Moreover, by way of providing himself with a style of discourse which was adapted, like a musical instrument, to his mode of life and the grandeur of his sentiments, he often made an auxiliary string of Anaxagoras, subtly mingling, as it were, with his rhetoric the dye of natural science. It was from natural science, as the divine Plato says,1
‘acquired his loftiness of thought and perfectness of execution, in addition to his natural gifts,’ and by applying what he learned to the art of speaking, he far excelled all other speakers.
It was thus, they say, that he got his surname; though some suppose it was from the structures with which he adorned the city, and others from his ability as a statesman and a general, that he was called Olympian. It is not at all unlikely that his reputation was the result of the blending in him of many high qualities.
But the comic poets of that day who let fly, both in earnest and in jest, many shafts of speech against him, make it plain that he got this surname chiefly because of his diction; they spoke of him as
‘lightening’ when he harangued his audience,2
‘wielding a dread thunderbolt in his tongue.’
There is on record also a certain saying of Thucydides, the son of Melesias, touching the clever persuasiveness of Pericles, a saying uttered in jest.
Thucydides belonged to the party of the
‘Good and True,’ and was for a very long time a political antagonist of Pericles. When Archidamus, the king of the Lacedaemonians, asked him whether he or Pericles was the better wrestler, he replied:
‘Whenever I throw him in wrestling, he disputes the fall, and carries his point, and persuades the very men who saw him fall.’
The truth is, however, that even Pericles, with all his gifts, was cautious in his discourse, so that whenever he came forward to speak he prayed the gods that there might not escape him unawares a single word which was unsuited to the matter under discussion.
In writing he left nothing behind him except the decrees which he proposed, and only a few in all of his memorable sayings are preserved, as, for instance, his urging the removal of Aegina as the
‘eye-sore of the Piraeus,’ and his declaring that he
‘already beheld war swooping down upon them from Peloponnesus.’ Once also when Sophocles, who was general with him on a certain naval expedition,3
praised a lovely boy, he said:
‘It is not his hands only, Sophocles, that a general must keep clean, but his eyes as well.’
Again, Stesimbrotus says that, in his funeral oration over those who had fallen in the Samian War, he declared that they had become immortal, like the gods;
‘the gods themselves,’ he said,
‘we cannot see, but from the honors which they receive, and the blessings which they bestow, we conclude that they are immortal.’ So it was, he said, with those who had given their lives for their country.