A Society Discovered (Athens) Essay, Research Paper
A Society Discovered
Researchers have recently uncovered evidence of an advanced civilization, named Athens, that flourished in the 400’s B.C. That evidence is in the form of three writings, which have recently been discovered. One of these works was, “The Peloponnesian War”, written by Thucydides, who was believed to have been a historian in Athens. The next two forms of writings were poems written by Sophocles and Aristophanes. These two poems were entitled “Antigone” and “Lysistrata.” All of these works point out many different aspects of this great civilization. Athens’ democratic form of government, military strength, love of the arts and theater have made Athens one of the most well rounded and culturally diverse civilizations to have ever existed.
In Thucydides’ writings he talked of Pericles’ funeral oration. During the same winter after the war the Athenians gave a public funeral for those that had lost their lives in the war. Pericles, who was the son of Xanthippus, was chosen to give the traditional speech in praise of the dead. In reading the speech many important aspects of the Athenian culture were revealed. They are all very valuable and should be recognized.
Athenians respected their ancestors and forefathers for sacrificing their lives so future generations could enjoy a good life full of freedom. Also, they loved recreational games and leisure time. There were sporting events, contests, and sacrifices regularly during the year. They also were very calm and collected in their thoughts and never rushed into things. “The worst thing is to rush into action before the consequences have been properly debated” (Pericles, C&T book-Butler University 44). In addition the Athenians were very proud of the strong military systems. “This is because we rely, not on secret weapons, but on our own real courage and loyalty” (Pericles, C&T book-B.U. 43). They are so strong when the Spartans would invade them they would bring all of their allies as opposed to the Athenians who were never confronted by any enemy when they were at full strength. “If our enemies engage a detachment of our forces and defeat it, they give themselves credit for having thrown back our entire army; or, if they lose, they claim that they were beaten by us in full strength” (Pericles 44). By far the most important aspect was the system of government. They lived in a free democratic society where the people ruled. The governmental system was a model for neighboring societies. “Our constitution is called a democracy because power is in the hands not of a minority but of the whole people” (Pericles 43).
Also in the writings of Thucydides it talks about the Mytilenian Debate and the Melian Dialogue. In the Mytilenian Debate it shows a decision making process in the governmental system. At first there was a motion to put all Mytilenians to death. Diodotus, who opposed the motion, said they should simply put the leaders to death and not the whole population. In turn there was a debate and Diodotus won. Therefore he saved the city and that shows how the Athenian society allows citizens to voice their own opinions. The Melian Dialogue shows how Athens eventually destroyed itself. They tried to control too many other societies or countries and could not control all of them. Pericles warned them this would happen if they tried to expand the empire too far but they did not listen. They were just delaying the inevitable and eventually Sparta defeated them.
In the tragic play, “Antigone,” it shows the dilemma of the individual vs. the state. During the play Antigone has to decide if she values her own judgement more than the states. Basically her brother committed treason and the state refuses to let him be buried. Antigone loves her brother and thinks he deserves a fair burial. She has to decide if she should break the law and face the consequences in order to bury her brother. This play shows the type of morals the Athenian people possessed.
In the last work, Lysistrata, it is a comedy with a hidden meaning and an antiwar theme. It is about women not giving men sexual gratification until they stop fighting. Obviously the women eventually win. Therefore in the Athenian society war is never good.
The people of our generation should feel very privileged to have been given the opportunity to learn about Athens. Our society is very fortunate to have recovered these works. The three fragments from Thucydides, “Pericles Funeral Oration,” the “Mytilenian Debate,” and the “Melian Dialogue,” was where a large bulk of the information about the Athenian culture and society came from. The two plays, “Antigone” and “Lysistrata” were by no means immaterial. Both plays undoubtedly show how significant theater was in Athens. In all Athens was a dominant society that should and will be placed into the history books.
Aristophanes, “Lysistrata.” Mentor Books, New York. 1970.
Cornell, John, coordinator. Butler University, Change and Tradition. Kendall/Hunt Publishing Co. 1998.
Sophocles, “Antigone.” Butler University C&T Program. Copyright J. Joel Farber, 1978.