The Center for Hellenic Studies

The Tyranny of Eros in Thucydides’ History

Gloria Ferrari
Explaining the subtitle to his Pindar’s Homer: The Lyric Possession of an Epic Past, Gregory Nagy wrote: [1]
I chose the word possession because the preoccupation of Greek poetry with the application of the past to the here and now is in itself an exercise of political power.
This arresting programmatic statement looks forward in the chapters that follow to the analyses of epinician poetry and more broadly of ainos as authoritative speech in poetry and prose. The comparison of the victorious athlete to heroes of the past that characterizes epainos as a genre, he argued, establishes a parallel between the glory, kleos, bestowed on the heroes by the epic, which is confined to the past, and the kleos the poet secures for the victor in the here and now. The analogy grounds the glorification of contemporary men in the Panhellenic tradition shared by all poleis. Unlike the kleos of epic, however, the kleos generated by praise-poetry is tied to a specific person and occasion. Observing that this occasional nature is key to the social function of praise-poetry, he moved on to expose the ambiguous dynamics linking ainos to the persona of the tyrant, as well as the alluring quality of tyranny and its dangerous cravings. This essay, my eranos for Greg on the occasion of his 70th birthday, attempts to retrace such a web of explicit and implicit connections among the political use of the epic past, the exercise of epainos, and tyranny and lust for power in Thucydides’ History. Crucial points in the network connecting these various elements in the History are metaphors of eros in which tyranny is a figure of desire. The association of tyranny with rampant passion is, of course, commonplace an ancient Greek thought. [2] In Athens it was paradigmatically laid out in the story of the Tyrant Slayers, Harmodius and Aristogiton, ever present in the forms of statues, images on coins, cult, libations on the occasion of state funerals, songs, courtroom speeches. Their myth is emblematic of the interdependence of erotic and political regimes, where to “rightful love”, dikaios erôs, corresponds democratic freedom, while sexual license characterizes the worst of tyranny. [3] Hipparchus’ kind of eros – reckless, lawless lust – is the mark of the tyrant. In his pursuit of sex, as in his appetite for wealth, the tyrant is driven by hunger, pleonexia, that he can never satisfy. [4] Plato gives us the most extensive treatment of the close relationship of tyranny to eros at the opening of Book 9 of the Republic, a dialogue set against the intellectual and political background of Athens at the time of the Peloponnesian war, although written a generation later. Socrates there traces the genesis of the tyrannical man: as a youth, he is prey to “dangerous, fierce, and lawless desires”, the kind that should be confined to sick dreams. He falls under the spell of otherwise unspecified “magi and tyrant-makers” who install a “large winged drone in his soul”. That drone is Eros (572b–573a). Within the city of his soul Eros is tyrant (573d, 574a). Himself tyrannized, such a man becomes a drunken, raging creature, prey to a passion for sex and then, metaphorically, for all that can be had, by any means: feasting, money, power. [5] Socrates compares such urges to the pleasures of the wise man, which are real because they are grounded in knowledge, while tyrannical passions, aimed at satisfying base instincts, pursue mere shadows. The figure charged with embodying both the force of tyrannical desire and the illusory nature of its object is Helen of Sparta, a phantom, as in Stesichorus’ Palinode (586b–c; translation Shorey 1935):
Ἆρ’ οὖν οὐκ ἀνάγκη καὶ ἡδοναῖς συνεῖναι μεμειγμέναις λύπαις, εἰδώλοις τῆς ἀληθοῦς ἡδονῆς καὶ ἐσκιαγραφημέναις, ὑπὸ τῆς παρ’ ἀλλήλας θέσεως ἀποχραινομέναις, ὥστε σφο- δροὺς ἑκατέρας φαίνεσθαι, καὶ ἔρωτας ἑαυτῶν λυττῶντας τοῖς ἄφροσιν ἐντίκτειν καὶ περιμαχήτους εἶναι, ὥσπερ τὸ τῆς Ἑλένης εἴδωλον ὑπὸ τῶν ἐν Τροίᾳ Στησίχορός φησι γενέσθαι περιμάχητον ἀγνοίᾳ τοῦ ἀληθοῦς;
And are not the pleasures with which they dwell inevitably commingled with pains, phantoms of true pleasure, illusions of scene-painting, so colored by contrary juxtaposition as to seem intense in either kind, and to beget mad loves of themselves in senseless souls, and to be fought for, as Stesichorus says the wraith of Helen was fought for at Troy through ignorance of the truth?
Most of all, the tyrant craves boundless power, a sentiment expressed by Jason of Pherae, when he said, according to Aristotle (Politics 1277a23–25), that he felt hungry whenever he was not tyrant. If several texts speak of the erotic appeal of tyranny, Tyranny personified can be herself the victim of desire, as she does in a fragment of Euripides (850 N): [6]
ἡ γὰρ τυραννὶς πάντοθεν τοξεύεται
δεινοῖς ἔρωσιν, ἧς φυλακτέον πέρι.
Tyranny is pierced from all sides by the arrows of terrible desires, one must be on guard.
This quality tyranny has of being both the object and the subject of passion is one she shares with Helen of Sparta, who embodies the destructive force of eros at the mythical level. In the Iliad Helen is spoken of as a beautiful object that was taken, seized by Paris. But in her own voice she blames herself and reviles her own conduct, as though she were ultimately responsible for the elopement. [7] In a lyric of Sappho the ultimate object of desire has been herself struck by desire:
ἀ γὰρ πόλυ περσκέ̣θ̣ο̣ι̣σ̣α
κ̣άλ̣λο̣ς̣ ἀνθρ̣ώπων Ἐλένα τὸν ἄνδρα
τ̣ὸν̣   ἄρ̣ιστον
κ̣αλλίποισ̣’ ἔβα ’ς Τροΐαν πλέοι̣σα
κωὐδὲ παῖδος οὐδὲ φίλων τοκήων
π̣άμπαν ἐμνάσθη, ἀλλὰ παράγ̣α̣γ̣’ α̣ὔταν
[         ]σαν
For she who overcame everyone
in beauty (Helen)
left her fine husband
behind and went sailing to Troy.
Not for her children nor her dear parents
had she a thought, no—
]led her astray.
Sappho fr. 16.6–12 V; translation Carson 2002.
My thesis is that these two incarnations of the dark side of eros – Helen and tyranny – intersect and ultimately mirror one another in Thucydides’ narrative. In a series of allusions to the Trojan epic, each functions as the vehicle of metaphors for the tyrannos polis that Athens now has become. Such metaphors occur principally in two sections of the History: the Funeral Oration in book 2 and the account of the Sicilian Expedition in book 6. The first evocation of eros occurs precisely in the epitaphios logos which Pericles delivered for the men who had fallen in the first year of the war with Sparta. Before turning to that metaphor, in a brief analysis I attempt to establish its place in the logic of the oration.
Remarkably, in the History for this speech and only for this speech does Thucydides provide a long and vivid account of the occasion and the physical setting of the speech (2.34; translation Lattimore 1998):
The Athenians held burial rites at public expense for the first to die in this war, in the following manner. They lay out the bones of the dead two days beforehand, after setting up a tent, and each person brings whatever offerings he wishes to his own relatives. When the procession takes place, wagons carry cypress coffins, one for each tribe, and within are the bones of each man, according to tribe. One empty bier, fully decorated, is brought for the missing, all who were not found and recovered. Any man who wishes, citizen or foreigner, joins the procession, and female relatives are present at the grave as mourners. They bury them in the public tomb, which is in the most beautiful suburb of the city and in which they always bury those killed in war […] After they cover them with earth, a man chosen by the state, known for wise judgment and of high reputation, makes an appropriate speech of praise, and after this they depart. This is their burial practice […] Perikles son of Xanthippos was chosen to speak. And when the moment arrived, coming forward from the tomb to a platform that had been elevated so that he could be heard by as much of the crowd as possible, he spoke as follows.
Why here, and here only does Thucydides assume the posture of an anthropologist laying out from the point of view of an outsider, as it were, the customs of the Athenians? [8] It may be that this detailed description addresses itself to readers to whom the ceremony may be foreign. Its effect, which can hardly be unintentional, is to stress the theater of the occasion, to conjure up vividly in the mind of readers of Thucydides the spectacle of Pericles on stage, “projecting” his voice to the assembled inhabitants of the city, who are the internal audience of the oration. The text forces on us, as much as on its ancient readers, a double perspective. We may choose immerse ourselves into the occasion, drawn in, then as now, into the glory of the day and become a member of the populace that listened to the speech that day in the winter of 431. There Pericles offered his audience the image of a state that after the Persian wars had grown from a position of leadership in the Delian League to hegemonic power, in possession of arkhê. It is a moment of perfection for the beautiful city. But, like the readers Thucydides might envision, we know what is to come – the physical and social disintegration brought about by the plague, the destruction of the Athenian fleet and army in the Sicilian expedition and, in the end, utter defeat. [9] From this point of view, that is, the point of view of an external audience, the performance of the Funeral Oration takes on a distinctly tragic effect. I leave aside the thorny debate concerning the authenticity of the speeches in Thucydides because the issue is not truly relevant here. The elaborate frame that Thucydides provides for its performance makes it clear that in terms of its narrative function the Funeral Oration is charged with representing of Pericles’ own vision of the city, whether or not it faithfully reproduces what Pericles actually said. [10]
It is an important speech and most scholars of Thucydides recognize here a focal point in the narrative of the war. Nevertheless, in spite of many extensive analyses, significant parts of it remain elusive, even enigmatic. The oration has a “self–subversive quality,” Ober observed, adding: “In the course of Pericles’ speech each praiseworthy ideal eventually points to its opposite.” [11] A first perplexing point is the polemical attitude Pericles displays at the opening to the very task he has been assigned (2.35). Even as he engages in it, Pericles deprecates this exercise of epainos, mere words, in that it its value depends too much upon the speaker’s fairness and ability, and it is likely to either disappoint or provoke envy in its hearers. In his view, not words but deeds, that is, the solemn state funeral and the grave monuments, are sufficient honor for those who proved themselves good men by their deeds. Nevertheless, bowing to ancestral custom, he will deliver the eulogy for the men who have fallen in battle. Before doing so, however, he engages in an unrestrained glorification of the city that takes up nearly half of the speech.
It is often observed that in another significant respect Pericles’ oration differs from the genre of the epitaphios logos as we know it: the omission of any reference to myths of the heroic age. As much as praise poetry, [12] eulogy for casualties of war draws upon the analogy between the heroes of the past and those of the present. Simonides’ elegy for Plataea, for instance, equates the kleos the poet grants the fallen soldiers with the kleos Homer bestowed upon the Danaans who conquered Troy. [13] So too the extant fourth century epitaphioi cast the Athenians of the heroic past into the paradigm for heroes of the present, bridging the distance between the two. But in the Funeral Oration the past is all but absent, confined to brief and unspecific mentions of autochthony and ancestors. [14] Even the achievements of the Persian wars are passed over in a praeteritio. The focus is resolutely on the present (2.36.2–3; translation Lattimore 1998, modified.):
καὶ ἐκεῖνοί τε ἄξιοι ἐπαίνου καὶ ἔτι μᾶλλον οἱ πατέρες ἡμῶν· κτησάμενοι γὰρ πρὸς οἷς ἐδέξαντο ὅσην ἔχομεν ἀρχὴν οὐκ ἀπόνως ἡμῖν τοῖς νῦν προσκατέλιπον. τὰ δὲ πλείω αὐτῆς αὐτοὶ ἡμεῖς οἵδε οἱ νῦν ἔτι ὄντες μάλιστα ἐν τῇ καθεστηκυίᾳ ἡλικίᾳ ἐπηυξήσαμεν καὶ τὴν πόλιν τοῖς πᾶσι παρεσκευάσαμεν καὶ ἐς πόλεμον καὶ ἐς εἰρήνην αὐταρκεστάτην.
They [the ancestors] are worthy of praise, and our fathers still more. In addition to what they received, they acquired through great effort the whole of the empire (archên)we now rule and left it to us in the present generation. Those of us here now who are still somewhere in the prime of life have expanded most areas of it and in all respects made the city supremely self-sufficient ( autarchestatên ) whether at war or in peace.
The object of Pericles’ praise is not Athens at large but Athens in its present state, that is, in possession of arkhê. Accordingly, his subjects are the qualities and achievements that made it possible, indeed inevitable, for her to acquire the empire. [15]
That is not to say that the analogical structure that is the mark of praise–speech has been abandoned. [16] Not the heroes, but the imperial city is the paragon against which the virtues of the men – the fallen and those who will take their place, individually and as a body of citizens – are measured and found worthy, and with which they are merged. Throughout, the city and the men are interchangeable but especially at 2.41.1: on the one hand, the city as a whole is an education for Hellas and on the other each of the men that are her constituent parts is, like her, a soma autarkes, “self–sufficient body”. It is a striking turn of phrase that looks forward to the mention, in the epainos of the dead soldiers, of other somata, the corpses of the men who have given their lives. On the one hand the city’s virtues are those which those men and others like them bestowed upon her. On the other, the men died in a manner “befitting” the city (2.43.1) and in so doing earned doxa, and epainos. That good epic word for “glory”, kleos, occurs only – and there in a disparaging sense – in Pericles’ stern warning to the widows, a problematic passage to be considered below.
The epic past, however, is not simply elided but placed, as it were, under erasure. It is dramatically evoked and then dismissed by condemning as fiction the tales about the heroes and as false the kleos that poetry conferred upon them (2.41.4; translation Lattimore 1998):
μετὰ μεγάλων δὲ σημείων καὶ οὐ δή τοι ἀμάρτυρόν γε τὴν δύναμιν παρασχόμενοι τοῖς τε νῦν καὶ τοῖς ἔπειτα θαυμασθησόμεθα, καὶ οὐδὲν προσδεόμενοι οὔτε Ὁμήρου ἐπαινέτου οὔτε ὅστις ἔπεσι μὲν τὸ αὐτίκα τέρψει, τῶν δ’ ἔργων τὴν ὑπόνοιαν ἡ ἀλήθεια βλάψει.
Through great proofs and by exhibiting power in no way unwitnessed, we will be admired by this and future generations, thus requiring no Homer to sing our praises nor any other whose verses will charm for the moment and whose claims the factual truth will destroy.
Beyond rejecting poetry as potentially deceitful, this statement denies epic models the capacity to function as exempla on whose authority contemporary claims to glory may be founded. This is a quintessentially political move that allows the speaker to adopt an Athenocentric perspective that isolates Athens’ from the Hellenic community at large, and to forge for the city a unique identity. [17] Through a series of comparisons, Pericles marks her diversity from the other Hellenes. Price lists the most important: [18]
Athens’ constitution emulates no other system but rather is a model for others (2.37.1); the Athenian system of military education is different from all others (διαφέρομεν, 39.1); the Athenians are the only ones who despise inactivity in a man (μόνοι γάρ, 40.2); and are set apart (διαφερόντως , 40.3) by their daring; the Athenian brand of virtue, ἀρετή, sets them in opposition to others (ἐνηντιώμεθα, 40.4). The famous claim that Athens is an educational example to all Hellas is yet another way of setting the city apart, in a position superior to its object of instruction, the proof being that Athens alone (μόνη γάρ) exceeds its own reputation (41.1–3).
The sum of these differences amounts to the superiority that legitimizes hegemony. This also means that Athens has more to loose in the war than her adversaries: what is at stake is the loss of arkhê (42.1; translation Crawley 1903):
Δι’ ὃ δὴ καὶ ἐμήκυνα τὰ περὶ τῆς πόλεως, διδασκαλίαν τε ποιούμενος μὴ περὶ ἴσου ἡμῖν εἶναι τὸν ἀγῶνα καὶ οἷς τῶνδε μηδὲν ὑπάρχει ὁμοίως, καὶ τὴν εὐλογίαν ἅμα ἐφ’ οἷς νῦν λέγω φανερὰν σημείοις καθιστάς.
Indeed if I have dwelt at some length upon the character of our country, it has been to show that our stake in the struggle is not the same as theirs who have no such blessings to lose, and also that the panegyric of the men over whom I am now speaking might be by definite proofs established.
Pericles makes the same point, albeit more explicitly, again with the purpose of persuading the Athenians to go on fighting, months later in his last speech, when under the strain of the plague and the invasion public opinion had turned against the war. In the assembly he addresses the demos, reminding his compatriots that, true, he had argued the case for going to war, but they themselves had voted for it. It was too late now to abandon the fight: the empire would be lost (2.63.2; translation Lattimore 1998):
μηδὲ νομίσαι περὶ ἑνὸς μόνου, δουλείας ἀντ’ ἐλευθερίας, ἀγωνίζεσθαι, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἀρχῆς στερήσεως καὶ κινδύνου ὧν ἐν τῇ ἀρχῇ ἀπήχθεσθε. ἧς οὐδ’ ἐκστῆναι ἔτι ὑμῖν ἔστιν, εἴ τις καὶ τόδε ἐν τῷ παρόντι δεδιὼς ἀπραγμοσύνῃ ἀνδραγαθίζεται· ὡς τυραννίδα γὰρ ἤδη ἔχετε αὐτήν, ἣν λαβεῖν μὲν ἄδικον δοκεῖ εἶναι, ἀφεῖναι δὲ ἐπικίνδυνον.
And never think that the contest is over one issue alone, slavery instead of freedom, when it is over both loss of empire and danger from those whose hatred you incurred during your rule. You cannot abdicate from it, even if someone fearful under the immediate circumstances makes this upright display in his political indifference; for you now hold it like a tyranny that seems unjust to acquire but dangerous to let go.
That is to say, one of the ways in which the arkhê is “like a tyranny” is that it affords no escape. [19] Cleon reiterates the argument more brutally in his address to the Assembly, in the course of the debate whether or not to put the Mytilenaeans to death (3.37.2): “For you do not reflect that the empire you hold is tyranny imposed upon unwilling subjects who plot against you.”
In the History, the first mentions of Athens as the “tyrant city”, polis turannos, are spoken by the Corinthian envoys at Sparta (1.122.3; 1.124.3) and it is likely this characterization had currency in the years preceding the war. [20] Plutarch reports an attack on Pericles launched by the conservatives led by Thucydides son of Melesias in the 440s. The accusation was that Pericles had taken the funds levied on the allies of the Delian League – funds that were to serve for the common defense against Persia – and used them instead to build the magnificent new buildings on the Acropolis. This is how they voiced the charge: [21]
καὶ δοκεῖ δεινὴν ὕβριν ἡ Ἑλλὰς ὑβρίζεσθαι καὶ τυραννεῖσθαι περιφανῶς, ὁρῶσα τοῖς εἰσφερομένοις ὑπ’ αὐτῆς ἀναγκαίως πρὸς τὸν πόλεμον ἡμᾶς τὴν πόλιν καταχρυσοῦντας καὶ καλλωπίζοντας ὥσπερ ἀλαζόνα γυναῖκα, περιαπτομένην λίθους πολυτελεῖς καὶ ἀγάλματα καὶ ναοὺς χιλιοταλάντους.
Greece now seems to be willfully degraded with a terrible degrading arrogance and to be the victim of blatant tyranny, as she sees us using what she contributed under necessity for the war to gild our city and to put on her a pretty face like an alazôn woman, decked out with expensive stones and statues and thousand–talent temples.
Although unspoken, intimations that Athens’ arkhê is tyranny, or like tyranny, hang heavily over the Funeral Oration. Some scholars have addressed the possibility that at least parts of the speech implicitly confront that issue in order to counter the charge, [22] while others observed that in particular passages Pericles’ city bears an uncanny resemblance to a tyrant. [23] But the tenet that the Funeral Oration in its fulsome praise of Athenian democracy implies condemnation of tyranny as the ultimate evil remains fundamentally unchallenged. This perspective blinds us to the fact that Pericles fashions his portrait of the city precisely out of features, with which all would be familiar, that conventionally characterize the tyrant in archaic and classical thought, namely: absolute power, wealth to overflowing, and unrestrained desire.
To say that power over subjects is the necessary condition for tyranny is to state the obvious. Nevertheless a passage in Aristotle’s analysis of how this form of government differs from kingship brings into relief one distinctive feature:
A mode of securing tyranny is to make it more regal, protecting one thing only, its power (dunamin), in order that the ruler may govern not only with the consent of the subjects but even without it; for if he gives up this, he also gives up his position as tyrant.
Politics 1314a; translation Rackham 1944.
Likewise Athens rules over both willing and unwilling subjects. Pericles unambiguously refers to the allies as “subjects” (ὑπηκόῳ, 2.41.3) and it is clear from the statement that follows that not all were equally willing to submit (2.41.4; translation Lattimore 1998): [24]
ἀλλὰ πᾶσαν μὲν θάλασσαν καὶ γῆν ἐσβατὸν τῇ ἡμετέρᾳ τόλμῃ καταναγκάσαντες γενέσθαι, πανταχοῦ δὲ μνημεῖα κακῶν τε κἀγαθῶν ἀίδια ξυγκατοικίσαντες.
We have compelled every sea and land to become open to our daring and populated every region with lasting monuments of our acts of harm and good.
The outlandish claim that Athens holds sway over the whole earth – lands and seas – will not stand up to a realistic assessment of the facts. It does, however, reveal the tyrannical quality of the imperial city’s ambition. As in Bacchylides’ encomium for Alexander of Macedon, the tyrant “fancies he will be monarch over all men.” For – the tyrant explains in the Hiero – whereas a private citizen might wish for a house, or a field, or a slave, “the tyrant desires cities, vast tracts of land, harbors, mighty citadels, which are things much harder and more dangerous to acquire than the things private persons desire.” [25] The very freedom the Athenian demos enjoys is the freedom of the tyrant to do as he wishes, once it becomes the power to compel. [26]
Among our early sources, a fragment of Solon brings together the kratos, might, of the tyrant with a second defining feature: boundless wealth. The speaker chides Solon for refusing tyranny, a foolish thing:
ἤθελον γάρ κεν κρατήσας, πλοῦτον ἄφθονον λαβὼν
καὶ τυραννεύσας Ἀθην μοῦνον ἡμέρην μίαν,
ἀσκὸς ὕστερον δεδάρθαι κἀπιτετρίφθαι γένος.
If I had gained power, obtained vast wealth, and become tyrant of Athens for only a single day, I’d be willing to be flayed into a wineskin afterwards and to have my line wiped out.
Solon fr. 33.5–7 West; translation Gerber 1999.
Like her power, Athens’ wealth too is virtually limitless (2.38.2):
ἐπεσέρχεται δὲ διὰ μέγεθος τῆς πόλεως ἐκ πάσης γῆς τὰ πάντα, καὶ ξυμβαίνει ἡμῖν μηδὲν οἰκειοτέρᾳ τῇ ἀπολαύσει τὰ αὐτοῦ ἀγαθὰ γιγνόμενα καρποῦσθαι ἢ καὶ τὰ τῶν ἄλλων ἀνθρώπων.
The greatness of the city is such that all things pour in from all over the earth, and it is our privilege to gather in the good things produced here with a freedom of enjoyment no more our own than that afforded by those of other peoples.
Commentators on this passage appropriately point to a parallel remark in Pseudo–Xenophon’s Constitution of Athens (2.7), stating that luxury goods are brought to Athens from various parts of the Mediterranean on account of the city’s mastery of the sea. [27] The hyperbole of Pericles’ words, however, finds better correspondence in the unrivaled riches of despots. [28] The claim that the city’s reach extends all over the earth and the image of an endless flow of goods bring to mind the words with which Clytemnestra proclaims the opulence of the house in the “carpet scene” in Aeschylus’ Agamemnon (958–62; translation Thomson 1938):
ἔστιν θάλασσα, τίς δέ νιν κατασβέσει;
τρέφουσα πολλῆς πορφύρας ἰσάργυρον
κηκῖδα παγκαίνιστον, εἱμάτων βαφάς·
οἶκος δ’ ὑπάρχει τῶνδε σὺν θεοῖς, ἄναξ,
ἔχειν, πένεσθαι δ’ οὐκ ἐπίσταται δόμος.
There is still the sea, it shall not be dried up,
Renewing fresh from infinite abundance
Rich merchandise of purple-stained attire;
Wherein the Gods, my lord, have well endowed
A royal house that knows no penury.
The topos of opulence and, specifically, that of wealth pouring in from distant lands, occurs as well in the inebriated musings of a would–be tyrant in Bacchylides’ encomium for Alexander son of Amyntas, where it mingles with dreams of conquest and sensual desire:
Κύπριδός τ’ ἐλπὶς διαιθύσσῃ φρένας,
ἀμμειγνυμένα Διονυσίοισι δώροις·
ἀνδράσι δ’ ὑψο⌊ τάτω πέμπει μερίμνας
αὐτίκα μὲν πολίων κράδεμνα λύει,
πᾶσι δ’ ἀνθρώποις μοναρχήσειν δοκεῖ·
χρυσῷ δ’ ἐλέφαντί τε μαρμαίρουσιν οἶκοι,
πυροφόροι δὲ κατ’ αἰγλάεντα πόντον
νᾶες ἄγουσιν ἀπ’ Αἰγύπτου μέγιστον
πλοῦτον· ὣς πίνοντος ὁρμαίνει κέαρ.
… expectation of Kypris rushes through the mind, mixed with the gifts of Dionysos. They send men’s thoughts to soar sky–high: for instance, a man is undoing the veils of cities, and fancies he will be monarch over all men. Halls gleam with gold and ivory, and, bearing their wheat over a glittering sea, ships carry from Egypt vast wealth. So the heart of the drinking man is stirred.
Bacchylides fr. 20B SM; translation Fearn 2007:35–36.
With the bold introduction of eros in the Funeral Oration we come to the third defining trait of the tyrant. While Athens’ right to rule is rationalized on the basis of her exceptional merits, the will to power that drives her citizens to die for her is a matter of desire. Pericles urges the men to continue the fight with daring equal to that of the eulogized dead, with the kind of resolve that is not grounded in logical reasoning but instead rooted in passion (2.43.1-2):
[…] ἀλλὰ μᾶλλον τὴν τῆς πόλεως δύναμιν καθ’ ἡμέραν ἔργῳ θεωμένους καὶ ἐραστὰς γιγνομένους αὐτῆς, καὶ ὅταν ὑμῖν μεγάλη δόξῃ εἶναι, ἐνθυμουμένους ὅτι τολμῶντες καὶ γιγνώσκοντες τὰ δέοντα καὶ ἐν τοῖς ἔργοις αἰσχυνόμενοι ἄνδρες αὐτὰ ἐκτήσαντο, καὶ ὁπότε καὶ πείρᾳ του σφαλεῖεν, οὐκ οὖν καὶ τὴν πόλιν γε τῆς σφετέρας ἀρετῆς ἀξιοῦντες στερίσκειν, κάλλιστον δὲ ἔρανον αὐτῇ προϊέμενοι. κοινῇ γὰρ τὰ σώματα διδόντες ἰδίᾳ τὸν ἀγήρων ἔπαινον ἐλάμβανον καὶ τὸν τάφον ἐπισημότατον
[…] but rather contemplating ( theômenous ) the actual power ( dunamin ) of the city day by day and becoming her lovers ( erastas ) and, when you see that she is great, reflecting that these men who dared, and knew what was necessary, and acted out of a sense of shame made her so and, if they failed in some attempt, they did not think it right to deprive the city also of their arête and gave her instead the most beautiful eranos. For in giving their bodies in common cause they individually gained imperishable praise and the most distinguished tomb.
Pericles thus constructs an allegory, in which all citizen soldiers fall passionately in love with the imperial city by beholding, theômenous, her power, dunamin, and are each ready to lay down his life as an eranos for her. [29]
Unbridled desire is, as we have seen, a topos of the standard depiction of the tyrant. In the Funeral Oration the emphasis on the gaze as the pathway of eros indeed calls to mind the earliest extant occurrence of the word turannis (Archilochus fr. 19 W; translation Nagy 1990:288): [30]
οὔ μοι τὰ Γύγεω τοῦ πολυχρύσου μέλει,
οὐδ’ εἷλέ πώ με ζῆλος, οὐδ’ ἀγαίομαι
θεῶν ἔργα, μεγάλης δ’ οὐκ ἐρέω τυραννίδος·
ἀπόπροθεν γάρ ἐστιν ὀφθαλμῶν ἐμῶν.
I do not care about the possessions of Gyges rich in gold. Envy has not yet taken hold of me. And I am not indignant about what the gods do. Nor do I lust after great tyranny. For it is far away from my eyes.
Here, as in Pericles’ extended metaphor, lusting after tyranny depends upon having her in one’s sights. That tyranny has erastai is a familiar concept. In the speech at Herodotus 3.53.4, in which Periander’s daughter tries to convince her brother to return to Corinth and take over his father’s role, she tells him: “Tyranny is a slippery creature, and she has many lovers” (Τυραννὶς χρῆμα σφαλερόν, πολλοὶ δὲ αὐτῆς ἐρασταί εἰσι). Herodotus again (1.96.2) describes Deioces, who became the first king of the Medes, as a clever man “who lusted after tyranny” (ἐρασθεὶς τυραννίδος).
It is apparent that in the Funeral Oration Pericles is at play with the very topoi that define the tyrant in his praise of the qualities and achievements that have allowed Athens to acquire and hold her rule over the allies. Paradoxical as it may seem – and this paradoxical quality accounts for the unsettling effect this speech has on its modern readers –– the characterization of Athens as polis turannos suits his argument. Athens’ arkhê is an undeniable fact brought about by the features that set the city apart from and above all others, something demonstrated by facts, the deeds of her citizens. Because “Athens is a breed apart,” [31] the principle of equal rights that internally characterizes Athenian democracy, the isonomia that its citizens fully enjoy, is not applicable to the relationship between the city and her allies because there can be no equality between unequals. [32] What has been called the “aristocratization” of the Athenian demos in Pericles’ speech is only understandable in this frame of reference: [33] the demos as a whole is an elite not within the polis, where differences in wealth and status in reality exist, but with respect to the other Hellenes. The oration in no way mounts a defense of the city against the charge of tyranny. On the contrary, it acknowledges and endorses the turannos polis metaphor by delivering what amounts to an encomium of tyranny, in the measure in which Athenian rule may be said to be “like a tyranny.” But the oration also mitigates, again with recourse to commonplaces about tyranny, the injustice inherent in that relationship by qualifying the ways in which the city exercises her power, such that she avoids well-known degenerate aspects of despotism. It drives home repeatedly the point that the arkhê is a precious possession, which the Athenians deserve. Accordingly, the city embodies that enlightened, benevolent tyranny which – Simonides explains to the tyrant in the Hiero (7.15) – is “the most noble and most blessed possession” to which a human being can aspire. [34]
As their subjects recognize, the Athenians are worthy of their dominant position (ἀξίων, 2.41.3). With the resources they have available, Athenians live well but the use they make of their wealth lacks the greedy acquisitiveness, pleonexia, and surfeit, koros, that are the worst aspects of tyrannies. Theirs is an ethos of moderation, which leaves no room for megaloprepeia, the display of magnificence trough conspicuous spending that is typical of tyrants (2.40.1):
φιλοκαλοῦμέν τε γὰρ μετ’ εὐτελείας καὶ φιλοσοφοῦμεν ἄνευ μαλακίας· πλούτῳ τε ἔργου μᾶλλον καιρῷ ἢ λόγου κόμπῳ χρώμεθα.
We pursue what is beautiful with parsimony and we pursue wisdom without weakness; wealth (πλούτῳ) we use as an opportunity (καιρῷ) for action rather than boastful speech.
The last part of this much-quoted sentence echoes a reflection in Pindar’s second Olympian that concerns precisely the good management of tyranny. The ode is in honor of Theron of Acragas and in this passage points him out as an exemplum of how wealth such as his serves worthy ends when it becomes the opportunity for achievements: [35]
ὁ μὰν πλοῦτος ἀρεταῖς δεδαιδαλμένος
φέρει τῶν τε καὶ τῶν
καιρὸν βαθεῖαν ὑπέχων μέριμναν ἀγροτέραν,
ἀστὴρ ἀρίζηλος, ἐτυμώτατον
ἀνδρὶ φέγγος.
Truly, wealth (πλοῦτος) embellished with virtues provides opportunity (καιρὸν) for various achievements by supporting a profound and questing ambition; it is a conspicuous lodestar, the truest light for man.
Generosity, the redeeming quality of the despot, characterizes as well the Athenian’s disposition toward “friends”, on whom they bestow benefits with no expectation that they will be repaid (2.40.4–5; translation Price 2001:141):
καὶ τὰ ἐς ἀρετὴν ἐνηντιώμεθα τοῖς πολλοῖς· οὐ γὰρ πάσχοντες εὖ, ἀλλὰ δρῶντες κτώμεθα τοὺς φίλους. βεβαιότερος δὲ ὁ δράσας τὴν χάριν ὥστε ὀφειλομένην δι’ εὐνοίας ᾧ δέδωκε σῴζειν· […] καὶ μόνοι οὐ τοῦ ξυμφέροντος μᾶλλον λογισμῷ ἢ τῆς ἐλευθερίας τῷ πιστῷ ἀδεῶς τινὰ ὠφελοῦμεν.
We are also different from most others in regard to virtue, in that we prefer to make friends by granting rather than receiving benefaction. He who grants a favor remains a firmer friend in order to preserve the feeling of indebtedness through goodwill towards his recipient; […] We alone grant benefits to others fearlessly without calculating our advantage any more than we rely confidently on our own freedom.
The kind of giving Pericles describes has disturbing implications, in that it is one–sided, being the relationship between a dominant party, the benefactor, who enjoys utter freedom, and an inferior one, permanently placed in the condition of debtor. [36] An example of this sort of exchange may be the granting of proxenies to citizens of the allied cities that provided benefits which the recipient would not, could not reciprocate. Not insignificantly, it is in extant fifth–century proxeny decrees that the formula “the cities which the Athenians rule” regularly occurs. [37] Lack of reciprocity is, of course, endemic to the condition of tyrant, because reciprocity entails equality, while tyranny depends upon superiority in both power and wealth. [38]
Following the conventions of the genre, after the praise of the dead Pericles addresses the bereaved with spare words of consolation, mostly with exhortations to further contribute to the war effort. He encourages the fathers of the fallen soldiers to take pride in the glory of their sons and to have more children, those who can. He acknowledges brothers and sons, who will find it hard to measure up to the reputation achieved by the dead, although they must. Finally, turning to the war widows, he pronounces the most egregious statement of the entire oration (2.45.2):
εἰ δέ με δεῖ καὶ γυναικείας τι ἀρετῆς, ὅσαι νῦν ἐν χηρείᾳ ἔσονται, μνησθῆναι, βραχείᾳ παραινέσει ἅπαν σημανῶ. τῆς τε γὰρ ὑπαρχούσης φύσεως μὴ χείροσι γενέσθαι ὑμῖν μεγάλη ἡ δόξα καὶ ἧς ἂν ἐπ’ἐλάχιστον ἀρετῆς πέρι ἢ ψόγου ἐν τοῖς ἄρσεσι κλέος ᾖ.
And if I must make mention of womanly excellence, in regard to all those who now will be widows, I shall point to it all in a brief admonition (parainesei). Great is the reputation (doxa) of a woman who does not become worse than her given nature and hers, whose glory (kleos) among the males is least, whether in praise or in blame (psogou).
Since Gomme, many have tried to discover a benign intent underneath these words: perhaps the womanly “nature” to which Pericles calls attention should be understood as “noble, and something to be proud of”; perhaps the advice concerns the manner in which the women should carry out their task, the funeral lament, which should be neither excessive nor stinging; or silencing them is a way to say that the widows are now wards of the state. [39] At face value, it is hard to construe this statement as anything but an appalling expression of misogyny. Beyond the fact that it strikes us as somewhat insensitive, however, the real problem with Pericles’ admonition to the widows is that it seems gratuitous, a non sequitur, and uncalled for, since other epitaphioi do not include remarks addressed to the women. [40] This is troubling because the passage substantially rounds up the speech, coming as it does just before the conventional formal dismissal of the crowd. We should expect here a particularly significant statement that brings to a head the various strands of the oration and provides appropriate closure. But let us pay close attention to the wording.
With this statement the oration has moved from epainos, praise, to parainesis, advice or admonition, and here for the first time it raises the possibility of blame, psogos, and of becoming “worse”. The specific meaning of phusis, nature, in the phrase “womanly nature” is hard to pin down – although all we know about classical writers opinions of womanly nature points to disparaging connotations. The use of arsen, however, to indicate the males of the species in the phrase en tois arsesi, is telling, because arsenes means not “men” in the sense of the andres, who were both the subject and the addressees of the preceding part of the Oration, and not “men” in the sense of anthropoi, human beings, but simply “males,” whether man or beast. The sense of “not becoming worse than your given nature” may be do not behave like creatures prey to their instincts and appetites, operating not at the political level, not even at the human level, but at the amoral level of the natural realm. Most of all, what raises a flag is the word kleos to mean the kind of renown that will bring disgrace to a woman, whether she is virtuous or base. Kleos is not just another word for fame or being talked about. It is unthinkable that Pericles, or Thucydides, would use it here without a sense of its connotations. Kleos is the fame, “glory,” that poetry and song confer upon the heroes, securing for them kleos aphthiton, unfailing glory, in the Homeric phrase. Kleos is the glory that epinician songs bring to the victorious athletes. [41] “That δόξα is greatest where κλέος is least – writes Rusten – is a deliberate oxymoron, since the two are virtually synonyms and the latter is never pejorative.” [42] Achieving kleos is the highest honor for a man. Does kleos ever attach to women?
There is the matter of the glory of Penelope. [43] At Odyssey 19.107–129, for instance, the disguised Odysseus addresses blameless Penelope saying: “your kleos goes up into the wide heaven” (107–108). But Penelope prudently deflects the bright light of glory onto her husband by replying that her excellence, arête, and beauty were all destroyed when Odysseus sailed away to Troy and that her kleos would only revive with his return. The only heroine who unquestionably has kleos is Helen of Sparta and hers is the only case in which kleos may have a pejorative sense. [44] The issue of whether she deserves the blame that has dogged her whole life and afterlife is actually a topic of considerable interest in Athens in the late fifth century, when presumably Thucydides was writing, with the production of Euripides’ Helen in 412 and the publication of Gorgias’ Encomium of Helen, followed in the fourth by Isocrates’ Encomium of Helen.
Kleos attaches to Helen specifically on the occasion of her courtship, when suitors from all Greece compete for her hand. The Hesiodic Catalogue of Women mentions her kleos (fr. 199. 5–9 M–W):
ἄμφω δ’ ἀγγελίην Λακεδαίμονάδε προΐαλλον
Τυνδαρέου π̣[οτ]ὶ̣ δῶμα δαΐφρονος Οἰβαλίδαο,
πολλὰ δ’ ἔεδν̣[α δίδον,] μέγα γὰρ κλέος̣ [ἔσκε γυ]ν̣α̣ι̣κός
Both sent an embassy to Sparta, to the palace of warlike Tyndareus son of Oebalus, offering much bride–price, for great was the kleos of the woman.
As well as desire, Helen’s beauty raises the possibility of violence. To avert strife among the suitors, after Menelaus is proclaimed the winner of the contest, Tyndareus binds them all to the oath, which Euripides imagines in these terms (Iphigenia at Aulis, 61-65; translation Coleridge 1900):
Whoever wins the child of Tyndareus for wife, him will we assist, in case a rival takes her from his house and goes his way, robbing her husband of his rights; and we will march against that man in armed array and raze his city to the ground, Hellene no less than barbarian.
The suitors took the oath and in time, except for Menelaus, they would all die at Troy, and countless other men with them. Gorgias speaks of Helen’s “evil kleos” (duskleias, Encomium of Helen 6), and kleos is freely used in Euripides’ Helen, where she has “shameful kleos” (aiskhron kleos, 136), “bad kleos” (dusklees, 270), and is universally hated as her deeds are “glorified” (klêizomai, 926–928) throughout Hellas. The very reason why she is praised and the source of her kleos, her beauty, is also the source of her blame. Helen proverbially embodies the destructive power of eros, which ultimately leads men to their death and to the disintegration of the state. I will just point to Aeschylus’ deservedly famous invectives in the Agamemnon (690–93; 1455-1458; translation Thomson 1938):
ἑλένας ἕλανδρος ἑλέ–
πτολις ἐκ τῶν ἁβροτίμων
προκαλυμμάτων ἔπλευσεν
Ζεφύρου γίγαντος αὔραι
Helen – hell indeed she carried
Unto men and ships and a proud city, stealing
From the silk veils of her chamber, sailing seaward
With the Zephyr’s breath behind her.
παράνους Ἑλένα,
μία τὰς πολλάς, τὰς πάνυ πολλὰς
ψυχὰς ὀλέσασ’ ὑπὸ Τροίαι·
O Helen, oh folly–beguiled,
One woman to take those thousands of lives
That were lost in the land of the Trojans.
The mention of kleos as a woman’s downfall in the Funeral Oration evokes Helen’s power and her disgrace. In reference to Helen one understands the sense of the otherwise puzzling admonishment not to fall below a woman’s given nature, τῆς τε γὰρ ὑπαρχούσης φύσεως μὴ χείροσι γενέσθαι. The allusion is to the version of her abduction according to which she went willingly, leaving her husband, without a thought for her parents and her children, as in the fragment of Sappho cited at the beginning of this essay. This possibility is also conjured up much later in Gorgias’ Encomium of Helen. Was her conduct dictated by the gods, was she forced, or persuaded by speech, or was it love, he asks, commenting (18): “So if Helen’s eye, pleased by Alexander’s body, transmitted an eagerness and striving of love to her mind, what is surprising?” A fragment of Alcaeus called her “mad with desire” (fr. 283.5: ekmaneisa), and so Aeschylus, in the passage of the Agamemnon just cited, describes her as “demented”, paranous (1455). Forgetfulness, sensual urges, folly are all ways that characterize Helen’s decision as a lapse indeed, arguably a “becoming worse” that blinds her to duty and social norms.
The allusion to Helen is not inappropriate to the immediate context of the oration. While modern sensibility leads us to look at the widows as grief–stricken creatures in need of compassion, Pericles points to the role they will now assume in the polis. His admonition concerns a pool of women between 18 and 35 years of age, at a rough estimate. Just as the fathers of the dead soldiers should produce more sons for the war effort, and their brothers emulate their valor, the widows have now returned to marriageable status. As prospective brides, they are implicitly open to wooing that might set off competition, even strife among the men. [45] The sense of Pericles’ statement is that, unlike Sparta, Athens shall produce no Helen. This backhanded compliment also rounds out the portrait of Athens as the embodiment of manly virtues that Pericles enacts on the solemn stage of the state funeral, demonstrating that quintessential masculine virtue, a man’s ability to control the women in his domain. But the allusion has a much greater, far-reaching resonance in Thucydides’ History. [46] Rather than marking an abrupt diversion from its main theme, the reference to Helen’s kleos brings to a close a sustained pattern of allusions to the Trojan epic in the Funeral Oration, a pattern that begins with the mention of Homer and climaxes in the metaphor of Athens as the love–object of the Athenian demos, to which I now return.
The throng of citizens bonded to one another in their passion for the city and ready to lay down their lives for her metaphorically appropriates the image of the suitors of Helen, to signify the vehemence of their eros and utter dedication. Where Helen had been the source of passion on account of her beauty, just as powerfully the city arouses the citizen–erasteseros through her perceptible dunamis. [47] Like Helen’s suitors, the citizens are all under her spell. The wedding and the oath that would follow are suggested by the use of the word eranos to signify the gift of their lives. This word is commonly used of a contribution to a communal feast or fund, a meaning that suits the contraposition in the words that follow at 2.43.2 of communal interest (κοινῇ) and individual gain (ἰδίᾳ). In the context of courtship, however, a breath away from the image of lovers intently gazing at their beloved, eranos also suggests another meaning the word has, that of wedding gift. [48] The word signifies a contribution to a wedding, for instance, in Pindar’s twelfth Pythian, in the narrative of the myth of Perseus. The hero returns from his ordeal to find Polydectes holding a feast, under the pretense of collecting contributions for a bride–price for Hippodamia. There he lays down “a baneful eranos”, that is, the head of Medusa. [49]
These allusions construct a paradigm that is antithetical to the one laid out in the Trojan saga. Pericles rejects kleos, which Homer and the poets bestow on the heroes, by saying “we require no Homer to sing our praises.” To that false kind of glory he opposes “deeds” that speak for themselves, and to the image of the epic hero that of the citizen’s moderate, perfect, self–sufficient body. It is not for a Helen, that is, that the Athenians go to war and are ready to die, but for the only true love object, the imperial city. Pericles invokes Helen because she embodies the irresistible power of eros, but he invokes her as a negative exemplum, to serve as a foil to the only worthy object of desire: the power that the city embodies. Athens, in other words, is the anti–Helen. The two are not incommensurable quantities. The eros that Pericles urges onto the demos is, of course, political eros. But Helen herself, Arrowsmith pointed out, is the “greatest single metaphor or symbol for this political Eros,” “the seductive and destructive phantom that […] lures luxury–loving and ambitious men to destruction by tyranny and war […] the ultimate love-object of imperial pleonexia.” [50] The war at Troy, as the fatal plunder of that city demonstrated, was never just about Helen, but about “Helen and the goods”, Helenê kai ktêmata in the Homeric phrase: the property that went with her and the fruits of plunder. [51] The antithesis pitting the Athenian arkhê against Helen more broadly implies an analogous comparison of the Trojan war to the war in which the Athenians are engaged and opens an epic frame of reference for the ordeal facing the imperial city. It is against the background of Pericles’ words that the mythic movement, which scholars have recognized particularly in Thucydides’ narrative of the Sicilian expedition, acquires resonance.
In the Funeral Oration “each praiseworthy ideal eventually points to its opposite,” [52] but only in hindsight. The narrative that follows reveals that each ideal carried within itself perversions that would corrupt Athens’ beautiful tyranny from within. The shift is abrupt. [53] At the beginning of the following summer the Peloponnesians invade Attica. In the city, where many had sought refuge, a devastating plague breaks out. Thucydides, who survived it, describes in excruciating detail its physical effects (2.47.3–51): fever, vomiting, convulsions, the body livid and breaking out in ulcers; birds and animals who normally fed on corpses would not feed on the corpses that lay unburied, and if they did, they died. The contrast with the graceful, versatile, self–sufficient body of the citizen Pericles had described, the soma autarkes, is stark and probably intentional, since Thucydides uses the very same words to say that no physical type, soma, in itself was sufficiently autarkes to resist the disease (2.51.2–3). To the ravages of the plague on the bodies of the citizens correspond disintegration and pollution in Athenian society. In the city overcrowded with refugees, “bodies of dying men lay one upon another,” “the temples too were full of corpses of those who had died in them” (2.52.2–3). Lawlessness prevailed. In Thucydides’ words, “Men resolved to get out of life the pleasures which could be had speedily and would satisfy their lusts, regarding their bodies and their wealth alike as ephemeral” (2.53.2), “no fear of gods or law of men restrained them”(2.53.4). These were the very men of whom Pericles had said: “we are restrained from lawlessness chiefly through reverent fear, for we render obedience to those in authority and to the laws” (2.37.3).
Under the leadership of Cleon and Alcibiades, Athens abandons what Thucydides calls the “moderate policy” of Pericles, which had kept the city safe (2.65.5), and plans to expand the reach of its empire beyond its present limits and capability. In 415, after a debate in the assembly conducted mainly between Nicias and Alcibiades, the decision is taken to launch a grandiose expedition to Sicily, under the pretext of coming to the aid of Segesta against Selinus but with the far reaching intention of gaining possession of the whole island. Certainly in hindsight the recklessness of the enterprise is apparent. Thucydides notes: “most of them – the Athenians – were ignorant about the size of the island and the number of its inhabitants, and did not realize that they were taking on a war not much smaller than that against the Peloponnesians” (6.1.1). The outcome, after a final battle of Syracuse in 413, was a crushing defeat, from which Athens would not recover. In the sober words of Thucydides (7.87.5–6; translation Lattimore 1998):
ξυνέβη τε ἔργον τοῦτο Ἑλληνικὸν τῶν κατὰ τὸν πόλεμον τόνδε μέγιστον γενέσθαι, δοκεῖν δ’ ἔμοιγε καὶ ὧν ἀκοῇ Ἑλληνικῶν ἴσμεν, καὶ τοῖς τε κρατήσασι λαμπρότατον καὶ τοῖς διαφθαρεῖσι δυστυχέστατον· κατὰ πάντα γὰρ πάντως νικηθέντες καὶ οὐδὲν ὀλίγον ἐς οὐδὲν κακοπαθήσαντες πανωλεθρίᾳ δὴ τὸ λεγόμενον καὶ πεζὸς καὶ νῆες καὶ οὐδὲν ὅτι οὐκ ἀπώλετο, καὶ ὀλίγοι ἀπὸ πολλῶν ἐπ’ οἴκου ἀπενόστησαν. ταῦτα μὲν τὰ περὶ Σικελίαν γενόμενα.
And this Hellenic event turned out to be the greatest connected with this war and, at least in my opinion, of Hellenic events we have heard of, the most splendid ( lamprotaton ) for those who won and the most wretched ( dustukhestaton ) for those who were ruined. For after having been completely defeated in every respect and suffering no little misery at any point in what can truly be called total destruction, army, navy, and everything else was lost, and few out of many returned home ( apenostêsan ). This is what happened concerning Sicily.
In the narrative of the Sicilian Expedition scholars have long recognized a mythic movement and allusions to the Trojan war. [54] In the passage just cited, for instance, some have seen in the word apenostêsan an allusion to the bitter nostoi of the Achaeans from Troy. [55] As Cornford had done, so controversially, Rood also points effectively to echoes of tragedy, particularly Aeschylus. [56] Again, to stay with the passage at hand, several scholars have recognized in the phrase καὶ τοῖς διαφθαρεῖσι δυστυχέστατον an iambic trimeter that evokes tragic diction. [57] The word lamprotatos, which characterizes here the splendid victory of the Syracusans, had been applied to the spectacle of the departure of the fleet from Piraeus in book 6: the army is called “celebrated for its splendor, lamprotetos, to look upon” (6.31.6). [58] And it is within this mythic and tragic frame of reference that we should read the erotic metaphors that characterize the Athenian attitude at the prospect of invading Sicily. The expedition is first and foremost a matter of eros. [59] This notion makes a first appearance in the debate between Nicias and Alcibiades. Arguing against the proposal to invade the island, Nicias pleads with the older men (6.13.1):
Οὓς ἐγὼ ὁρῶν νῦν ἐνθάδε τῷ αὐτῷ ἀνδρὶ παρακελευστοὺς καθημένους φοβοῦμαι, καὶ τοῖς πρεσβυτέροις ἀντιπαρακελεύομαι μὴ καταισχυνθῆναι, εἴ τῴ τις παρακάθηται τῶνδε, ὅπως μὴ δόξει, ἐὰν μὴ ψηφίζηται πολεμεῖν, μαλακὸς εἶναι, μηδ’, ὅπερ ἂν αὐτοὶ πάθοιεν, δυσέρωτας εἶναι τῶν ἀπόντων.
I am fearful seeing those young men sitting here at the bidding of this same man and I urge the older men not to feel ashamed, if they are sitting next to one of them, that they will seem soft if they vote against war, nor to suffer what these men suffer and fall morbidly in love with what is absent.
It is a duserôs, a sick eros, a fatal passion that drives the young men to war, a desire – misguided in Nicias’ view – to gaze upon not what is distant, as tôn apontôn is often translated, but with what is absent.
Persuaded by Alcibiades, the Athenians will sail and their eagerness is again expressed in erotic terms (6.24.3):
καὶ ἔρως ἐνέπεσε τοῖς πᾶσιν ὁμοίως ἐκπλεῦσαι· τοῖς μὲν γὰρ πρεσβυτέροις ὡς καταστρεψομένοις ἐφ’ ἃ ἔπλεον ἢ οὐδὲν ἂν σφαλεῖσαν μεγάλην δύναμιν, τοῖς δ’ ἐν τῇ ἡλικίᾳ τῆς τε ἀπούσης πόθῳ ὄψεως καὶ θεωρίας, καὶ εὐέλπιδες ὄντες σωθήσεσθαι·
And a desire to sail fell upon them (erôs enepese) all alike: onto the older men who believed that they would conquer those they were sailing against or at least that such a great force could not fail; on the young who longed for the sight and the contemplation of the absent (tes te apousês pothôi opseôs kai theôrias) and were confident that they would be safe.
In the last passage, more than in the preceding one, the metaphor stresses the yearning, pothos, with which the young men long to bring into sight, opsis, and behold, theôria, the absent object of their desire. [60] In the opening phrase, erôs enepese, Cornford and others after him have identified an Aeschylean echo of lines in the Agamemnon, 341–42. [61] Clytemnestra speaks her fear that greed may lead the Achaeans to impiety in their plunder of Troy:
ἔρως δὲ μή τις πρότερον ἐμπίπτηι στρατῶι
πορθεῖν ἃ μὴ χρή, κέρδεσιν νικωμένους·
Beforehand, though, let no desire fall upon the army to destroy what they must not, conquered by greed.
Isocrates will use the same words as Thucydides in direct reference to the passion for Helen that took hold of all parties in the war at Troy (Helen 52.1):
τοσοῦτος δ’ ἔρως ἐνέπεσεν τῶν πόνων καὶ τῆς στρατείας ἐκείνης, οὐ μόνον τοῖς Ἕλλησι καὶ τοῖς βαρβάροις, ἀλλὰ καὶ τοῖς θεοῖς.
Such a desire fell upon (erôs enepese) not only the Hellenes and the barbarians but also the gods for the ordeals and that expedition.
Before Thucydides, Euripides had employed the same expression in the Iphigenia in Aulis, where Achilles describes the eagerness of the army to sail for Troy: [62]
οὕτω δεινὸς ἐμπέπτωκ’ ἔρως
τῆσδε στρατείας Ἑλλάδ’ οὐκ ἄνευ θεῶν.
So powerful a desire (erôs) for the expedition has fallen upon (empeptôk’) Hellas by the will of the gods.
The phrase at the end of the Thucididean passage, τῆς τε ἀπούσης πόθῳ ὄψεως καὶ θεωρίας, also has an Aeschylean cast, albeit in a different way. What I have in mind is the so–called Aeschylean riddle, that is, the way in which wording that is unstable and poorly suited to the frame of reference in which it is embedded points to a subtext –– a hidden meaning different from the literal one that is foregrounded. [63] In this case, the highly allusive language has forced interpreters to stretch the meaning of words to suit the ostensible context, that is, the departure of the fleet for Sicily. Lattimore, for instance, translates “others with the longing of youth for faraway sights and experiences;” Wohl: “the young longed for distant sights and spectacles;” with greater freedom Hornblower: “the young were yearning to see with their own eyes the marvels of a distant land.” [64] But these men are not embarking on a sightseeing tour. They want more than to see Sicily: they want to have it (, tês apousês means not “distant” but “absent”, “she who is absent”, applicable presumably to Sicily – but only by special pleading. Absence of one who was previously present is what pothos is all about: it is longing for the object of desire that is no longer before one’s eyes, as in an explicit passage of the Cratylus (420a; translation Fowler 1921): [65]
καὶ μὴν “πόθος” αὖ καλεῖται σημαίνων οὐ τοῦ παρόντος εἶναι [ἱμέρου τε καὶ ῥεύματος] ἀλλὰ τοῦ ἄλλοθί που ὄντος καὶ ἀπόντος, ὅθεν “πόθος” ἐπωνόμασται ὃς τότε, ὅταν παρῇ οὗ τις ἐφίετο, “ἵμερος” ἐκαλεῖτο· ἀπογενομένου δὲ ὁ αὐτὸς οὗτος “πόθος” ἐκλήθη.
And the word “pothossignifies that it pertains not to that which is present, but to that which is elsewhere or absent, and therefore the same feeling which is called himeros when its object is present, is called pothos when it is absent.
Opseôs and theôrias are genitives singular: not sights and spectacles but vision and contemplation. The young men yearn for the sight and the contemplation of what they love. Seeing, and then contemplating are precisely the two steps of the love process that Diotima describes in Plato’s Symposium (210e; translation Nehamas and Woodruff 1989):
ὃς γὰρ ἂν μέχρι ἐνταῦθα πρὸς τὰ ἐρωτικὰ παιδαγωγηθῇ, θεώμενος ἐφεξῆς τε καὶ ὀρθῶς τὰ καλά, πρὸς τέλος ἤδη ἰὼν τῶν ἐρωτικῶν ἐξαίφνης κατόψεταί τι θαυμαστὸν τὴν φύσιν καλόν.
You see, the man who has been thus far educated in matters of Love, who has beheld beautiful things in the right order and correctly is coming now to the goal of Loving: all of a sudden he will catch sight of something wonderfully beautiful in its nature.
The lover sees, katopsetai, the beloved, then contemplates him, theômenos. Connor rightly points out that the emphasis on sight in the description of the passion that afflicts the young men about to sail to Sicily looks back to Pericles’ daring metaphor in the Funeral Oration. [66] Contemplation is the means by which the citizens should become erastai of the city: “beholding (theômenous) day by day the power of the city”. What the young men long for, what is driving them to Sicily, is desire for the dunamis of the city, the tyranny after which they lust. The antithesis that Pericles had drawn in the Funeral Oration between Helen and Athens’ beautiful tyranny has become analogy: no less than the Danaans at Troy, eros for the impossible object of desire drives the Athenians to their doom.
The pathology of love described here suggestively parallels the one found in another famous passage of the Agamemnon, and this, I think, is ultimately the paragon of pothos to which the image of the love–sick sailors in Thucydides refers. The chorus describes Menelaus, wretched in his palace, abandoned by Helen (414–19; translation Wohl 1998:93–94, modified):
πάρεστι †σιγᾶς ἄτιμος ἀλοίδορος
ἅδιστος ἀφεμένων† ἰδεῖν·
πόθωι δ’ ὑπερποντίας
φάσμα δόξει δόμων ἀνάσσειν·
εὐμόρφων δὲ κολοσσῶν
ἔχθεται χάρις ἀνδρί,
ὀμμάτων δ’ ἐν ἀχηνίαις
ἔρρει πᾶσ’ Ἀφροδίτα.
We can see him there,
sitting apart, in silence, dishon–
ored, not reviling, not beseech–
ing (?). And in longing for her
who is beyond the sea, a ghost
shall seem to rule the house.
And the charm of beautiful stat–
ues is hateful to the man; and
in the emptiness of eyes, all Aphrodite
is gone.
Menelaus longs for her who is beyond the sea, pothôi huperpontias; deprived of her sight, his eyes in their emptiness know no pleasure. Helen is the ultimate love object but it is her absence that feeds desire.
The figure of Helen, I have argued, underlies and connects the metaphors of erôs for tyranny in Thucydides in a subtle but sustained chain of allusions to the war at Troy, the “other” war brought about by reckless passion. While Pericles’ Funeral Oration had cast the imperial city as the only worthy object of desire – in this as powerful as Helen, but her opposite –– in the hindsight of Thucydides and his readers the correspondences between the two appear clearer than the difference between them. The city turns out to be, as it were, another Helen. For, like Helen, a consuming passion for tyranny, which the city embodies, will also send thousands of men enamored of her power to their death in this war – the dead, who were the object of the eulogy, their brothers and their sons, and a generation yet to be born.

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[ back ] 1. Nagy 1990:3.
[ back ] 2. See Nagy 1990:281–292; Wohl 2002:220–23, with references.
[ back ] 3. On the political import of the erotic element in the story of the Tyrannicides, see Ferrari 2002:155–159; Wohl 2002:3–10; Ober 2003; Raaflaub 2003:63–69.
[ back ] 4. Plato in particular deploys the theme pleonexia, wanting more than one’s fair share, in his portrait of the tyrannical man at Republic 341b–344d, 349a–350c, 574a–e, 586b. See Algra 1996:44–48, 51–59, and Balot 2001:4–6, 108–114, 200–211, 236–248.
[ back ] 5. Larivée 2005:183–184.
[ back ] 6. Euripides fr. 850 N, from an unidentified play. These lines have been understood to say that tyranny is the object of men’s desire (LSJ sv τοξεύω II.2; Collard and Cropp 2008). But in Euripides, where this trope first appears, the person who is smitten is invariably the one to feel desire: see e.g. Medea 530–531, 626–35; Hippolytus 525–533; Iphigenia in Aulis 543–551; Trojan Women 255.
[ back ] 7. See the analysis of Helen’s self-blame in the Iliad in Blondell 2010.
[ back ] 8. Loraux (1986:17) calls this section “the equal of modern anthropological investigations.”
[ back ] 9. On the “double audience” of Pericles’ speeches in Book 2, see Connor 1984:72; Dewald 2005:6–7, 15, 20; Greenwood 2006:8–11, 67–68.
[ back ] 10. Should it be perceived as largely fictitious, the capacity the Funeral Oration has in the narrative to serve as a foil to the disastrous turns of events that follow would be seriously impaired – at least in the minds of some of the readers Thucydides might envision, those who were in the audience that day or otherwise had access to the speech. I am in sympathy with arguments (summarized in Loraux 1986:191–192) that Thucydides’ text substantially reports what Pericles said. For the opposite view, see e. g. Yunis 1996:61–67.
[ back ] 11. Ober 1998:136.
[ back ] 12. On the funeral oration genre as epainos and its relationship to praise poetry, see Loraux 1986:49–54.
[ back ] 13. Simonides fr. 11 W. On this point see Nagy 2001; Boedeker 2001.
[ back ] 14. Loraux 1986:121–122; Price 2001:174, 180: “Stranger and more unconventional than Pericles’ extensive and exclusive praise of the city is his neglect of the glories of Athens’ past and his concentration on the city’s present and future.”
[ back ] 15. See the insightful analysis of the Funeral Oration by Price (2001: 178–186), who notes (181): “Pericles is saying that Athens in its present form opens a new historical epoch which can only be understood by, and therefore must be measured against, the future and not the past.”
[ back ] 16. On the analogy established in epinician poetry between the hero and the object of praise, see Nagy 1990:146–154, 186–198; 2002:76–82.
[ back ] 17. Price 2001:186–189. Loraux (1986:70–71) places Pericles’ polemical statement against the background of the 430s, “the decade that saw Athens’ abandonment of a panhellenic past and the adoption of a hegemonic present” (71). On Panhellenic traditions of poetry, see Nagy 1990: chapter 2.
[ back ] 18. Price 2001:179. On Athenian “exceptionalism”, see also Cogan 1981:41–42; Ober 1998:88–89.
[ back ] 19. This cliché makes a first appearance in a saying Plutarch attributes to Solon (Life of Solon 14.8): “Tyranny is a beautiful place, from which there is no way out.” More prosaically, Hiero 7.12: “In this respect tyranny is most wretched, for it is not possible to break free from it.”
[ back ] 20. Romilly 1963:125–128; Connor 1977. Tuplin 1985 gives an extensive analysis of the metaphor.
[ back ] 21. Life of Pericles 12, translation Powell 1995:248. Plutarch’s account, coming so long after the events, is not confirmed by any other source. For this reason it has been doubted, outright discounted by some, staunchly defended by others. See the analyses of this controversy in Powell 1995 and Kallet 2003:134–35.
[ back ] 22. See e.g. Connor 1977:96; Kallet 2003:131–137.
[ back ] 23. McGlew 1993:188–189; Price 2001:143; Wohl 2002:53; Scholtz 2007:38.
[ back ] 24. On the “amoral” character of this statement, see Connor 1984:74n54 and Balot 2001:174–177. Balot observes (174): “[Pericles] advances an entirely individualistic ethic according to which the city’s glory, however achieved and however condemned by the wider community, transcends the question of moral justification.”
[ back ] 25. Bacchylides fr. 20B.11 SM. Xenophon, Hiero 4.7: ὁ μὲν γὰρ ἰδιώτης οἰκίας ἢ ἀγροῦ ἢ οἰκέτου ἐπιθυμεῖ, ὁ δὲ τύραννος ἢ πόλεων ἢ χώρας πολλῆς ἢ λιμένων ἢ ἀκροπόλεων ἰσχυρῶν, ἅ ἐστι πολὺ χαλεπώτερα καὶ ἐπικινδυνότερα κατεργάσασθαι τῶν ἰδιωτικῶν ἐπιθυμημάτων.
[ back ] 26. On the unimpeded freedom of the tyrant, see McGlew 1993:29–30, 183–190, 206–212. The author argues that in Classical Athens “the freedom that was once enjoyed exclusively by tyrants was incorporated into the definition of citizenship” (190). See also Wohl 2002:50–53, 182–188.
[ back ] 27. In that text, the characterization of the city as tyrant is apparent particularly in the following observation, made with regard to the allies’ obligation to stand trial in Athens (1.18): “for this reason the allies have become instead slaves of the Athenian demos ” (διὰ τοῦτο οὖν οἱ σύμμαχοι δοῦλοι τοῦ δήμου τῶν Ἀθηναίων καθεστᾶσι μᾶλλον).
[ back ] 28. On the wealth of tyrants, see Nagy 1990:274–292; McGlew 1993:26; Crane 1996.
[ back ] 29. Extensive analyses of the erastes metaphor appear in Ludwig 2002:320–339; Wohl 2002: chapter 1; Scholtz 2007: chapter 2. In his analysis of the term erastes, Ludwig (149) notes that the word is first transferred from the strictly erotic to the political realm in Thucydides and in Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus (601), where it refers to tyranny. Monoson (2000: chapter 2) argues that the relationship to which the term refers is the one binding erastes and eromenos in paiderastia. The wording, however, firmly suggests that we should think of the city in the feminine, something Monoson dismisses out of hand (75n42). On this point see Scholtz, p. 38.
[ back ] 30. On the use of this metaphor in Archilochus and the Funeral Oration, see McGlew 1993:188–189.
[ back ] 31. Price 2001:180n102.
[ back ] 32. Wohl 2002:185: “But what was forbidden within the democracy was possible in the empire.” Concerning the use of the turannos polis metaphor by Athenian speakers in Thucydides, Connor (1977) argued that tyranny has positive connotations when it is viewed from the point of view not of the ruled but of the tyrant or would–be tyrant.
[ back ] 33. For the notion of “aristocratic democracy”, see Gomme 1956:126–127; Wohl 2002:36–39.
[ back ] 34. Simonides describes strategies by which a tyrant may gain the respect and affection of his subjects: see Hiero 10-11 and Strauss 2000: chapter 4. Connor’s 1977 analysis of the turannos polis metaphor exposes ambivalence in archaic and classical thought regarding tyranny: a state overwhelmingly abhorred and condemned, but also envied and coveted. See also Kallet 2003:119–121; Wohl 2002:216–36; Sevieri 2004:281.
[ back ] 35. Pindar Olympian 2.53-56; translation Race 1997, modified. Hornblower (2004:256–57) notes an affinity in these lines with the attitude toward wealth in the Funeral Oration, but he does not draw a direct connection between the two. Wohl (2002:43n29) notes that this “moralization of wealth” should be read in reference to Athenian imperialism.
[ back ] 36. In his analysis of this passage, Price (2001:141–45) observes (143): “His [Pericles’] insistence that Athens gives but never receives is in fact consistent with his definition of the Athenian empire as tyranny (2.63.2).” The sentence is generally taken to refer to Athens’ dealings with the allies, but Connor (1984:69n45) warns: “the phraseology of 2.40.4 is so general that it could equally well apply to personal relationships within the city.” Accordingly, Rusten (1989:156) interprets it in reference to individual Athenians.
[ back ] 37. On this formula and the proxeny decrees see Low 2005:95–99. Although she argues for a more nuanced understanding of the formula than an expression of naked imperialism, Low notes (99) that benefits such as those the honorific decrees offer are “benefits which give the Athenians an unrecoverable advantage in the sequence of reciprocal exchanges; and which will leave the honorand perpetually in the subordinate, powerless, position in that exchange.”
[ back ] 38. On the tyrant’s isolation and exclusion from reciprocal exchanges, see Sevieri 1999: 282–84.
[ back ] 39. See, respectively, Gomme 1956:143; Tyrrell and Bennett 1999; Holst–Warhaft 1992:119-121; Kallet–Marx 1993. See also Derderian 2001:170–171; Wohl 2002:48, with further references.
[ back ] 40. Gomme 1956:143: “advice that is most of it not called for by the occasion.” On this point see Winton 2010:159–161. In Winton’s view, Pericles offers the widows not admonition but consolation.
[ back ] 41. For epic kleos, see Nagy 1974:231–255; 1979: passim. For epinician kleos, see Nagy 1990:147–152, 199–206.
[ back ] 42. Rusten 1989:177.
[ back ] 43. On Penelope’s kleos, see Katz 1991, especially pp.3–6, 20–29,138–145.
[ back ] 44. Winton (2010:161) straightforwardly identifies in the mention of kleos at 2.45.2 a reference to Helen.
[ back ] 45. Hardwick 1993:149–153.
[ back ] 46. See Slatkin 1991 for a brilliant demonstration of the power of allusions that “are highly charged and repay scrutiny for the myths whose resonance or ‘reverberation’ they carry into the narrative as a whole, signaling a constellation of themes that establish bearings for the poem as it unfolds and linking it continually to other traditions and paradigms and to a wider mythological terrain” (108).
[ back ] 47. Connor (1984:55–56n10) notes a parallel between the insistence on vision in this passage and the passage in Gorgias’ Encomium of Helen, in which it is said that the vision of Alexander’s body might have aroused Helen’s passion.
[ back ] 48. Wohl 2002:57.
[ back ] 49. Pindar, Pythian 12.13-15: ἤτοι τό τε θεσπέσιον Φόρκοι’ ἀμαύρωσεν γένος, / λυγρόν τ’ ἔρανον Πολυδέκτᾳ θῆκε ματρός τ’ ἔμπεδον / δουλοσύναν τό τ’ ἀναγκαῖον λέχος. “Yes, he brought darkness on the monstrous race of Phorcus, and he repaid Polydectes with a baneful wedding-present (lugron t’eranon) for the long slavery of his mother and her forced bridal bed.” On the meaning of eranos here, see Gildersleeve 1885:366. Hornblower (2004:322) sees here an intertextual reference to Pindar in Thucydides.
[ back ] 50. Arrowsmith 1973:131–134, the quote from p. 133.
[ back ] 51. Wohl 1998:83–84.
[ back ] 52. Ober 1998: 136. Noting that in the course of the History Athens “loses many of the qualities and potentialities we glimpse in the Funeral Oration”, Connor (1984:68n40) asks: “Does the city in the end become anti–Athens?” See also ibid. pp. 179–180.
[ back ] 53. On the dramatic effect of the juxtaposition of the narrative of the plague to the Funeral Oration, see Orwin 1988:841–845; Wohl 2002: 200–201.
[ back ] 54. See Connor 1984: “Book 6”, passim; Hornblower 1994:64–65, 67–69.
[ back ] 55. Hornblower 2004:349–352; Allison 1997:512–514. The verb, however, occurs much more often in Herodotus and clear references to the Homeric poems are hard to pin down. It is possible, Rood argues (1999:6–7), that Thucydides draws not only on the epic but also “on epic as its themes are reflected in, and transformed by, Herodotus.”
[ back ] 56. Cornford 1907: 213–216; Rood 1999:10–11.
[ back ] 57. Rood 1999:10; Hornblower 2008:744, with references.
[ back ] 58. The juxtaposition suggests to Rood (1999:11) the pattern of reversals that characterizes the tragic turn.
[ back ] 59. On the theme of eros in Book 6, see Wohl 2002: chapter 4.
[ back ] 60. On the figure of eros in these passages, see Arrowsmith 1973:134–135.
[ back ] 61. Cornford 1907:213–216; Connor 1984:167–68; Hornblower 2008:361.
[ back ] 62. Iphigenia in Aulis 808–809. The desire to sail is cast again in erotic terms in Agamemnon’s speech to his daughter at 1264–1266: μέμηνε δ’ Ἀφροδίτη τις Ἑλλήνων στρατῶι πλεῖν ὡς τάχιστα βαρβάρων ἐπὶ χθόνα, “some mad Aphrodite possesses the army to sail as soon as possible to the land of the barbarians.” Meagher 2002:99 connects these verses to the phrase erôs enepese at Thucydides 6.24.3 and sees in both the expression of “the erōs of empire.”
[ back ] 63. Ferrari 1997:24–38.
[ back ] 64. Wohl 2002:192; Hornblower 2008:362.
[ back ] 65. On this point see Cornford 1907:215.
[ back ] 66. Connor 1984:55–56n10.