The historian Thucydides, a contemporary of Pericles and often critical of the statesman was asked by Sparta’s king, Archidamus, whether he or Pericles was the better fighter, Thucydides answered without any hesitation that Pericles was better, because even when he was defeated, he managed to convince the audience that he had won. Politics is not for the fainthearted and in Ancient Greece it was played fair or foul and played to win. Pericles means ‘glory surrounding.’In terms of his ability to ward off all attacks of political opponents we might say he was teflon-coated. Like Winston Churchill or Charles deGaulle of the recent times statesmen of old were made from the rough and tumble arena of politics. The Age of Pericles saw Athens locked in a bitter struggle with Sparta and also the full flowering of Greek Art.
Pericles was born c. 495 B.C. in Athens, Greece. He was descended, through his mother, from the powerful and historically influential Alcmaeonid family.
Pericles had such a profound influence on Athenian society that Thucydides, his contemporary historian, acclaimed him as “the first citizen of Athens”. Pericles turned the Delian League into an Athenian empire and led his countrymen during the first two years of the Peloponnesian War. The period during which he led Athens, roughly from 461 to 429 BC, is sometimes known as the “Age of Pericles.” In 461, he assumed rule of Athens—a role he would occupy until his death.
“… It is from the greatest dangers that the greatest glories are to be won.”
Pericles entered politics in 470 B.C. Upon joining the Assembly, Pericles supported major reform of the Athenian constitution and was outspoken about his hostility towards Sparta. In 462, Pericles and a fellow politician, Ephiatles, established a vote in the popular assembly. The vote resulted in the complete loss of power for the old noble council, Areopagus. Cimon, the conservative Athenian leader whose policy it was to maintain friendly relations with Sparta, was exiled. To many historians, these events marked the true beginning of Athenian democracy. Pericles quickly seized the helm, organizing democratic institutions throughout the city and in 461 becoming the ruler of Athens.
Pericles, following Athenian custom, was first married to one of his closest relatives, with whom he had two sons, Paralus and Xanthippus, but around 445 BC, Pericles divorced his wife. He offered her to another husband, with the agreement of her male relatives. The name of his first wife is not known. Next he chose to live with Aspasia of Miletus. This relationship supplied ample ammunition to his political opponents who cast slur on her reputation. Even Pericles’ own son, Xanthippus joined in the fray. Most virulent attacks came just before the eruption of the Peloponnesian war.
Since Pericles was highly esteemed and powerful attack against him came roundabout.
Phidias, who had been in charge of all building projects, was first accused of embezzling gold intended for the statue of Athena and then of impiety, because, when he wrought the battle of the Amazons on the shield of Athena, he carved out a figure that suggested himself as a bald old man, and also inserted a very fine likeness of Pericles fighting with an Amazon. Pericles’ enemies also found a false witness against Phidias, named Menon.Aspasia, who was noted for her ability as a conversationalist and adviser, was accused of corrupting the women of Athens in order to satisfy Pericles’ perversions. Such slanders from his enemies did not have the desired effect but the whole experience was very bitter for Pericles. Although Aspasia was acquitted thanks to a rare emotional outburst of Pericles, his friend, Phidias, died in prison and another friend of his, Anaxagoras, was attacked by the ecclesia for his religious beliefs.
Over the course of his leadership, Pericles organized the construction of the Acropolis and the Parthenon in Athens. He also led several crucial military missions. Among them were Athens’ recapture of Delphi from the Spartans in 448, the Athenian Navy’s siege on Samos during the Samian War, and the misfortunate invasion of Megara in 431, which ended in Athens’ defeat and ultimately its ruination.
According to Plutarch, after assuming the leadership of Athens, “he was no longer the same man as before, nor alike submissive to the people and ready to yield and give in to the desires of the multitude as a steersman to the breezes”.
In matters of character, Pericles was above reproach in the eyes of the ancient historians, since “he kept himself untainted by corruption, although he was not altogether indifferent to money-making”.
According to Plutarch, he avoided using gimmicks in his speeches, unlike the passionate Demosthenes, and always spoke in a calm and tranquil manner.[
Quote from his funeral oration:
“Our polity does not copy the laws of neighboring states; we are rather a pattern to others than imitators ourselves. It is called a democracy, because not the few but the many govern. If we look to the laws, they afford equal justice to all in their private differences; if to social standing, advancement in public life falls to reputation for capacity, class considerations not being allowed to interfere with merit; nor again does poverty bar the way, if a man is able to serve the state, he is not hindered by the obscurity of his condition.”
Pericles’ Funeral Oration as recorded by Thucydides
In 429, he died of the plague.(ack:biography.com,wikipedia)