Peloponnesian War Rhetoric

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Speeches play an important role in Thucydides’s historical work. The use of rhetoric in them serves to convince various peoples to embark on journeys or build up morale. While one may simply read the rhetoric used in speeches as a device to convince people, a new meaning to the text is elucidated once one examines the underlying types of rhetoric used. The rhetorical nature of the main speeches in Thuydides’s History of the Peloponnesian War convey a message about Athens, yet with different spins amongst the three. Pericles’s speeches use the rhetorical devices of multiple examples and rhetorical question. To convince the Athenians to wage war against the Peloponnesians, Pericles goes to length explaining Athens’s great strength. He enlightens:…show more content…
Pericles explicitly describes how Athens is definitely equal to Sparta, and in fact better, because it has the supply of more troops. Pericles additionally explains Athens’s superiority in terms of its navy, citing that Sparta could never surpass it even if it gained enough supplies (1.143). In his funeral oration, Pericles also loquaciously praises Athens’s government and culture, even saying that the city is “the school for Hellas” (2.41.1). Pericles’s utilizes multiple examples to explain the greatness of Athens, suggesting the idea that this is a country any man should be willing to fight for. Additionally, Pericles infuses a persuasive rhetorical question in his oration: “Did not our fathers resist the Persians…and advance their affairs to their present height? We must not fall behind them, but must resist our enemies in any way and in every way, and attempt to hand down our power to our posterity unimpaired” (1.144.3). Pericles is trying to instill in these men the desire for glory that they have never felt before. He has already shown how Athens is a great country and now he wants the men to fight for it. These rhetorical devices serve to…show more content…
The Athenians explicitly tell the Melians that they “have come here in the interest of our empire” and desire to subjugate them to that empire (5.91.2). They reveal that the Melians, as islanders, are much weaker in comparison and would never be able to overcome the Athenians, or as they refer to themselves, “the masters of the sea” (5.91.2). The Athenians even liken themselves to gods, saying that they are simply following the “necessary law of [gods’ men’s] nature [to] rule wherever they can” (5.105.2). The Athenians also believe they are “the greatest city in Hellas” (5.111.4). The rhetoric used to try to convince the Melian’s eerily echoes Pericles’s praises in the first two books. The Athenians clearly have pride in their country, but this pride has caused them to believe that they have the right to rule over anyone they desire to. After the Melians reject their proposal, Athens’s response is to immediately enact a siege and not long afterwards, kill all the Melians. This is in strict contrast with the seemingly benevolent Athens that spared the Mytilenians or even that Pericles described as being considerate to all nations (2.39). Here, the Athenian praise on their country is used to justify their desire to expand their empire. They believe they are worthy of this expansion because they are so
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