Such were the arguments by which Pericles
tried to cure the Athenians of their anger against him and to divert their
thoughts from their immediate afflictions.
As a community he succeeded in convincing them; they not only gave up all idea of sending to Lacedaemon, but applied
themselves with increased energy to the war; still as private individuals they could not help smarting under their
sufferings, the common people having been deprived of the little that they
ever possessed, while the higher orders had lost fine properties with costly
establishments and buildings in the country, and, worst of all, had war
instead of peace.
In fact, the public feeling against him did not subside until he had been
Not long afterwards, however, according to the way of the multitude, they
again elected him general and committed all their affairs to his hands,
having now become less sensitive to their private and domestic afflictions,
and understanding that he was the best man of all for the public
For as long as he was at the head of the state during the peace, he pursued
a moderate and conservative policy; and in his time its greatness was at its height.When the war broke out, here also he seems to have rightly gauged the power
of his country.
He outlived its commencement two years and six months, and the correctness
of his previsions respecting it became better known by his death.
He told them to wait quietly, to pay attention to their marine, to attempt
no new conquests, and to expose the city to no hazards during the war, and
doing this, promised them a favorable result.What they did was the very contrary, allowing private ambitions and private
interests, in matters apparently quite foreign to the war, to lead them into
projects unjust both to themselves and to their allies—projects
whose success would only conduce to the honor and advantage of private
persons, and whose failure entailed certain disaster on the country in the
The causes of this are not far to seek.Pericles indeed, by his rank, ability, and known integrity, was enabled to
exercise an independent control over the multitude—in short, to
lead them instead of being led by them; for as he never sought power by improper means, he was never compelled to
flatter them, but, on the contrary, enjoyed so high an estimation that he
could afford to anger them by contradiction.
Whenever he saw them unseasonably and insolently elated, he would with a
word reduce them to alarm; on the other hand, if they fell victims to a panic, he could at once
restore them to confidence.In short, what was nominally a democracy became in his hands government by
the first citizen.
With his successors it was different.More on a level with one another, and each grasping at supremacy, they
ended by committing even the conduct of state affairs to the whims of the
This, as might have been expected in a great and sovereign state, produced
a host of blunders, and amongst them the Sicilian expedition; though this failed not so much through a miscalculation of the power of
those against whom it was sent, as through a fault in the senders in not
taking the best measures afterwards to assist those who had gone out, but
choosing rather to occupy themselves with private cabals for the leadership
of the commons, by which they not only paralyzed operations in the field,
but also first introduced civil discord at home.
Yet after losing most of their fleet besides other forces in Sicily, and
with faction already dominant in the city, they could still for three years
make head against their original adversaries, joined not only by the
Sicilians, but also by their own allies nearly all in revolt, and at last by
the king's son, Cyrus, who furnished the funds for the Peloponnesian navy.Nor did they finally succumb till they fell the victims of their own
So superfluously abundant were the resources from which the genius of
Pericles foresaw an easy triumph in the war over the unaided forces of the
Thucydides. The Peloponnesian War. London, J. M. Dent; New York, E. P. Dutton. 1910.
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