As a young man, Pericles was exceedingly reluctant to face the people, since it was thought that in feature he was like the tyrant Peisistratus; and when men well on in years remarked also that his voice was sweet, and his tongue glib and speedy in discourse, they were struck with amazement at the resemblance. Besides, since he was rich, of brilliant lineage, and had friends of the greatest influence, he feared that he might be ostracized, and so at first had naught to do with politics, but devoted himself rather to a military career, where he was brave and enterprising.
However, when Aristides was dead,1
and Themistocles in banishment,2
and Cimon was kept by his campaigns for the most part abroad, then at last Pericles decided to devote himself to the people, espousing the cause of the poor and the many instead of the few and the rich, contrary to his own nature, which was anything but popular.
But he feared, as it would seem, to encounter a suspicion of aiming at tyranny, and when he saw that Cimon was very aristocratic in his sympathies, and was held in extraordinary affection by the party of the
‘Good and True,’ he began to court the favour of the multitude, thereby securing safety for himself, and power to wield against his rival.
Straightway, too, he made a different ordering in his way of life. On one street only in the city was he to be seen walking,—the one which took him to the market-place and the council-chamber. Invitations to dinner, and all such friendly and familiar intercourse, he declined, so that during the long period that elapsed while he was at the head of the state, there was not a single friend to whose house he went to dine, except that when his kinsman Euryptolemus gave a wedding feast, he attended until the libations were made,3
and then straightway rose up and departed.
Conviviality is prone to break down and overpower the haughtiest reserve, and in familiar intercourse the dignity which is assumed for appearance's sake is very hard to maintain. Whereas, in the case of true and genuine virtue,
‘fairest appears what most appears,’ and nothing in the conduct of good men is so admirable in the eyes of strangers, as their daily walk and conversation is in the eyes of those who share it.
And so it was that Pericles, seeking to avoid the satiety which springs from continual intercourse, made his approaches to the people by intervals, as it were, not speaking on every question, nor addressing the people on every occasion, but offering himself like the Salaminian trireme, as Critolaus says, for great emergencies. The rest of his policy he carried out by commissioning his friends and other public speakers.
One of these, as they say, was Ephialtes, who broke down the power of the Council of the Areiopagus, and so poured out for the citizens, to use the words of Plato,4
‘undiluted freedom,’ by which the people was rendered unruly, just like a horse, and, as the comic poets say,
‘no longer had the patience to obey the rein, but nabbed Euboea and trampled on the islands.’