“Menexenus” by Plato

An imitation or parody of Pericles’ funeral oration from Thucydides’ “History of the Peloponnesian War“. The speaker gives a sketchy and biased rendering of the Persian Wars and the Peloponnesian War, glossing over defeats of the Athenians and exaggerating their merits. There are noble sentiments of devotion to one’s country and honor, but also smug national and racial superiority. The funeral speech exhorts the sons of the departed to follow their fathers’ courage and virtue, and the parents to refrain from lamenting overmuch the honorable ends of their children.

The Art of Rhetoricians

“They steal away our souls with their embellished words; in every conceivable form they praise the city; and they praise those who died in war, and all our ancestors who went before us; and they praise ourselves also who are still alive, until I feel quite elevated by their laudations, and I … become enchanted by them, and all in a moment I imagine myself to have become a greater and nobler and finer man than I was before. And if, as often happens, there are any foreigners who accompany me to the speech, I become suddenly conscious of having a sort of triumph over them … This consciousness of dignity lasts me more than three days, and not until the fourth or fifth day do I come to my senses and know where I am;”

“For we might have lived dishonourably, but have preferred to die honourably rather than bring you and your children into disgrace, and rather than dishonour our own fathers and forefathers; considering that life is not life to one who is a dishonour to his race, and that to such a one neither men nor Gods are friendly, either while he is on the earth or after death in the world below.”

“While we gently heal their wounds, let us remind them that the Gods have heard the chief part of their prayers; for they prayed, not that their children might live for ever, but that they might be brave and renowned. And this, which is the greatest good, they have attained.”

“For he whose happiness rests with himself, …–who is not hanging in suspense on other men, or changing with the vicissitude of their fortune,–has his life ordered for the best. He is the temperate and valiant and wise; and when his riches come and go, when his children are given and taken away, he will remember the proverb–“Neither rejoicing overmuch nor grieving overmuch,” for he relies upon himself.”


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