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Together with my high school age son I was listening to a Teaching Company World History course lecture by Linwood Thompson in which he quoted from a funeral oration given by Pericles, leader of Athens. It was clearly a eulogy for fallen soldiers whose ultimate sacrifice had saved Athens.

"Our constitution does not copy the laws of neighboring states. Instead, others copy what we do. Our plan of government favors the many instead of the few. That is why it is called a democracy. As for  laws, we are for equal justice to everyone. And as for social standing, advancement is open to everyone according to his ability. High position does not depend on wealth, nor does poverty bar the way. We take pleasure in the arts, but without extravagance, and in knowledge, without being soft. Our public leaders have their own businesses as well as politics to take care of. Our ordinary citizens see to their own livelihoods, but are also capable of making political decisions. Unlike other nations, we Athenians do not call a man who takes no part in public life quiet or unambitious. We call such a man- useless. In short, our city is the school of all of Greece. This is the Athens for which these men fought nobly and died. Because they could not bear the thought of losing such a city. "

On hearing that, America comes to mind, not as an epitome of such a state, sadly, but as a state that falls short of those ideals. After the recent new assaults on voting rights, I believe there is much work to be done to preserve these rights, from legal work to voter ID and registration drives, and out loud statements of ideals like these can be inspiring.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Isn't the actual word "idiot"? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    radarlady, Mighty Ike

    Although "useless" may be a better translation, or maybe "nonentity".

    I have read it that refers to those who attended assemblies but only to watch.

    Tempting to call the Tea-partiers "idiots" too, but in the classical sense, they don't even rate that high, since, although they participate, they do so against their own interests.  I don't think the Greeks had an insult for someone so reprehensible, unless it was perhaps "slave natured."

    My favorite quote from Pericles...

    You may take no interest in politics, but don't expect politics will take no notice of you.

    "I wonder why Congress again in a new poll out today--11% approval rating. (It's) because they don't work for us. They work for the sons-of-bitches who pay them." Cenk Uygur

    by Dave in Columbus on Sun Jun 30, 2013 at 11:07:29 AM PDT

  •  It's much closer than you think. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jimmyjamesv

    Pericles was a dictator elected by the few to assert imperial privilege over both other Greek cities and barbarians.

  •  A little perspective: (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jimmyjamesv, Meteor Blades, ladybug53

    Athens and its surrounds (Attica) was a direct democracy in which citizens were allowed to vote on any public matter. The key is citizens, which excluded women and slaves. There were a lot of slaves.
       The oration of Pericles is a great piece of rhetoric, but recall that it describes a citizen democracy in a slave based society.
       Pericles himself, once he got that Golden Age thing going, decided that it would be a good time to take on Athens's old enemy, Sparta. Once war broke out, Sparta invaded and Pericles moved the population out of their homes and into the walled roadway that protected the road to Piraeus, Athen's main seaport.
       There, plague broke out and huge numbers of Athenians died, including Pericles.
       The Peloponesian War ended in disaster for the Athenians. A major factor in their defeat was a decision by the popular assembly to launch an attack on Syracuse, thus making a new enemy while Spartans were still occupying Attica. The Athenian forces were wiped out in Syracuse.
      The dumb moves by the Athenian poular assembly contributed to the distrust of democracy by the American founding fathers.
      Pericles sure talked a good game, though.

    •  Indeed, he did. And even his audience all... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ladybug53

      ...those centuries ago must have chuckled a bit to themselves when he intoned the words:

      As for laws, we are for equal justice to everyone. And as for social standing, advancement is open to everyone according to his ability. High position does not depend on wealth, nor does poverty bar the way.

      Don't tell me what you believe, show me what you do and I will tell you what you believe.

      by Meteor Blades on Sun Jun 30, 2013 at 01:38:12 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Much work to be done. (0+ / 0-)

    Like impeaching the five Justices in the VRA ruling for abuse of power.

    Sign the petition to demand a law-abiding Supreme Court.

    by Troubadour on Sun Jun 30, 2013 at 04:44:45 PM PDT

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