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History Of The Peloponnesian War Essay

1471 words - 6 pages

In Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, Pericles commends the ergon of Athenian heroes, which has placed them in the realm of logos, while directing the Athenians to follow these ideals of logos. The maintenance and continued success of Athens' political establishment relies on the prevalence of polis, rationality and discourse over family, emotion and reckless action. However, the indiscriminate turns of fate and fortune, often place logos in opposition with the base, primal nature of ergon. Both Thucydides and Sophocles recognize that when logos conflicts with the unexpected ergon, the preservation of rationality and unanimity among the citizens of the polis depend on the leadership of a single honest leader. In the History of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides presents Pericles as a man of logos, whom Athens needs to achieve its full potential as an empire and later to rescue her from disaster. Likewise, Sophocles presents Theseus, in Oedipus Colonus, as the perfect successor of Pericles, who returns Athens to its former glory before the end of the war. In these two examples, we see that the dominance of logos over ergon within a polis lies in the ability and logos of the city’s current leader.
In his funeral oration, Pericles elevates the deeds of the Athenian heroes into the realm of eternal worship (logos). As a man of rhetoric, he successfully transforms the death of the Athenian warriors into a source of inspiration. Instead of focusing on the limited and ephemeral qualities of the past, he asks the Athenians to look forward to serving the common good of their polis (PW 2.43). However, after the plague, Athenians came to the realization that working towards a better future, will prove futile if you cannot survive the present. In response to their unforeseen misfortune, the polis transforms to a state of ergon, where disorder and lawlessness reign. Although he is the only one to incur most of the blame for the situation, Pericles attempts to revive the Athenians’ former confidence. He explains that the assurance of the state security will eventually lead to the recovery of each individual’s private misfortunes (PW 2.60). Through his speech (logos), Pericles appeals to the basic needs and desires of the Athenians, in order to lift their spirits from this primitive mindset and refocuses their energy on the protection and triumph of Athens. Therefore, the prospects of logos within the Athenian democracy can only prevail when a man who embodies logos (with intelligence, rhetoric and confidence) holds authority.
Without Pericles, Athens is at the mercy of ineffectual successors who only seek to satisfy their own selfish desire (ergon) of securing sole control of the people. In this situation, it is these successors’ ego and inability to follow Periclean policy that create confusion of state policy and lead to the eventual downfall of Athens. Instead of focusing on the conduct of affairs within the city and of the war, each successor...

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