Pericles’ Funeral Oration
Nicholas O’Keefe
'The Age of Pericles'
painted by Philipp von Foltz - 1853.
Pericles' Funeral Oration was transcribed by Thucydides as part of his
record of the Peloponnesian War written in the later part of 400s BCE
Thucydides was born around the year 455 BCE
He was a Greek political and military figure but is best
known for his account of the Peloponnesian War
Died around 400 BCE
After being blamed for a failed protection of Amphipolis
during the war he was tried and condemned to death in
Athens and was forced to flee.
His exile allowed him to obtain a unique perspective for
his writings as he was able to write using information from
his own experiences as well as records from other
Peloponnesian allies and rivals. His record was able to
chronicle parts of the war from both sides.
Oxyrhynchus Papyri
While many translations still survive no complete original manuscript
still exists. However, a part of the manuscript was found on a Papyrus
scroll by B. P. Grenfell and A. S. Hunt They would publish this part in a
collection with many other manuscripts found in the same location
called the Oxyrhynchus Papyri.
Currently P.Oxy 17 the papyrus scroll featuring the excerpt from
Thucydides manuscript is located at the John Hopkins University.
The Funeral Oration of Pericles is important for a few reasons…
"They alone in the world deliver funeral orations for citizens who have died for their country.“
The record of a funeral oration itself is important because the Greeks were the inventors
of public eulogies for fallen citizens. Pericles oration is an account of something that is
truly Greek in nature and shows Greek practices.
"They faced death and fled from disgrace"
► The men who died that day are heroic because they weighed the choices they had and
still decided an honorable death was more preferable than any other option. This shows
the values of Greek soldiers at the time put the lives of the Greek people above their
own, and were willing to sacrifice themselves to protect Greek traditions.
Is the account of the Oration True?
Ioannis Kakridis
Greek Historian of the early 20th century
Argued that the oration recorded was not Pericles' speech but a speech from
Thucydides to his own readers of the time after the war.
The oration seems to be addressed to "a humble, incredulous and envious
generation, who doubted not only the wisdom of Pericles' imperial policy but the value
of Athenian civilization itself as it had been created by men of an earlier age."
► Such an address would not have been needed on a battle field filled with soldiers
fighting for their people.
► The speech if it were actually by Pericles' seems to assume that a portion of the
audience would "begrudge" the dead the praise they deserve. Something that would
be much more common to find among citizens who were not actually there.
Arnold Wycombe Gomme
Arnold Wycombe Gomme
Greek Historian that came along after Kakridis around the mid 20th
Gomme argues against Kakridis theory on one main point.
Greeks has a traditon in writing an speaking especially men such as
Pericles to cover all grounds in generalizations when presenting
something to an audience. No matter who made up the audience they
wanted to speak to all of them in a way they could understand and
Many other scholars agree that while with Gomme that Thucydides
may have been responsible for the speech.
However, he is only responsible for writing it the lines are very much
something of Pericles‘. So while they may have been skewed slightly by
the Thucydides while transcribing them they are still an accurate
portrayal of what the speech entailed.
I agree with Gomme and others that believe the oration to be a combination
of Pericles and Thucydides.
Pericles' Ideals and Thucydides coincide. While Thucydides may have taken
some artistic liberties with the oration of Pericles, from the information he
gathered and his own experiences with Pericles he crafted a speech that
would very much be of the type Pericles would have given.
The oration while addressing the audience present at the speech was a
chance for Thucydides to show the ideals of Pericles and the soldiers who
had fought in the Peloponnesian War to the current population.
The Funeral oration whether it is Pericles’ or Thucydides’ creation is still an
important account of the Greek way of life and death on the battlefield
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(1901): 3-4.
JSTOR. Web. 01 Nov. 2011.
Pearson, Lionel. "Three Notes on the Funeral Oration of Pericles." The American Journal of Philology
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Image Bibliography