The angry historians see one side of the question. The calm historians see nothing at all, not even the question itself. — G. K. Chesterton

Story of Greece - Mary Macgregor

The Last Words of Pericles

When The Spartans marched out of Attica, the country folk left the sheltering walls of Athens to go back to their fields, to dig, to plough, to sow.

They hoped in due time to reap a plenteous harvest, for their last year's crops had been destroyed by the enemy. But before the corn was ripe they knew their hopes were vain. The Spartans had come back, and once again the people were forced to leave their fields and take refuge within the walls of the capital.

But in the city itself an enemy appeared, an enemy that worked more dreadful havoc than even the Spartan army. The plague had come to Athens. It spread rapidly, for the people were crowded together, some in sheds, some in tents, and these rough shelters were not kept clean. Squalor and lack of room added to the misery of the sick folk.

Thousands of those who had fled for safety to the city were stricken by the plague, and at first few recovered. For fear seized upon those whom the plague spared and they left the sick untended, to die, tortured by thirst, and alone.

At length even the Spartans grew afraid, lest upon them too the plague should fall, and they again withdrew from Attica.

Then Pericles sailed to Peloponnesus and attacked the enemy in its own country, but with little or no success. But in Thrace, the town of Potidaea, which had been besieged by the Athenians for a year, was forced to surrender.

No breach had been made in the walls, but the famine-stricken people could no longer bear the pangs of hunger, nor had they strength left to defend their city.

The Athenians allowed the miserable inhabitants to leave Potidaea, but the men were forbidden to take anything with them save one garment, while the women were permitted to take two. Before long Athenian families were sent to settle in Potidaea, which then became a colony belonging to Athens.

During the war the popularity of Pericles began to wane. It was he who had advised the Athenians to carry on war with the Spartans, and they now accused him of causing all the misery which they had to endure.

While he was absent with the fleet in 430 B.C., Cleon, the head of those who were opposed to Pericles, tried to make peace with the enemy, but his efforts were in vain.

Cleon was determined, if it were possible, to cause the downfall of Pericles. So when he returned to Athens, he accused him of using public money for his own ends.

When the public accounts were examined a small sum was missing and Pericles was fined by the law courts, but no stain was left on his character.

The Athenians were a fickle people, and before long they forgot their anger and Pericles found himself as popular as ever. They were even eager to carry on the war with Sparta.

Once before Pericles had been attacked by his enemies. He was accused, along with Pheidias the sculptor, of having kept some of the gold which was intended to adorn the statue of Athene in the Parthenon. But it was easy to prove that the charge was false, for the gold had been fixed to the statue in such a way that it could be easily detached.

Pericles demanded that this should be done, so that the gold might be weighed. His enemies could not refuse the test. So the gold was taken off the statue, weighed, and found to be correct.

Against Pheidias there were other charges, one being that in the frieze of the Parthenon there were sculptured portraits of himself and Pericles. In 432 B.C. the great sculptor was thrown into prison, where he died before the day fixed for his trial.

The plague, which had disappeared for a year, broke out again in 429 B.C. with new violence.

Pericles had already lost two sons through the terrible scourge. When Paralus, his favourite child, died, he placed a garland upon his body, and shut himself in his house to mourn. Nor could he be persuaded afterward to take much interest in the affairs of the State.

A year later, he was himself stricken by the plague. He recovered, but was soon after attacked by fever which he was too weak to resist.

As he lay dying, his friends gathered around his bed. Thinking that he did not hear what they said, they began to speak to one another of the great things he had done during his life.

But Pericles heard, and interrupting them said, 'What you praise in me is partly the result of good fortune, and, at all events, common to me with many other commanders. What I am most proud of, you have not noticed. No Athenian ever put on mourning for an act of mine!' These were his last words.

Plutarch tells us that 'Pericles was indeed a character deserving our high admiration, not only for his equitable and mild temper, but also for the high spirit and feeling which made him regard it the noblest of all his honours, that, in the exercise of such immense power, he never had treated any enemy as irreconcilably opposed to him. And it appears to me,' says Plutarch, 'that this one thing gives that otherwise childish and arrogant title a fitting and becoming significance; so dispassionate a temper, a life so pure and unblemished, might well be called Olympian, in accordance with our conceptions of the divine beings to whom, as the natural authors of all good and of nothing evil, we ascribe the rule and government of the world.'


Front Matter

The Great God Pan
The Six Pomegranate Seeds
The Birth of Athene
The Two Weavers
The Purple Flowers
Danae and Her Little Son
The Quest of Perseus
Andromeda and Sea-Monster
Acrisius Killed by Perseus
Achilles and Briseis
Menelaus and Paris Do Battle
Hector and Andromache
The Horses of Achilles
The Death of Hector
Polyphemus the Giant
Odysseus Escapes from Cave
Odysseus Returns to Ithaca
Argus the Hound Dies
The Bow of Odysseus
The Land of Hellas
Lycurgus and His Nephew
Lycurgus Returns to Sparta
Training of the Spartans
The Helots
Aristomenes and the Fox
The Olympian Games
The Last King of Athens
Cylon Fails to be Tyrant
Solon Frees the Slaves
Athenians Take Salamis
Pisistratus Becomes Tyrant
Harmodius and Aristogiton
The Law of Ostracism
The Bridge of Boats
Darius Rewards Histiaeus
Histiaeus Shaves His Slave
Sardis Is Destroyed
Sandal Sewn by Histiaeus
Earth and Water
Battle of Marathon
Miltiades Sails to Paros
Aristides is Ostracised
The Dream of Xerxes
Xerxes Scourges the Hellespont
Bravest Men of All Hellas
Battle of Thermopylae
Battle of Artemisium
Themistocles at Salamis
Themistocles Tricks Admirals
Battle of Salamis
Battle of Plataea
Delian League
Themistocles Deceives Spartans
Themistocles is Ostracised
Eloquence of Pericles
Pericles and Elpinice
The City of Athens
Great Men of Athens
Thebans Attack Plataeans
Attica Invaded by Spartans
Last Words of Pericles
Siege of Plataea
The Sentence of Death
Brasidas Loses His Shield
The Spartans Surrender
Brasidas the Spartan
Amphipolus Surrenders
Alcibiades the Favourite
Socrates the Philosopher
Alcibiades Praises Socrates
Images of Hermes Destroyed
Alcibiades Escapes to Sparta
The Siege of Syracuse
Athenian Army is Destroyed
Alcibiades Returns to Athens
Antiochus Disobeys Alcibiades
Walls of Athens Destroyed
March of the Ten Thousand
Pelopidas and Epaminondas
Seven Conspirators
Battle of Leuctra
Death of Epaminondas
The Two Brothers
Timoleon exiles Dionysius
Icetes Attacks Timoleon
Battle of Crimisus
Demosthenes' Wish
Greatest Orator of Athens
The Sacred War
Alexander and Bucephalus
Alexander and Diogenes
Battle of Granicus
The Gordian Knot
Darius Gallops from Battle
Tyre Stormed by Alexander
Battle of Gaugamela
Alexander Burns Persepolis
Alexander Slays Foster-Brother
Porus and His Elephant
Alexander Is Wounded
The Death of Alexander
Demosthenes in the Temple