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Saturday, 4 February 2012

PERICLES

If one man could be credited for the full blossoming of Athens
golden age then that man would most certainly be Pericles. Like the
phenominal Alexander before him who prided himself in having the
blood of Achilles in his veins, Pericles seemed to be cut from a
divine caste as well. In all of ancient Greek history three names still
reign supreme among the list of its greatest leaders; Alexander
The Great, Themistocles and Pericles. Each of the three unfolded
a new destiny for the rise of civilization in Greece and a giant step
forward in the development of Western Culture.

Without a clear goal, action is meaningless, and all effort
comparatively wasted. Just as all human beings need goals to give
life purpose, nations, races and civilizations must likewise aspire to
fulfilling lifes highest achievable dreams. Failure of this larger vision
results inevitably in the collapse of a nation or an entire civilization.
The prevailing goal of Pericles was to lift Athens to its highest
possible glory and this he would do with the single minded
determination befitting such an austere and capable leader. In
admiration of Pericles, Thucydides commented: "During the whole
period of peacetime when Pericles was at the head of affairs, the
state was wisely led and firmly guarded, and it was under him that
Athens was at her greatest........ Pericles, because of his position,
his intelligence, and his known integrity, could respect the liberty
of the people, and at the same time hold them in check. It was he
who led them, rather then they who led him......."

Pericles was a gifted orator and was known to pray to the gods
that when he rose to speak in the assembly he would say not one
word beside the point. He made a habit of addressing the Assembly
on major issues only. Brevity, grace and logic were his stock in
trade. Throughout his whole political career he remained aloof from
friend and foe alike. As to his speaking ability the poet Eupolis made
this observence: " In eloquence no man could equal him..... when
Pericles arose and took the floor, by ten good feet our common
orators as by an expert runner were outstripped. Not only voluble,
but with persuasion sitting upon his lips. He bound a spell, and had
this power alone of orators, to prick mens hearts and leave behind
the sting."

The stately gravity and unruffled calm of Pericles was styled
Olympian by his admirers who added that, like Zeus, he could on
occasion overbear opposition by the majestic thunder of his oratory.
Pericles knew how to sway a multitude, and, on top of that to
calculate its motions precisely. He was genius in a brand new field
of human endeavor, a field with an incalculably fabulous future. The
authority of Pericles did not come from public office it eminated
from his aristocratic essence and character. He was a born leader
of his people and was elected to the office of General fifteen times.
He dominated affairs of the city from 460 until 429 B.C.E.

Part of the policy of Pericles was to adorn the empire from the
surplus revenues and to make it the most beautiful city in the world.
With the greatest sculptors at his disposel such a task would not be
out of reach. He would later be known to boast: "Our city is an
education to Greece." Pericles chose power as against personal
possessions, and lived within his small family inheritance never to
increase it at the cost of public expence. He feared scandal, as well
he might and made a point of always deserving his reputation for
incorruptibility. There came a moment for example, when he himself
compelled to ask the assembly whether or not Athens was
spending too much money on public works. "Far too much!" the
citizens shouted. "Very well," Pericles responded when silence had
been restored. "Do not let it be charged to the public account but to
my own, and I will dedicate all the public buildings in my name."
This grand gesture raised a second uproar. Everyone present
suddenly seemed to wish for a share in the glory of what was being
done. So the Assembly reversed itself and authorized Pericles to
draw whatever was needed from the treasury after all. Pericles
threreupon pressed for the banishment of those who had most
voiciferously objected to his programs. Again, the votes went
overwhelmingly his way, and some of his powerful opponents were
run out of town.

Now Athens would begin to reach the pinnacle of artistic
perfection from which would arise breathtaking temples,
colonnades, porticoes, theaters and the like inimitable to this day.
No description can give anything but a very inadequate idea of
splendor, strength, the beauty, which met the eye of the Athenian,
whether he walked round the fortifications, or through the broad
streets of the Peiraeus, or along the Long Walls, or in the shades
of the Academy, or amidst the tombs of the Ceramicus; whether
he chaffered in the market place, or attended assemblies in the
Pnyx, or loitered in one of the numerous porticoes, or watched the
exercises in the Gymnasia, or listened to music in the Odeum or
plays in the theaters, or joined the throng of worshipers ascending
to the great gateway of the Acropolis. And this magnificance was
not the result of centuries of toil; it was the work of fifty years! At
the center of all this architectural splendor was the ancient citadel
of the Acropolis, no longer needed as a fortification, but crowned
with white marble, and devoted to the gods and art. Here was built
a stately stairway of sixty marble steps, leading to a series of
majestic colonades and porticoes of unsurpassing beauty. Just in
front of the entrance stood the colossal bronze statue of the stately
goddess " Athena The Defender", considered the gaurdian of the
empire, whose broad spearpoint, glittering in the sun, was the first
sign of the city to the mariner far out at sea.

The principle figure of Athena was erected in the Parthenon by
the eminent master sculptor Phidias, Here the viewer was
overwhelmed by the awesome splendor of the goddess which
loomed close to forty feet high. Phidias formed her white flesh from
ivory sections invisibly joined. Her yellow gold tunic must have
glimmered like liquid sunlight. At Pericles suggestion solid gold
sheeting was bolted into place,fold upon fold and weighed more
than one ton. In the age of Pericles, the chief form of poetry became
the tragic drama..... the highest development of Greek literature. As
the tenth century was the epic age and the seventh and sixth the
lyric, so the fifth century begins the dramatic period. The artistic
surroundings, the grand dramatic entertainments, enjoyed by all the
citizens the splendid pagan religious festivals, and the public life in
the Assembly and law courts educated the poor as well as the rich.
There is no wonder that the Athenians in the time of Pericles were
the foremost people of their historic age in intelligence and taste.

Not long after Pericles gained the leadership of the people,
the inevitable war with Sparta broke out. It lasted nearly fifteen years
with varying fortunes on both sides. Athens had been fighting both
Sparta and Persia. The great blow to Athens was losing 200 of its
ships in the attempt to assist Egypts revolt against the Persians.
By the time peace was finally concluded both sides were equally
exhausted. It was agreed that peace should continue for thirty years
thus ending what is often called the first Peloponnesian war.

Pericles knew what wonders could be accomplished by a
people working together in one spirit. He is reported to have stated
of the Athenians: "We alone regard a man who takes no interest in
public affairs, not as a harmless, but as a useless character." A
gifted natural leader Pericles took a declining exhausted Athens
and quickly turned it around into a powerful vibrant shimmering
jewel of a city, the pride of Hellas.

Historians like to paint Athens as a democracy,it was not. It is
true that it was not an oligarchy to the degree of Sparta but certainly
not the mob rule of a democracy. Pericles was the indisputable
leader and himself an aristocrat from a distinguished well positioned
family. Democracy is nothing more than an ideal which has never
and will never be realized because it is neither practical nor logical in
the real world. History has proven time and time again that the sole
strength of any great civilization depends on the capable guidence
of competant natural leadership. The assurance of a strong and
qualified leadership principle is best exampled within a meritocracy
system so long as there is a healthy balance between the peoples
needs and those of the state. Such a process would avoid the
immence damage and danger often caused by bureaucrats and
poloticians posing and parading themselves as leaders. If pseudo
leadership assumes priority over its people, oppression is sure to
follow. The United States suffers a double negative. Not only has
the U.S. not produced a competant leader in over a century but the
candidates that are nominated are first selected by the world power
elite to maintain and insure that powers own personal interest. The
candidates are then presented to the public who are duped into
beleveing that they actually have a choice in the nomination. The
controlling world power elite are souless, greed driven capitalistic
moguls who have not the slightest interest or compassion for
what is good for the people, environment or nations all the while
talking the empty talk of democracy.It is inevitable that America as
current reigning super power has so rapidly declined into the crime
ridden exploitive cultural wasteland that it has become today. The
U.S. government has fallen prey to losing all traces of honor,
integrity and respect through no greater means than the entropy of
its own sham political process, dishonesty and lack of values. When
a people can no longer trust their own government who put the
foreign interests of its exploitive controllers before the interests
of the people,deterioration of such a nation has passed the critical
stage of no return.

As great a leader Pericles was to Athens he left out one major
ingredient in that he did not secure an equally capable leader or
leaders to succeed his position. His two sons died in the plague.
Then he himself was stricken with it and died soon after his return to
power (429 B.C.E.). With Pericles now gone the Athenian Empire
was left rudderless to disintegrate by degree. By the year 413
B.C.E. the Athenians who had reached such glorious heights under
Pericles were overtaken in battle by the Syracusans and forced to
surrender. The Syracusans treated the captured Athenians with
barbarous plunder and humiliation. After executing the commanding
Generals they took the prisoners, seven thousand in number, and
sold them into slavery or threw them into the stone quarries of the
city where most of them perished miserably. The resources of
Athens were soon exhausted and when the Spartans blocked the
grain ships from the Athenian ports the entire city was forced to
surrender which brought about the annihilation of the Athenian
Empire in 404 B.C.E.

Though the golden age of Pericles is but a far distant memory,
his spirit and the spirit of Athens is remembered now as it will
forever be remembered as the spirit of an age and the crowning
pinnacle of a noble highly cultured era. One need only view the
ancient ruins of Athens to comprehend its former glory. The
prophetic words of Pericles still holds true when he said:

"Future ages will wonder at us, as the present age wonders
at us now." 
 RonMcVan

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