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Pericles, a leader and respected man in Athens, was a skilled orator. His literary work had a significant impact on the people of Athens even after he died. During his time, Athens was occasionally at war. With the successful defense of the city, it was required that an honorable burial be conducted for those who had died. A speech from a respected figure was also required.
A monologue by Pericles, which was a speech at a funeral of some of the dead soldiers, is one of the most renowned pieces of oratory work in history (Zimmern 16). On the other hand, Sophocles was also an Athenian playwright. His plays were multifaceted and often featured elements of tragedy. In addition, he reflected on honor and victory in his plays (Berg & Clay 46). There are many similarities between his play, “Oedipus the King,” and the funeral speech by Pericles.
Sacrifice For The Sake Of the City
In the funeral speech, Pericles emphasizes on sacrifice of one’s opportunities for the sake of the city. He considers the city the first priority even in times of dangerous encounters. To show the gravity of his beliefs, he says that it is worth more for a man to die while defending the city than to live after abandoning the cause the people in the city (Zimmern 34). He continues to say that the death of the men being buried was the cost of successful defense of their city.
To him, any honorable man must endure this predicament for the sake of maintaining the glory of the city. He continues to say that the dead sacrificed themselves for the city while survivors are ready to fight for it again (Crawley 2). This shows the extent to which a man should go in the cause of defending the city. Pericles says that Athenians must love their city, and no personal gain should make any person refuse to offer his courage for the sake of the city.
On the other hand, Sophocles, in the play “Oedipus the King,” emphasizes on the value of the city in the speech of the king. Oedipus says, “I know that you all are suffering, and each of you cares for his own sake but on my part, I feel pain for this city.” In addition, Oedipus promises that he will find out the cause of the problems in the city (Kendall, 84). Oedipus says that he has chosen to worry for the city rather than for himself, and he considers this an honorable thing to do. He has sent a relative to seek advice from Apollo.
In “Oedipus the King,” Oedipus says that he bears more sorrow for the people of the city than he does for himself (Kendall, 71). Then Creon, the messenger, continues to say that the oracle requires Athenians to banish the man who committed murder (Kendall 70). According to this speech, Creon means that they should be ready to sacrifice human life for the sake of the city. It is evident that Sophocles and Pericles held the city in high regard.
Pericles portrays the theme of courage in the speech during the burial of the dead in Athens. In fact, courage and sacrifice are the main issues discussed by Pericles. Near the end of his speech Pericles says that fear is more harmful than death in the battle for the city (Crawley 4).
In this sentence, Pericles expresses his value for courage, which is a necessity for every man defending the city. He attributes the success of Athens as a city to acts of courage. Pericles observes that the men who died sacrificed their lives despite the prospect of enjoying their wealth in future.
Whether the men were poor or rich, the temptation to betray their city in order to have a chance to live into the future did not overwhelm them. To Pericles, courage and sense of duty encouraged the dead men to fight for the city (Crawley 5). According to him, it is through this sacrifice and courage that one can achieve honor that does not wear out with time. He continues to say that heroes have the whole world preserved for their burial.
This means that people who do courageous actions are honored in the whole world. In addition, he tells the people of Athens who have survived that they can rejoice in the courageous actions of those who are being buried. He advises that Athenians should not avoid the danger that defending the city may present. He says, “Do not avoid the dangers that a war may present.” (Kendall 144).
In “Oedipus the king,” courage is perceived in the character of king Oedipus. The king faces tribulations over his fate. The messenger from the oracle says that the city faces problems because it harbors a murderer. There is a possibility that this murderer is Oedipus himself.
It also emerges that Oedipus could possibly be married to a woman who is supposed to be his mother. However, Oedipus is courageous enough to try to find out whether there is any truth in the speculations. He has courage to confront his situation. Iocasta tells Oedipus not to continue with the search for truth for the sake of his own life (Jebb 106).
However, Oedipus insists on carrying on. He does not mind the consequences of finding out that he is a murderer (Jebb 1085). This shows that Oedipus is ready to face whatever the truth presents with its discovery. The king tells Iocasta that he is indifferent of what the truth might present and he values the bravery of searching for it.
Intelligence and Restraint
When Pericles talks to people of Athens during the burial of dead soldiers after a war, he talks much about courage and sacrifice. The speech that he gave has words that are carefully chosen with the reaction of the people in mind (Zimmern 26). When he is beginning the speech, he moderates his own importance by his emphasizing that his speech is subject to various interpretations. He says, “The greatness of these men should not be put in danger by one man’s words.” (Kendall 141).
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Although he has been selected as the man of befitting stature to give a speech at the funeral, he exercises intelligence and restraint by portraying a modest character. Moreover, he directly emphasizes on the importance of dialogue when he says that discussion is important before commencement of any activity (Crawley 7). For any action to be carried out with success, dialogue must be used as a preliminary act of wisdom.
Thus, it is necessary for any intelligent person to have a discussion before starting any important activity. Athenians also restrain themselves by allowing foreigners and enemies to live in the city. This is evident when Pericles says that Athens is open for the enemies to observe and learn (Crawley 1).
On the other hand, Oedipus is portrayed as an intelligent and patient king in “Oedipus the King.” He does not draw any conclusions about events he has not yet seen. In the beginning of the play, he says that Creon has been away for too long, but he expects good news on his return (Jebb 770).
He does not lose his patience quickly. He restrains himself while condemning Creon’s delay. Oedipus does not express the fact that he suspects himself to be the murderer who is bringing misfortune to the country. Initially, he is intelligent enough to accuse other people such as Creon, and to this effect he says, “How did you get into the house of the master who you slew?” This shows that the king is intelligent, and does not want to condemn himself before time is due. This is also an element of restraint (Berg & Clay 23).
Pericles’ speech and the play written by Sophocles have many similarities. The similarities can be directly compared. One important fact is that Pericles and Sophocles were from the same society. Moreover, they lived in the same historical era. Pericles ruled Athens a few years before Sophocles wrote the play, which he presented to Athenians. The elements discussed above are some of the prominent corresponding aspects of the speech by Pericles and the most popular play among those written by Sophocles, Oedipus the King.
Berg, Stephen, and Diskin Clay. Oedipus the King. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978. Print.
Crawley, Richard. “Thucydides – Pericles’ Funeral Oration.” Ancient / Classical History – Ancient Greece & Rome & Classics Research Guide. Version 1. New York Times, 2 Jan. 2012. Web.
Jebb, Richard. “Sophocles: Oedipus Tyrannus.” Perseus Digital Library. Version 1. Perseus Digital Library, 8 May 2012. Web. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/>.
Kendall, Jennifer. Periclean Athens and Augustan Rome. New York: Academic readers, 2012. Print.
Zimmern, Alfred. The ideal of citizenship: being the speech of Pericles over those fallen in the war. London: Published for the Medici Society by P.L. Warner, 1956. Print.