Pericles (C. 495-429 BC) was a very influential politician and general in Athens. He is said to have brought about a very important time in Athenian history known as ‘The Golden Age of Athens’ where he brought about or placed focus on certain things like art, which gave Athens the reputation as the cultural and educational centre of Ancient Greece, architecture, where he created a project to beautify the city and provide work for Athenians with most of its products like the Parthenon still surviving and giving us an idea of the glory of Athens.
He also made valuable contributions to drama, the bringing about of democracy and the establishment of the Greek empire. Democracy, which allows all citizens to influence and be involved in the running of the state was a concept reaffirmed by Pericles. This is why he made sure he played a major role in the ostracizing of Cimon who was characterized as being a tyrant. Other historians may argue that Pericles’ ulterior motive for doing that was to ensure that he came into power with his main opposition out of the way but for a man who made so many important advancements for the Athenians, I strongly believe he did it not with the intention of capturing power but helping give the Athenians a voice.
This made him a very great political leader as he was able to rid the state of the many problems of dictatorship and oligarchy like corruption which was further emphasized by one of his ancient admirers, Thucydides who said, ‘he kept himself untainted by corruption, although he was not altogether indifferent to money-making’ He ‘excelled all his fellow citizens in skills of oratory’ (Diodorus Siculus) The art of oratory has been a rare skill possessed by very few people who turned out to deliver some of the most well known speeches in history. Oratory has been a very influential tool for some of the world’s greatest leaders and Pericles falls in that category of leaders with exceptional skills. People such as Abraham Lincoln who’s famous speech, the Gettysburg Address gained parallels to Pericles’ great funeral oration by the American Civil War scholar, Garry Wills which leads many to believe that one of the greatest modern speaker’s drew inspiration from Pericles.
This gesture alone shows the great oratory skills of a great man in Athenian history. This extraordinary ability is attested to by Thucydides who once again was full of praise for the famous Athenian when asked about whether he or Pericles was the better fighter by the Spartan king, Archidamus. Without hesitation Thucydides said Pericles was better and justified it by saying that even when he was defeated, he managed to convince the audience that he had won. This shows how he was able to persuade and influence the Athenians which even though some may say was manipulative and defeated the concept of democracy gave the simple Athenian citizen thought provoking ideas to make an informed choice. His speaking skills, which were able to draw the exact emotions got from the Athenian people was however criticized by people like the poet, Ion, who says that Pericles had an arrogant and somewhat big-headed manner of talking, and that into his pride there entered a good deal of disrespect and dislike for others.
This is highly debatable as we are supposed to believe a person who says Pericles had a good deal of disrespect and dislike for others, the same Pericles who put the true Athenian people first and made sure they had a say in how their home state was ruled. By that observation alone I believe Ion’s quote about Pericles should be discarded as total rubbish and the ranting of a person simply envious of his (Pericles’) ability. Plutarch mentions in his criticism of Pericles about the strange occurrence in Agariste’s (Pericles’ mother). He says, ‘She, in her dreams, once fancied that she had given birth to a lion and a few days thereafter bore Pericles.’ I do not believe this is actually counts as a criticism of him because even though a lion may be a dangerous animal, its traditional symbolism of greatness should be taken into account. Other symbolic attributes for a lion are strength, courage, power, royalty, dignity, authority, dominion, justice, wisdom and ferocity which I believe are all attributes displayed by Pericles in both his political and military career.
Ancient Greek symbolism for a lion is the protector of the home and Pericles really showed that in the battles protecting his beloved home, Athens. There is also the argument of whether Pericles was actually a leader or just got carried away by the masses. Plutarch said, ‘he was no longer the same man as before, nor alike submissive to the people and ready to yield and give in to the desires of the multitude as a steersman to the breezes.’ Here, Plutarch suggests, Pericles had no leadership over the Athenians and that he put the city in chaos to do as they could do what they want which is supported by others saying he made the Athenians idle, talkative and greedy (Plato). This motion would however have to be rejected with strong evidence against it in his speeches and oratory skills. Thucydides offered the correct leadership style of Pericles by arguing that Pericles ‘was not carried away by the people, but he was the one guiding the people.’
The evidence, as said in the last paragraph is in his great speeches and his ability to draw a certain reaction from the Athenian people and so though some may argue that he left the Athenians with no authoritative leader which could only be gained through other methods of governing like dictatorships, he offered a better alternative as he served more as a sort of ‘guardian’ for the Athenian people and guided them to make predominantly good choices like getting rid of the tyrant, Cimon. Pericles, for more than 20 years was involved in the military. He led many expeditions mainly naval ones. He was a wise and cautious military leader and he never went into battles that were mostly likely a wild goose chase for the Athenian people. This was a great attribute for a military leader because he did not just march his men on to grounds when the odds were not in their favour to have them killed or running back to Athens with their tails between their legs.
He avoided the high risk of losses and instead chose each battle wisely and as such there are no major criticisms of his Periclean Grand Strategy which sought to preserve, not expand, the empire, this strategy could not reach completion however as his successors changed everything and lacked the military abilities and character that caused it to work under Pericles. Pericles’ legacy cannot be understated as most of it still survives till today. The concept of democracy practiced by all free states in the modern world and used as a measure of a country’s justice and fairness is one of them. His most visible legacy however is found in the artistic and literary works of the Golden Age and The Acropolis, though in ruins, is still a great symbol of modern Athens and a remembrance of a great man that once roamed those very streets.
I believe Pericles was a great leader both in politics and in the military and I also support the idea that his abilities in both areas caused the famous bust statue of him around to have a helmet sitting on top of his head to show the two equally talented faces of the great leader that is Pericles. In the movie ‘The Dark Knight’ (2008), the character Harvey Dent famously says to the lead, Batman, ‘You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.’ I believe it’s the latter that caused the ostracizing of Pericles because there is no evidence that he did anything major to deserve that sort of punishment but even if his story with the Athenians should end on a bad note, I believe he still is one of the greatest leaders in Ancient History and even if he wasn’t perfect, I mean, who is? and had a few flaws and bad traits, he still ensured that Athens was a major part in history and the effect he had is still present today in modern day Athens.