Friday, November 11, 2005
«Μητρός τε και πατρός και των άλλων προγόνων απάντων τιμιώτερον έστι η πατρίς και σεμνότερον και αγιώτερον και εν μείζονι μοίρα και παρά θεοίς και παρ’ ανθρώπους τοις νουν έχουσι»
"The most honourable and precious value, above our mother and our father and our ancestors, is our country, which is more respected and more sacred and even more valued by the gods and the humans who are intelligent." Criton's Dialogue with Socrates, by Plato (427-347 B.C.)
I feel very patriotic today...
I posted a comment yesterday to ELWisty's blog about Pericles' Epitaph by Thucidedes (450-400 B.C.), and since today is Remembrance day in the UK and Armistice Day in USA I felt that I should dedicate some fragments of this passage to all those who have died during the war.
Without them there would not have been the freedom and goods we enjoy today.
It talks mainly about the Athenians who died during the Peloponnesean war (431-404 B.C.), but the words are very strong and fitting for all countries' heroes.
Most of my predecessors have praised him who made the law mandating this funeral oration, telling us that it is good that this be delivered at the burial of those who fell.
But I should have thought that the worth had displayed itself in deeds should be rewarded and honored by deeds such as this public funeral...
...I shall begin with our ancestors: it is just and proper that they should be honored by the first mention on this occasion. They dwelt in this country uninterrupted from generation to generation. They handed it down free to us today by their valor.
If our more remote ancestors deserve praise, much more so do our own fathers, who added to their inheritance the empire we now possess and who spared no pains to leave their acquisitions to us.
Last, few parts of our dominion have not been augmented by those of us still vigorous and alive. And we have furnished our mother country everything necessary for her to depend on her own resources for war or for peace...
...But by what road did we reach our high position? Under what constitution did our greatness grow? Out of which national habits did it spring? These are questions which I may try to answer before I proceed to to praise those who fell because this is a subject proper for the present occasion and to which all, whether citizens or foreigners, may listen with advantage.
Our constitution does not copy our neighbors. We are instead a pattern to others. Our administration favours the many instead of the few: this is why it is called "democracy."
Our laws afford equal justice to all. Advancement in public life follows from a reputation for capacity rather than social standing. Social class is not allowed to interfere with merit. Nor does poverty bar the way: a man able to serve the state is not hobbled by obscurity.
The freedom we enjoy in our government extends also to ordinary life. Far from exercising jealous surveillance over each other, we do not feel called upon to be angry with our neighbors for doing what they like--or even to indulge in offensive and injurious looks which inflict no positive penalty.
But this tolerance in our private life does not make us lawless citizens. Fear is our chief safeguard, teaching us to obey the magistrates and the laws--particularly those that protect the injured--whether they are on the statute book or belong to that code of unwritten laws that cannot be broken without disgrace...
...In our military policy there too we are different from our antagonists. We open our city to the world. We never exclude foreigners from learning or observing, even though the eyes of an enemy may occasionally profit by our liberality. We trust less in system and policy than in the native spirit of our citizens. In education--where our rivals from their very cradles seek "manliness" by painful discipline--here at Athens we live as we please, and yet are just as ready as our antagonists to encounter every danger.
In proof of this note that the Lacedaemonians do not invade our country alone but bring with them all their allies. By contrast, we Athenians advance unsupported into enemy territory and--fighting upon foreign soil--usually vanquish with ease those who are defending their homes. Our united force has never yet been encountered by any enemy, for we have to man our ships and dispatch our citizens by land upon a hundred different expeditions. Whenever an enemy engages some fraction of our strength, a success against a mere detachment is magnified into a victory over our whole nation, and a defeat by a small detachment into a reverse suffered at the hands of our entire people.
Yet with habits not of labor but of ease, and with courage not artificial but natural, we are still willing to encounter danger. We have the double advantage of escaping hardships in anticipation of danger, and yet of facing hardships in the hour of need as fearlessly as those always suffer them...
...Thus in our enterprises we present the singular spectacle of daring and deliberation, each carried to its highest point, and both united in the same persons. The prize of courage goes most justly to those who know best both hardship and pleasure, and yet are never tempted to shrink from danger. In generosity we are equally singular: we acquire our friends by conferring, not by receiving, favors...
...Rather, the present and succeeding ages will admire us, for we have shown our power by mighty proofs. Far from needing a Homer to praise us--or some other whose poems charm for the moment only and melt at the touch of fact--we have forced every sea and land to be the scene of our great deeds. Everywhere, whether for evil or for good, we have left imperishable monuments behind.
Such is the Athens for which these men, resolved not to lose her, nobly fought and died. May every one of their survivors be ready to suffer so in her cause...
...Thus choosing to die resisting, rather than to live submitting, they fled only from dishonour, but met danger face to face, and after one brief moment, while at the summit of their fortune, escaped, not from their fear, but from their glory...
...And not contented with ideas derived only from words of the advantages which are bound up with the defence of your country, though these would furnish a valuable text to a speaker even before an audience so alive to them as the present, you must yourselves realize the power of Athens, and feed your eyes upon her from day to day, till love of her fills your hearts; and then, when all her greatness shall break upon you, you must reflect that it was by courage, sense of duty, and a keen feeling of honour in action that men were enabled to win all this, and that no personal failure in an enterprise could make them consent to deprive their country of their valour, but they laid it at her feet as the most glorious contribution that they could offer.
For this offering of their lives made in common by them all they each of them individually received that renown which never grows old, and for a sepulchre, not so much that in which their bones have been deposited, but that noblest of shrines wherein their glory is laid up to be eternally remembered upon every occasion on which deed or story shall call for its commemoration.
For heroes have the whole earth for their tomb; and in lands far from their own, where the column with its epitaph declares it, there is enshrined in every breast a record unwritten with no tablet to preserve it, except that of the heart.
These take as your model and, judging happiness to be the fruit of freedom and freedom of valour, never decline the dangers of war.
For it is not the miserable that would most justly be unsparing of their lives; these have nothing to hope for: it is rather they to whom continued life may bring reverses as yet unknown, and to whom a fall, if it came, would be most tremendous in its consequences.
And surely, to a man of spirit, the degradation of cowardice must be immeasurably more grievous than the unfelt death which strikes him in the midst of his strength and patriotism!
...On the other hand, if I must say anything on the subject of female excellence to those of you who will now be in widowhood, it will be all comprised in this brief exhortation. Great will be your glory in not falling short of your natural character; and greatest will be hers who is least talked of among the men, whether for good or for bad.
My task is now finished. I have performed it to the best of my ability, and in word, at least, the requirements of the law are now satisfied. If deeds be in question, those who are here interred have received part of their honours already, and for the rest, their children will be brought up till manhood at the public expense: the state thus offers a valuable prize, as the garland of victory in this race of valour, for the reward both of those who have fallen and their survivors. And where the rewards for merit are greatest, there are found the best citizens.
And now that you have brought to a close your lamentations for your relatives, you may depart. "
The whole text in English can be found here and a pdf. in (modern) Greek here.