of Athena was a work of
Pheidias, and Pericles, the son of Xanthippus, had been appointed overseer of the undertaking.
But some of the assistants of Pheidias, who had been prevailed upon by Pericles' enemies, took
seats as suppliants at the altars of the gods; and when they were called upon to explain their
surprising action, they claimed that they would show that Pheidias had possession of a large
amount of the sacred funds, with the connivance and assistance of Pericles the overseer.
Consequently, when the Assembly convened to consider the
affair, the enemies of Pericles persuaded the people to arrest Pheidias and lodged a charge
against Pericles himself of stealing sacred property. Furthermore, they falsely accused the
Anaxagoras, who was Pericles' teacher, of impiety
against the gods3
; and they
involved Pericles in their accusations and malicious charges, since jealousy made them eager to
discredit the eminence as well as the fame of the man.4
But Pericles, knowing that
during the operations of war the populace has respect for noble men because of their urgent
need of them, whereas in times of peace they keep bringing false accusations against the very
same men because they have nothing to do and are envious, came to the conclusion that it would
be to his own advantage to embroil the state in a great war, in order that the city, in its
need of the ability and skill in generalship of Pericles, should pay no attention to the
accusations being lodged against him and would have neither leisure nor time to scrutinize
carefully the accounting he would render of the funds.
Now when the Athenians voted to exclude the Megarians from
both their market and harbours, the Megarians turned to the Spartans for aid. And the
Lacedaemonians, being won over by the Megarians, in the most open manner dispatched ambassadors
in accordance with the decision of the Council of the League,5
ordering the Athenians to rescind the action
against the Megarians and threatening, if they did not accede, to wage war upon them together
with the forces of their allies.
When the Assembly convened to
consider the matter, Pericles, who far excelled all his fellow citizens in skill of oratory,
persuaded the Athenians not to rescind the action, saying that for them to accede to the
demands of the Lacedaemonians, contrary to their own interests, would be the first step toward
slavery. Accordingly he advised that they bring their possessions from the countryside into the
city and fight it out with the Spartans by means of their command of the sea.