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History of The Peloponnesian War - Book II   


In the same winter the Athenians gave a funeral at the public cost
to those who had first fallen in this war. It was a custom of their
ancestors, and the manner of it is as follows. Three days before the
ceremony, the bones of the dead are laid out in a tent which has
been erected; and their friends bring to their relatives such
offerings as they please. In the funeral procession cypress coffins
are borne in cars, one for each tribe; the bones of the deceased being
placed in the coffin of their tribe. Among these is carried one
empty bier decked for the missing, that is, for those whose bodies
could not be recovered. Any citizen or stranger who pleases, joins
in the procession: and the female relatives are there to wail at the
burial. The dead are laid in the public sepulchre in the Beautiful
suburb of the city, in which those who fall in war are always
buried; with the exception of those slain at Marathon, who for their
singular and extraordinary valour were interred on the spot where they
fell. After the bodies have been laid in the earth, a man chosen by
the state, of approved wisdom and eminent reputation, pronounces
over them an appropriate panegyric; after which all retire. Such is
the manner of the burying; and throughout the whole of the war,
whenever the occasion arose, the established custom was observed.
Meanwhile these were the first that had fallen, and Pericles, son of
Xanthippus, was chosen to pronounce their eulogium. When the proper
time arrived, he advanced from the sepulchre to an elevated platform
in order to be heard by as many of the crowd as possible, and spoke as
follows:
"Most of my predecessors in this place have commended him who made
this speech part of the law, telling us that it is well that it should
be delivered at the burial of those who fall in battle. For myself,
I should have thought that the worth which had displayed itself in
deeds would be sufficiently rewarded by honours also shown by deeds;
such as you now see in this funeral prepared at the people's cost. And
I could have wished that the reputations of many brave men were not to
be imperilled in the mouth of a single individual, to stand or fall
according as he spoke well or ill. For it is hard to speak properly
upon a subject where it is even difficult to convince your hearers
that you are speaking the truth. On the one hand, the friend who is
familiar with every fact of the story may think that some point has
not been set forth with that fullness which he wishes and knows it
to deserve; on the other, he who is a stranger to the matter may be
led by envy to suspect exaggeration if he hears anything above his own
nature. For men can endure to hear others praised only so long as they
can severally persuade themselves of their own ability to equal the
actions recounted: when this point is passed, envy comes in and with
it incredulity. However, since our ancestors have stamped this
custom with their approval, it becomes my duty to obey the law and
to try to satisfy your several wishes and opinions as best I may.
"I shall begin with our ancestors: it is both just and proper that
they should have the honour of the first mention on an occasion like
the present. They dwelt in the country without break in the succession
from generation to generation, and handed it down free to the
present time by their valour. And if our more remote ancestors deserve
praise, much more do our own fathers, who added to their inheritance
the empire which we now possess, and spared no pains to be able to
leave their acquisitions to us of the present generation. Lastly,
there are few parts of our dominions that have not been augmented by
those of us here, who are still more or less in the vigour of life;
while the mother country has been furnished by us with everything that
can enable her to depend on her own resources whether for war or for
peace. That part of our history which tells of the military
achievements which gave us our several possessions, or of the ready
valour with which either we or our fathers stemmed the tide of
Hellenic or foreign aggression, is a theme too familiar to my
hearers for me to dilate on, and I shall therefore pass it by. But
what was the road by which we reached our position, what the form of

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