his spirit, or out of emulation of the glory of the works, they cried aloud, bidding him to spend on, and lay out what he thought fit from the public purse, and to spare no cost, till
all were finished.

Narration and Discussion

How did Pericles handle the criticism that he had spent too much public money on the buildings? How did the people react to his suggestion?

How did a friendly...or perhaps unfriendly...spirit of competitiveness spur the Athenians on in the various areas of the fine arts? Can such competitiveness sometimes be a positive force for getting things done? (Think of examples.) When does competition become a negative thing?

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? Consider the quote from Anne Rockwell as well; is there a difference in the Greek and Hebrew way of thinking?

Lesson 6: Pericles's Winning Season

Note on version used in this lesson: Although it makes the passage longer, I have chosen to use the complete text from the Dryden/Clough translation. It's not easy reading, but careful study of the whole passage will reward us with some important insights into Pericles' character. If time and length are an issue (especially for a younger student), I have marked (with square brackets) a couple of sections that could be omitted. You could also choose to spend extra time this week working through this lesson.


In a movie a long time ago called Heaven Can Wait, a football player named Joe was suddenly plopped into the body of a wealthy industrialist, the president of a large company. Since he still looked exactly like the president, everyone called him by the president's name and expected him to make big decisions that would affect a lot of people. Joe didn't know much about managing a corporation, but he used his knowledge of teamwork and football strategy to make some changes for the better in the company.

Pericles was also something like the manager of a multi-national corporation, in this case the Athenian empire. His city-state had gained power over more and more of the cities around the Mediterranean; he managed one of the biggest naval powers around; Athens had become kind of a supreme-court center where cases from other parts of the empire were judged; and he was responsible for a great deal of public money. How did he cope with his increasing responsibilities? What were the strategies that created his "winning season?"


barbarians - foreigners; non-Greeks
schism - (pronounced sism); a division or gap between groups of people
populace - the common people
loose, remiss, licentious - not tightly controlled; allowing some breaking of the rules
modulations - tone of voice, manner of speaking
the austerity of aristocratical and regal rule - the stern, strict manner of ruling like a king
undeviatingly - without exception
predominance - power; being the foremost leader
bequeathed - left to someone in a will
patrimony - the estate of one's father
drachma - a unit of Greek money
tributes - taxes
policy - in this context, it means someone's (Pericles's) leadership; in the same sense as "the Bush administration"
unintermitted - without a break
pecuniary - financial
negligence - neglect
disbursements - payments, particularly money given to the poor


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; and employing this uprightly and undeviatingly for the country's best interests, he was able generally to lead the people along, with their own wills and consents, by persuading and showing them what was to be done; and sometimes, too, urging and pressing them forward extremely against their will, he made them, whether they would or no, yield submission to what was for their advantage. In which, to say the truth, he did but like a skillful physician, who, in a complicated and chronic disease, as he sees occasion, at one while allows his patient the moderate use of such things as please him, at another while gives him keen pains and drugs to work the cure. 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, 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. The source of this predominance was not barely his power of language, but, as Thucydides assures us, the reputation of his life, and the confidence felt in his character; his manifest freedom from every kind of corruption, and superiority to all considerations of money. Notwithstanding he had made the city Athens, which was great of itself, as great and rich as can be imagined, and though he were himself in power and interest more than equal to many kings and absolute rulers, who some of them also bequeathed by will their power to their children, he, for his part, did not make the patrimony his father left him greater than it was by one drachma.

Thucydides, indeed, gives a plain statement of the greatness of his power; and the comic poets, in their spiteful manner, more than hint at it, styling his companions and friends the new Pisistratidae, and calling on him to abjure any intention of usurpation, as one whose eminence was too great to be any longer proportionable to and compatible with a democracy or popular government. And Teleclides says the Athenians had surrendered up to him --

The tribute of the cities, and with them, the cities too, to do with them as he pleases, and undo; To build up, if he likes, stone walls around a town; and again, if so he likes, to pull them down; Their treaties and alliances, power, empire, peace, and war, their wealth and their success forevermore.

Nor was all this the luck of some happy occasion; nor was it the mere bloom and grace of a policy that flourished for a season; but having for forty years together maintained the first place among statesmen such as Ephialtes and Leocrates and Myronides and Cimon and Tolmides and Thucydides were, after the defeat and banishment of Thucydides, for no less than fifteen years longer, in the exercise of one continuous unintermitted command in the office, to which he was annually re-elected, of General, he preserved his integrity unspotted; though otherwise he was not altogether idle or careless in looking after his pecuniary advantage; 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 afterward by buying everything that he or his family wanted out of the market. Upon which account, his children, when they grew to age, were not well pleased with his management, and the women that lived with him were treated with little cost, and complained of this way of housekeeping, where everything was ordered and set down from day to day, and reduced to the greatest exactness; since there was not there, as is usual in a great family and a plentiful estate, any thing to spare, or over and above; but all that went out or came in, all disbursements and all receipts, proceeded as it were by number and measure. His manager in all this was a single servant, Evangelus by name, a man either naturally gifted or instructed by Pericles so as to excel every one in this art of domestic economy.

[All this, in truth, was very little in harmony with Anaxagoras's wisdom; if, indeed, it be true that he, by a kind of divine impulse and greatness of spirit, voluntarily quitted his house, and left his land to lie fallow and to be grazed by sheep like a common. But the life of a contemplative philosopher and that of an active statesman are, I presume, not the same thing; for the one merely employs, upon great and good objects of thought, an intelligence that requires no aid of instruments nor supply of any external materials; whereas the other, who tempers and applies his virtue to human uses, may have occasion for affluence, not as a matter of mere necessity, but as a noble thing; which was Pericles's case, who relieved numerous poor citizens.]

[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's 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's condition as his own, should he lose such a counselor 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 narrating this passage, answer/discuss some of the following questions orally or in writing:

The first paragraph is very important, because it describes the rise of the Athenian empire under Pericles. Read it slowly again, and pick out the ways that Athens had become powerful. How much of that power was directly in Pericles's hands?

How did this increased power change Pericles?

Plutarch says of Pericles: "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, 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." Charlotte Mason had a horror of teachers playing on those particular strings in their students, in the sense of manipulating them by playing on their hopes and fears, or interfering in that part of their souls that was between them and God. In this sense, one could say that Pericles was an expert manipulator of people. He was logical, persuasive, skilled in rhetoric; so skilled that he could persuade an entire city to do as he thought best. With another such man in power, this could have caused disaster. (Think about Hitler?) What was the one ingredient that made Pericles stand apart?

Describe Pericles's system of managing his own money and business. Why did he choose to be so rigid and exact with his household and business expenses? How does Plutarch justify both the lifestyle of Anaxagoras, who left all his worldly goods behind him, and Pericles, who held onto his large house and land? How does the last incident described illustrate the responsibility of those who do have wealth?

For further study (for older students)

Choose another leader that you have studied or would like to know more about; possibilities might include George Washington or Winston Churchill. Find out as much as you can about how they "managed the people." Read some of their speeches. What made them successful in leadership? Did they use some of the same tactics as Pericles?

Lesson 7: Spartan Threat


The action of the story picks up a bit here, with tension increasing between Athens and her rivals. The first paragraph tells about a planned great meeting of Greeks from many places; the second explains that the meeting never actually took place, but that Plutarch thought it was worth mentioning just for the spirit of the thing. The fact that it didn't take place, however, shows something of the actual climate of the time, and is a first hint that Pericles's plans will not always bear the fruit that he hopes.

Plutarch tells of a few incidents that demonstrate Pericles's methods of handling the empire. He would do anything he could to help Athens' allies and territories that paid tribute or otherwise looked to Athens as their leader; but he wanted to secure and "consolidate" what they already held before he would risk any lives to gain more territory. Those who disagreed with his wisdom on this often paid the natural consequences of their greed. (Listen for the story of Tolmides in this passage.)

Unless you're doing an extended study of Greek history, don't worry too much about the many places and groups listed in this passage. Instead, watch for patterns in Pericles's strategy, the way he kept the trust of the Athenians, and for the overall story beginning to build toward the Peloponnesian War.

Nice Clear Maps to places mentioned in this section (including Boetia and Euboea):

Note: if you go to the homepage,, and click on Greece and follow through to "war", you don't seem to get to this same map page (although there's lots of other interesting material); I think the site may be being re-organized. I found this particular page through a Google search (September 2003); if it doesn't work for you, let me know and I'll try to post a different link.)


proved - ensured
Chersonese - now called the Gallipoli Peninsula, a narrow peninsula extending southwestward between the Aegean Sea and the Dardanelles
maritime dominions - sea powers
unauspicious - something that seems unlucky
plausible - believable
Euboea -an island near Athens that was of military and agricultural importance
Megara (accent on the first syllable) - a city that was also strategically important; an ally of Corinth; issues around Megara caused some of the sparks that started the Peloponnesian War.
compass - limits


The Lacedaemonians beginning 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 also concerning the navigation of the sea, that they might henceforward all of them pass to and fro and trade securely, and be at peace among themselves.

Nothing was effected, nor did the cities meet by their deputies, as was desired; the Lacedaemonians, as it is said, crossing the design underhand, and 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.

In his military conduct he gained a great reputation for wariness; he would not by his good-will engage in any fight which had much uncertainty or hazard; he did not envy the glory of generals whose rash adventures fortune favored with brilliant success, however they were admired by others; nor did he think them worthy his imitation, but always used to say to his citizens that, so far as lay in his power, they should continue immortal, and live forever. Seeing Tolmides, the son of Tolmaeus, upon the confidence of his former successes, and flushed with the honor his military actions had procured him, making preparation to attack the Boeotians in their own country, when there was no likely opportunity, and that he had prevailed with the bravest and most enterprising of the youth to enlist themselves as volunteers in the service, who besides his other force made up a thousand, he [Pericles] endeavored to withhold him, and advised him against it in the public assembly, telling him in a memorable saying of which still goes about, that, if he would not take Pericles's advice, yet he would not do amiss to wait and be ruled by time, the wisest counselor of all. This saying, at that time, was but slightly commended; but, within a few days after, when news was brought that Tolmides himself had been defeated and slain in battle near Coronea, and that many brave citizens had fallen with him, it gained him great repute as well as good-will among the people, for wisdom and for love of his countrymen.

But of all his expeditions, that to the Chersonese gave most satisfaction and pleasure, having proved the safety of the Greeks who inhabited there. For not only by carrying along with him a thousand fresh citizens of Athens he gave new strength and vigor to the cities, but also by belting 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, with which that country had been long harassed, lying exposed to the encroachments and influx of barbarous neighbors, and groaning under the evils of a predatory population both upon and within its borders.

Entering also the Euxine Sea with a large and finely equipped fleet, he obtained for the Greek cities any new arrangements they wanted, and entered into friendly relations with them; and to the barbarous nations, and kings and chiefs round about them, displayed the greatness of the power of the Athenians, their perfect ability and confidence to sail wherever they had a mind, and to bring the whole sea under his control. He left the Sinopians thirteen ships of war, with soldiers under the command of Lamachus, to assist them against Timesileus the tyrant; and, when he and his accomplices had been thrown out, obtained a decree that six hundred of the Athenians that were willing should sail to Sinope and plant themselves there with the Sinopians, sharing among them the houses and land which the tyrant and his party had previously held.

But in other things he did not comply with the giddy impulses of the citizens, nor quit his own resolutions to follow their fancies, when, carried away with the thought of their strength and great success, they were eager to interfere again in Egypt, and to disturb the king of Persia's maritime dominions. Nay, there were a good many who were, even then, possessed with that unblest and unauspicious passion for Sicily, which afterward [after Pericles's death] the orators of Alcibiades's party blew up into a flame. There were some also who dreamt of Tuscany and of Carthage, and not without plausible reason in their present large dominion and prosperous course of their affairs.

But Pericles curbed this passion for foreign conquest, and unsparingly pruned and cut down their ever-busy fancies for a multitude of undertakings, and directed their power for the most part to securing and consolidating what they had already got, supposing it would be quite enough for them to do, if they could keep the Lacedaemonians in check; to whom he entertained all along a sense of opposition; which, as upon many other occasions, he particularly showed by what he did in the time of the holy war. The Lacedaemonians, having gone with an army to Delphi, restored Apollo's temple, which the Phocians had got into their possession, to the Delphians; immediately after their departure, Pericles, with another army, came and restored it to the Phocians. And the Lacedaemonians having engraven the record of their privilege of consulting the oracle before others, which the Delphians gave them, upon the forehead of the brazen wolf which stands there, he, also, having received from the Phocians the like privilege for the Athenians, had it cut upon the same wolf of brass, on his right side.

[This paragraph does not appear in Plutarch for Boys and Girls: That he did well and wisely in thus restraining the exertions of the Athenians within the compass of Greece, the events themselves that happened afterward bore sufficient witness. For, in the first place, the Euboeans revolted, against whom he passed over with forces; and then, immediately after, news came that the Megarians were turned their enemies, and a hostile army was upon the borders of Attica, under the conduct of Plistoanax, king of the Lacedaemonians. Wherefore Pericles came with his army back again in all haste out of Euboea, to meet the war which threatened at home; and did not venture to engage a numerous and brave army eager for battle; but perceiving that Plistoanax was a very young man, and governed himself mostly by the counsel and advice of Cleandrides, whom the ephors had sent with him, by reason of his youth, to be a kind of guardian and assistant to him, he privately made trial of this man's integrity, and, in a short time, having corrupted him with money, prevailed with him to withdraw the Peloponnesians out of Attica. When the army had retired and dispersed into their several states, the Lacedaemonians in anger fined their king in so large a sum of money, that, unable to pay it, he quitted Lacedaemon; while Cleandrides fled, and had sentence of death passed upon him in his absence. This was the father of Gylippus, who overpowered the Athenians in Sicily. And it seems that this covetousness was an hereditary disease transmitted from father to son; for Gylippus also afterwards was caught in foul practices, and expelled from Sparta for it. But this we have told at large in the account of Lysander.]

When Pericles, in giving up his accounts of this expedition, stated a disbursement of ten talents, as laid out upon fit occasion, the people, without any question, nor troubling themselves to investigate the mystery, freely allowed of it. And some historians, in which number is Theophrastus the philosopher, have given it as a truth that Pericles every year used to send privately the sum of ten talents to Sparta, with which he complimented those in office, to keep off the war; not to purchase peace neither, but time, that he might prepare at leisure, and be the better able to carry on war hereafter.

Narration and Discussion

After narrating this passage, discuss some or all of these questions:

Tell the story of Tolmides. Look up Proverbs 8:14-17 and 10:8 and discuss how this story illlustrates those sayings; or act out a conversation between Pericles and Tolmides, with Pericles trying to convince Tolmides not to take the young men into battle.

Discuss this sentence: "But Pericles curbed this passion for foreign conquest, and unsparingly pruned and cut down their ever-busy fancies for a multitude of undertakings, and directed their power for the most part to securing and consolidating what they had already got, supposing it would be quite enough for them to do, if they could keep the Lacedaemonians in check" What was the inclination of the Athenians now that they had become powerful? What was Pericles's vision? Which was more realistic?

Was Pericles justified in buying off the inexperienced king Plistoanax with a bribe? The book of Proverbs has a few things to say about bribes, but some of them seem contradictory: see Proverbs 21:14, 22:16, 28:16. (That last one might have been good advice for Plistoanax.) Why did the Athenians allow without question this very large item on Plutarch's expense acccount?

Lesson 8: The Rebellion of Samos


As tension builds within and around the Athenian empire, Pericles struggles to hold onto dependencies that resent his interference. The rebel this time [in 440 B.C.] is the Isle of Samos, and the issue is dominion of the sea. Who has better ships? Who has stronger friends? Athens believes her power is superior, but Samos is ready to put up a good fight.

Note: It will be very helpful to have a map of the Athenian empire, to track the military events in this section. If you don't have access to one in a history text or historical atlas, there is one online at
l or google "Athenian League and Peloponnesian War 435 BCE map. If you have a big enough map, you could try placing small objects or figures on it to represent the action of the battles, either as you read the passage or as narration.


oligarchical government - government run by a few select people
Milesians - people of Miletus
leaguer - (archaic) a siege


After this, having made a truce between the Athenians and Lacedaemonians for thirty years, he ordered, by public decree, the expedition against the Isle of Samos, on the ground, that, when they were bid to leave off their war with the Milesians, they had not complied. [Note: the edited version omits comments made here about Pericles' second wife, Aspasia. Briefly, she was a brilliant woman but also of low reputation, and it was felt that she influenced Pericles in his campaign against the Samians, because she was a Milesian by birth.]

For the two states were at war for the possession of Priene; and the Samians, getting the better, refused to lay down their arms and to have the controversy betwixt them decided by arbitration before the Athenians. Pericles, therefore, fitting out a fleet, went and broke up the oligarchal government at Samos, and, taking fifty of the principal men of the town as hostages, and as many of their children, sent them to the Isle of Lemnos, there to be kept, though he had offers, as some relate, of a talent apiece for himself from each one of the hostages, and of many other presents from those who were anxious not to have a democracy. Moreover, Pissuthnes the Persian, one of the king's lieutenants, bearing some good-will to the Samians, sent him ten thousand pieces of gold to excuse the city. Pericles, however, would receive none of all this; but after he had taken that course with the Samians which he thought fit, and set up a democracy among them, sailed back to Athens.

But they, however, immediately revolted, Pissuthnes having privily got away their hostages for them, and provided them with means for war. Whereupon Pericles came out with a fleet a second time against them, and found them not idle nor slinking away, but manfully resolved to try for the dominion of the sea. The issue was, that, after a sharp sea-fight about the island called Tragia, Pericles obtained a decisive victory, having with forty-four ships routed seventy of the enemy's, twenty of which were carrying soldiers.

Together with his victory and pursuit, having made himself master of the port, he laid siege to the Samians, and blocked them up, who yet, one way or other, still ventured to make sallies, and fight under the city walls. But after another greater fleet from Athens had arrived, and the Samians were now shut up with a close leaguer on every side, Pericles, taking with him sixty galleys, sailed out into the main sea, with the intention, as most authors give the account, to meet a squadron of Phoenician ships that were coming for the Samians' relief, and to fight them at as great a distance as could be from the island; but, as Stesimbrotus says, with a design of putting over to Cyprus; which does not seem to be probable. But whichever of the two was his intent, it seems to have been a miscalculation.

For on his departure, Melissus, the son of Ithagenes, a philosopher, being at that time general in Samos, despising either the small number of ships that were left [in the harbour, after most of them had gone out to meet the Phoenicians] or the inexperience of the commanders, prevailed with the citizens to attack the Athenians. And the Samians having won the battle and taken several of the men [Athenians] prisoners, and disabled several of the ships, were masters of the sea, and brought into port all necessities they wanted for the war, which they had not before. Aristotle says, too, that Pericles himself had been once before this worsted by this Melissus in a sea-fight.

[This may be omitted: The Samians, that they might requite an affront which had before been put upon them, branded the Athenians whom they took prisoners, in their foreheads, with the figure of an owl. For so the Athenians had marked them before with a Samaena, which is a sort of ship, low and flat in the prow, so as to look snub-nosed, but wide and large and well-spread in the hold, by which it both carries a large cargo and sails well. And so it was called, because the first of that kind was seen at Samos, having been built by order of Polycrates the tyrant. These brands upon the Samians' foreheads, they say, are the allusion in the passage of Aristophanes, where he says, --

For, oh, the Samians are a lettered people.]

Pericles, as soon as news was brought to him of the disaster that had befallen his army, made all the haste he could to come in to their relief, and having defeated Melissus, who bore up against
him, and put the enemy to flight, he immediately proceeded to hem them in with a wall, resolving to master them and take the town, rather with some cost and time than with the wounds and hazards of his citizens. But as it was a hard matter to keep back the Athenians, who were vexed at the delay, and were eagerly bent to fight, he divided the whole multitude into eight parts, and arranged by lot that that part which had the white bean should have leave to feast and take their ease, while the other seven were fighting. And this is the reason, they say, that people, when at any time they have been merry, and enjoyed themselves, call it white day, in allusion to this white bean.

[This may be omitted: Ephorus, the historian, tells us besides, that Pericles made use of engines of battery in this siege, being much taken with the curiousness of the invention, with the aid and presence of Artemon himself, the engineer, who, being lame, used to be carried about in a litter, where the works required his attendance, and for that reason was called Periphoretus. But Heraclides Ponticus disproves this out of Anacreon's poems, where mention is made of this Artemon Periphoretus several ages before the Samian war, or any of these occurrences. And he says that Artemon, being a man who loved his ease, and had a great apprehension of danger, for the most part kept close within doors, having two of his servants to hold a brazen shield over his head, that nothing might fall upon him from above; and if he were at any time forced upon necessity to go abroad, that he was carried about in a little hanging-bed, close to the very ground, and that for this reason he was called Periphoretus.]

In the ninth month, the Samians surrendering themselves and delivering up the town, Pericles pulled down their walls, and seized their shipping, and set a fine of a large sum upon them, part of which they paid down at once, and they agreed to bring in the rest by a certain time, and gave hostages for security. [Plutarch notes here that Athens, and Pericles in particular, was said to have killed the prisoners cruelly and treated their bodies with dishonour, but states that those accusations were unfounded.] Pericles, however, after the reduction of Samos, returning back to Athens, took care that those who died in the war should be honorably buried, and made a funeral harangue, as the custom is, in their commendation at their graves, for which he gained great admiration. As he came down from the stage on which he spoke, all the women except Elpinice, the aged sister of Cimon, came out and complimented him, taking him by the hand, and crowning him with garlands and ribbons, like a victorious athlete in the games.

Ion says of him, that upon this exploit of his, conquering the Samians, he indulged very high and proud thoughts of himself: whereas Agamemnon was ten years taking a barbarous city, he had in nine months' time vanquished and taken the greatest and most powerful of the Ionians. And indeed it was not without reason that he assumed this glory to himself, for, in real truth, there was much uncertainty and great hazard in this great war, if so be, as Thucydides tells us, the Samian state were within a very little of wresting the whole power and dominion of the sea out of the Athenians' hands.

Narration and Discussion:

How is it typical of Pericles that he resolved "to master them and take the town, rather with some cost and time than with the wounds and hazards of his citizens?" How did he handle the over-eagerness of the Athenians?

Track Pericles' actions during the original problem, then the siege and the aftermath. Is he continuing to live by his high ideals, or is he beginning to take power at the expense of other peoples' freedom? What do the final quotes say about his opinion of himself after these events; and (for discussion), is that necessarily a bad thing? (Is it reasonable that he assumed most of the credit for Athens' victory?)

Lesson 9: Real Problems Begin

Text Note: In this lesson, I have added back in some of the original sections that were omitted in Plutarch for Boys and Girls (in square brackets). If time is short or students are finding these studies difficult, you can skip over them. However, they do put a different light on parts of the story, and in some cases make it easier to understand why people acted as they did.

Geographical Notes: You should have access to a map of the 5th century Athenian empire, showing the part of Greece known as the Peloponnesus (where Sparta was) and the part called Attica (where Athens was). Also look for Corinth and Corcyra (which my dictionary pronounces as Kor-sigh'-ra).


The outbreak of the Peloponnesian war has been compared to the beginning of World War I. In 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo, which was not world-shaking in itself (most people had no idea where Sarajevo was), but it started a reaction between countries who were allies or enemies of each other, and soon every major country in Europe was fighting.

Anne Rockwell sums up the situation in Greece like this: "The largest rival Athens had as a sea power was the city of Corinth, a strong ally of Sparta. In 435 B.C. Corinth became involved with a dispute with the city of Corcyra, which was allied with neither Athens nor Sparta. Fighting broke out between Corinth and Corcyra. The Athenians noticed that Corinth built an alarmingly large navy to fight this unimportant battle. It seemed reasonable to think that the triremes were being built to one day go to battle against the triremes of Athens. So the Athenians took it upon themselves to come to the aid of Corcyra." (Temple on a Hill, p. 97). Then there was a revolt in Potidea, which fanned the fire; and there were trade embargoes against the city of Megara.

Rockwell says: "Megara appealed to Corinth for help, and Corinth acted promptly. She sent ambassadors to Sparta for help....Insults flew back and forth between the envoys of Athens and Sparta until in May of 431 B.C., King Archidamus of Sparta invaded the countryside of Athens." (ibid, pp. 98, 100)

Confused? You're not alone. Historians are still writing books and articles about how the war started, whose fault it was, and whether it could have been prevented. Megara, at the beginning of the war, seemed to be the worst sticking point. Some people felt that if Pericles would only back down on that one point, war could be avoided. Was he just being obstinate - and if so, why?


affront - annoy
playing false - becoming a traitor
supplications -appeals
embassies - representatives
maligned - said bad things
the commons - the assembly of citizens
impeach - to accuse a public official before an appropriate tribunal of misconduct in office; to bring an accusation against (Random House College Dictionary)
had miscarried - had "blown it"
traduce - to speak maliciously and falsely of (someone); slander


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

[Sections in square brackets are part of the original text. The people readily consenting to the motion, and voting an aid and succor for them, he dispatched 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 [Spartans]; so, in order that Lacedaemonius might lie the more open to a charge, or suspicion at least, of favoring the Lacedaemonians and playing false, if he performed no considerable exploit in this service, he allowed him a small [very small] number of ships.... Being, however, ill spoken of on account of these ten galleys, as having afforded but a small supply to the people that were in need, and yet given a great advantage to those who might complain of the act of intervention, Pericles sent out a larger force afterward to Corcyra, which arrived after the fight was over. And when now the Corinthians, angry and indignant with the Athenians, accused them publicly at Lacedaemon, the Megarians joined with them, complaining that they were, contrary to common right and the articles of peace sworn to among the Greeks, 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 Potidaea, under the dominion of the Athenians, but a colony formerly of the Corinthians, had revolted, and was beset with a formal siege, and was a further occasion of precipitating the war. Yet notwithstanding all this, there being embassies sent to Athens, and...]

Archidamus, the king of the Lacedaemonians, endeavoring to bring the greater part of the complaints and matters in dispute to a fair determination, and to pacify and allay the heats of the allies, 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 upon to be reconciled with the inhabitants of Megara [to repeal the embargoes against them].

The true occasion of the quarrel is not easy to find out. The worst motive of all, which is confirmed by most witnesses, is to the following effect: Phidias the Moulder [sculptor] had, as has before been said, undertaken to make the statue of Athena [Dryden's text uses the Roman name Minerva]. Now he, being admitted to friendship with Pericles, and a great favorite of his, had many enemies upon this account, who envied and maligned him; and they, to make trial in a case of his what kind of judges the commons would prove, should there be occasion to bring Pericles himself before them, having tampered with [bribed or coerced] Menon, one who had been a workman with Phidias, [they] stationed him in the marketplace, with a petition desiring public security upon his discovery and impeachment of Phidias [accusing Phidias of stealing some of the gold that was supposed to be used on the statue]. The people admitting the man [Menon] to tell his story, and, the prosecution proceeding in the assembly, there was nothing of theft or cheat proved against him [Phidias]; for Phidias, from the very first beginning, by the advice of Pericles, had so wrought and wrapt the gold that was used in the work about the statue, that they might take it all off and make out the just weight of it, which Pericles at that time bade the accusers do. But the reputation of his works was what brought envy upon Phidias, especially that where he represents the fight of the Amazons upon the goddesses' shield, he had introduced a likeness of himself as 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. And the position of the [Athena's] hand, which holds out the spear in front of the face, was ingeniously contrived to conceal in some degree the likeness, which, meantime, showed itself on either side.

Phidias then was carried away to prison, and there died of a disease; but, as some say, of poison administered by the enemies of Pericles, to raise a slander, or a suspicion at least, as though he had procured it. The informer Menon, upon Glycon's proposal, the people made free from payment of taxes and customs, and ordered the generals to take care that nobody should do him any hurt.

[Plutarch notes here that Pericles's wife Aspasia was charged with impiety (or heresy) at this time, and it was suggested that Pericles himself similarly charged if his old teacher Anaxagoras could be found guilty of teaching false doctrine. However, Pericles's enemies agreed to settle for a thorough audit of the city's accounts, to make sure that he had not used public funds to bribe people etc. Pericles successfully defended Aspasia in front of a jury; but "fearing how it might go with Anaxagoras, he sent him out of the city."]

And [so the accusation goes that] Pericles, finding that in Phidias's 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; [supposedly] 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.

[The Lacedaemonians, for their part, feeling sure that if they could once remove him, they might be at what terms they pleased with the Athenians, sent them word that they should expel the "Pollution" with which Pericles on the mother's side was tainted, as Thucydides tells us. But the issue proved quite contrary to what those who sent the message expected; instead of bringing Pericles under suspicion and reproach, they raised him into yet greater credit and esteem with the citizens, as a man whom their enemies most hated and feared. In the same way, also, before Archidamus, who was at the head of the Peloponnesians, made his invasion into Attica, he told the Athenians beforehand, that if Archidamus, while he laid waste the rest of the country, should forbear and spare his estate, either on the ground of friendship or right of hospitality that was betwixt them, or on purpose to give his enemies an occasion of traducing him, that then he did freely bestow upon the state all that his land and the buildings upon it for the public use.]


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

Discuss the meaning of the phrase "war-mongering." Public opinion of Pericles had suffered a recent decline; would annoying Sparta enough to start a war (and then winning it) boost his popularity in Athens? Do you think that was what motivated Pericles (for instance, in sending only enough ships to Corcyra to set off sparks), or did he truly have Athens' good at heart? (Or did he believe that what was good for Athens was keeping him as their leader, no matter how he went about keeping his power?)

How did all these attempts to discredit Pericles backfire?

For older students: The reasons for Pericles's stubbornness about Megara may not be clear from Plutarch's account. An online article at explains it as follows:

"Pericles' policy was one of firmness, coupled with careful manipulation of the diplomatic position to keep Athens technically in the right. The firmness was a puzzle to contemporaries, particularly his determination to enforce decrees excluding Megarian trade from the Athenian Empire. Was he, it was asked, influenced by some private grievance of Aspasia? Was he trying to divert attention from personal attacks on himself and friends by making war? Thucydides tells just enough to make his own interpretation plausible, that Megara was a small matter in itself but crucial as a symbol of Athenian determination to maintain its position. Consideration of Megara's strategic importance, which Thucydides consistently undervalues, may suggest further the possibility that the Megarian decrees were not the immediate cause of the war but the first blow in a war Pericles thought inevitable and that began in spring." (C) 2000 Inc.

Discuss this paragraph, orally or in writing, and do further research on this question if it interests you.

Lesson 10


And now we come to Charlotte Mason's famous narration question: "How did Pericles manage the people in time of war, lest they should force him to act against his judgment?" (Philosophy of Education, p. 186) The Spartans invaded by land (because they had little sea power), attempting to force the Athenians to come out from behind the safety of their walls and fight. Pericles, unwilling to risk the loss of many lives, refused to engage in direct battle with the Spartans (although he did send ships to ravage the Peloponnesian coast).

It was Pericles's 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? What do you think? Could the Athenians have held out and forced the Spartans to leave without any bloodshed?

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


lampoons - sharp satires; rude jokes
Cleon - Athenian general and political opponent of Pericles
anapaestic - poetry with a certain number of "feet" in each line
jaded - wearied, dulled
parted - divided


The Lacedaemonians, therefore, and their allies, with a great army, invaded the Athenian territories, under the conduct of King Archidamus, and laying waste the country, marched on as far as Acharnae, and there pitched their camp, presuming that the Athenians would never endure that, but would come out and fight them for their country's and their honor's sake. But Pericles looked upon it as dangerous to engage in battle, to the risk of the city itself, against sixty thousand men-at-arms of Peloponnesians and Boeotians; for so many they were in number that made the inroad at first; and he endeavored to appease those who were desirous to fight, and were grieved and discontented to see how things went, and gave them good words, saying, that "trees, when they are lopped and cut, grow up again in a short time but men, being once lost, cannot easily be recovered."

He did not convene the people into an assembly, for fear lest they should force him to act against his judgment; [the following is omitted from the Boys and Girls edition: but, like a skillful steersman or pilot of a ship, who, when a sudden squall comes on, out at sea, makes all his arrangements, sees that all is tight and fast, and then follows the dictates of his skill, and minds the business of the ship, taking no notice of the tears and entreaties of the sea-sick and fearful passengers, so he, having shut up the city gates, and placed guards at all posts for security, followed his own reason and judgment, little regarding those that cried out against him and were angry at his management, although there were a great many of his friends that urged him with requests,] and many of his enemies threatened and accused him for doing as he did, and many made songs and lampoons upon him, which were sung about the town to his disgrace, reproaching him with the cowardly exercise of his office of general, and the tame abandonment of everything to the enemy's hands.

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 the anapaestic 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 [White adds "Teles was apparently a notorious coward."]

Yet to gnash your teeth you're seen,
When the little dagger keen,
Whetted every day anew,
Of sharp Cleon touches you.

Pericles, however, was not at all moved by any attacks, but took all patiently, and submitted in silence to the disgrace they threw upon him and the ill-will they bore him; and, sending out a fleet of a hundred galleys to Peloponnesus, he did not go along with it in person, but stayed behind, that he might watch at home and keep the city under his own control, till the Peloponnesians broke up their camp and were gone.

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 [Athenian] 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 this time of war? Explain how he handled criticism and complaints. Is there something we can learn from that? (See 1 Peter 2:20-23. and 3:9)

Comment on the last paragraph: we will hear more about the "divine power" that intervened, in the next lesson. Without that intervention, how does Plutarch think the war might have ended?

Something creative to do: read the satirical verses about Pericles again, and do one of the following: write a similar poem either criticizing or praising Pericles; write one as a rebuttal to Hermippus; write one about another historical or literary figure, as it might have been written by someone in that person's time.

Lesson 11


This section makes me think of the story of Pompeii, or maybe even closer, the Titanic. Everything in our world moves along in its small ways; we do the things and build the things that we consider important, we have our small quarrels or our large wars, we win or lose at things, we do business and go to school, or we sit at the captain's table and decide what to have for dessert.

And then a volcano suddenly changes everything...or an iceberg...or in this case, a dreadful disease caused by overcrowding and poor sanitation. The plague changed not only the course of the war, but of the Athenian empire. Was it a judgment from God, or the gods? Could it have been prevented? And that was only the beginning of Pericles' troubles.


pestilential - harmful, producing disease
distempered - disordered, disturbed
tenements - small, crowded apartments
discourses - conversations
prodigal - wastefully or recklessly extravagant
entered an action against him - made a formal complaint, took him before the Assembly


In the first place, the pestilential disease, or plague, seized upon the city, and ate up all the flower and prime of their youth and strength.

Upon occasion of which, the people, distempered and afflicted in their souls, as well as in their bodies, were utterly enraged like madmen against Pericles, and, like patients grown delirious, sought to lay violent hands on their physician, or, as it were, their father.

[This section does not appear in the Boys' and Girls' Plutarch: They had been possessed, by his enemies, with the belief that the occasion of the plague was the crowding of the country people together into the town, forced as they were now, in the heat of the summer-weather, to dwell many of them together even as they could, in small tenements and stifling hovels, and to be tied to a lazy course of life within doors, whereas before they lived in a pure, open, and free air. The cause and author of all this, said they, is he who on account of the war has poured a multitude of people from the country in upon us within the walls, and uses all these many men that he has here upon no employ or service, but keeps them pent up like cattle, to be overrun with infection from one another, affording them neither shift of quarters nor any refreshment.

With the design to remedy these evils, and do the enemy some inconvenience, Pericles got a hundred and fifty galleys ready, and having embarked many tried soldiers, both foot and horse, was about to sail out, giving great hope to his citizens, and no less alarm to his enemies, upon the sight of so great a force. Pericles, however after putting out to sea, seems not to have done any other exploit befitting such preparations, and when he had laid siege to the holy city Epidaurus, which gave him some hope of surrender, miscarried in his design by reason of the sickness. For it not only seized upon the Athenians, but upon all others, too, that held any sort of communication with the army.]

Finding after this the Athenians ill affected and highly displeased with him, he tried and endeavored what he could to appease and re-encourage them [see the discussion questions]. But he could not pacify or allay their anger, nor persuade or prevail with them any way, till they freely passed their votes upon him, resumed their power, took away his command from him, and fined him in a sum of money.

After this, public troubles were soon to leave him unmolested; the people, so to say, discharged their passion in their stroke, and lost their stings in the wound.

But his domestic concerns were in an unhappy condition, many of his friends and acquaintance having died in the plague time, and those of his family having long since been in disorder and in a kind of mutiny against him. For the eldest of his sons, Xanthippus by name, being naturally prodigal, and marrying a young and expensive wife, the daughter of Tisander, son of Epilycus, was highly offended at his father's economy in making him but a scanty allowance, by little and little at a time. He sent, therefore, to a friend one day, and borrowed some money of him in his father Pericles's name, pretending it was by his order.

The man coming afterward to demand the debt, Pericles was so far from yielding to pay it, that he entered an action against him. Upon which the young man, Xanthippus, thought himself so ill used and disobliged, that he openly reviled his father; telling first, by way of ridicule, stories about his conversations at home, and the discourses he had with the sophists and scholars that came to his house. As for instance, how one who was a practicer of the five games of skill, having with a dart or javelin unawares against his will struck and killed Epitimus the Pharsalian, his father spent a whole day with Protagoras in a serious dispute, whether the javelin, or the man that threw it, or the masters of the games who appointed these sports, were, according to the strictest and best reason, to be accounted the cause of this mischance.

And in general this difference of the young man's with his father, and the breach betwixt them, continued never to be healed or made up till his death. For Xanthippus died in the plague time of the sickness. At which time Pericles also lost his sister, and the greatest part of his relations and friends, and those who had been most useful and serviceable to him in managing the affairs of state.

However, he did not shrink or give in upon these occasions, nor betray or lower his high spirit and the greatness of his mind under all his misfortunes; he was not even so much as seen to weep or to mourn, or even attend the burial of any of his friends or relations, till at last he lost his only remaining son. Subdued by this blow and yet striving still, as far as he could, to maintain his principle and to preserve and keep up the greatness of his soul when he came, however, to perform the ceremony of putting a garland of flowers upon the head of the corpse, he was vanquished by his passion at the sight, so that he burst into exclamations, and shed copious tears, having never done any such thing in all his life before.


After narrating this section, read and discuss the following paragraph.

The historian Thycydides says that Pericles called a special Assembly during the plague, and spoke to the people, asking them not to blame him for this disaster. Among other things, Pericles said, "A calamity has befallen you, and you cannot persevere in the policy you chose when all was well: it is the weakness of your resolution that makes my advice seem to have been wrong. It is the unexpected that most breaks a man's spirit. You have a great polis [city] and a great reputation; you must be worthy of them." Thucydides said, "By this speech, Pericles tried to divert the Athenians' wrath from himself and their thoughts from their present distress." H. D. F. Kitto in his book The Greeks says this: "When we reflect that this plague was as awful as the Plague of London, and that the Athenians had the additional horror of being cooped up inside their fortifications by the enemy without, we must admire the greatness of the man who could talk to his fellow-citizens like this, and the greatness of the people who could not only listen to such a speech at such a time but actually be substantially persuaded by it." (The Greeks, p. 143)

Do you agree with Kitto's conclusion? Why or why not? Were the Athenians persuaded? (This passage states that Pericles lost his position as general, but he was reinstated soon after.)

Lesson 12


One of the professors at our local university died quite suddenly. He had a long list of academic and community achievements behind his name; he had helped to start a local historical museum, he had written books and done a great deal in his field of study. But the things people remembered him for were his passion for Oreo cookies (he liked to measure things with them) and his love for his young daughter.

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 leader of the Athenians.


come abroad - come out into public
distemper - lethargy, fever, general disorder or disturbance
animosities - quarrels, hostilities
confuted - proved wrong
demagogue - a leader who gains power by arousing the passions and prejudices of the people (Random House College Dictionary)
invidious - causing resentment or animosity
impunity - exemption from punishment


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, and 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, made their acknowledgments, and apologized for their untowardly treatment of him, he undertook the public affairs once more.

About this time, 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, leisurely, by little and little, wasting the strength of his body, and undermining the noble faculties of his soul. [The following does not appear in the edited text: 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, start aside from 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.] When he was now near his end, the best of the citizens and those of his friends who were left alive, sitting about him, were speaking of the greatness of his merit, and his power, and reckoning up his famous actions and the number of his victories; for there were no less than nine trophies, which, as their chief commander and conqueror of their enemies, he had set up, for the honor of the city. They talked thus together among themselves, as though he were unable to understand or mind what they said, but had now lost his consciousness. He had listened, however, all the while, and attended to all, and speaking out among them, said, that he wondered they should commend and take notice of things which were as much owing to fortune as to anything else, and had happened to many other commanders, and, at the same time, should not speak or make mention of that which was the most excellent and greatest thing of all. "For," said he, "no Athenian, through my means, ever wore mourning."

He was indeed a character deserving our high admiration, not only for his equitable and mild temper, which all along in the many affairs of his life, and the great animosities which he incurred, he constantly maintained; but also for the high spirit and feeling which made him regard it the noblest of all his honors that, in the exercise of such immense power, he never had gratified his envy or his passion, nor ever had treated any enemy as irreconcilably opposed to him. And to me it appears that this one thing gives that otherwise childish and arrogant title ["Olympian"] a fitting and becoming significance; so dispassionate a temper, a life so pure and unblemished, in the height of power and place, might well be called Olympian, in accordance with our conceptions of the divine beings, to whom, as the natural authors of all good and of nothing evil, we ascribe the rule and government of the world. [Not as the poets represent [the gods], who, while confounding us with their ignorant fancies, are themselves confuted by their own poems and fictions, and call the place, indeed, where they say the gods make their abode [Olympus], a secure and quiet seat, free from all hazards and commotions, untroubled with winds or with clouds, and equally through all time illumined with a soft serenity and a pure light, as though such were a home most agreeable for a blessed and immortal nature; and yet, in the meanwhile, [the poets] affirm that the gods themselves are full of trouble and enmity and anger and other passions, which no way become or belong to even men that have any understanding. But this will, perhaps, seem a subject fitter for some other consideration, and that ought to be treated of in some other place.]

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 weak and low, had withheld from notice, and had prevented from attaining incurable height through a licentious impunity.]


After narrating this passage, discuss or write about the following questions.

Comment on Pericles's last statement to his friends. Is it true that no Athenian ever wore mourning because of Pericles's decisions? If Pericles is wrong, could his statement be caused by his weakened state of mind, or was that something he had always believed? Do you think, if it was true, that it should have been the thing he was most proud of?

Plutarch's last paragraph says that the depth of Pericles's rule and the wisdom of his policies were never fully appreciated until after his death. Even the seemingly unfair amount of power that he held suddenly appeared to have been a good thing, since it held back some of the trouble that lurked outside. 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?

Next term's study will be on the Roman general Fabius. But in the third term we will go back to the Peloponnesian War (which continued for years) with the story of Nicias, an Athenian statesman and general who tried to make peace with Sparta. Older students might look ahead by finding out more about what went on after Pericles's death. Those who really want a challenge might try reading some of Thucydides's History of the Peloponnesian War!