Thursday, August 26, 2021

Pericles: The Ruler Who Spoke Like Zeus

The Athenians called their leader Pericles, Zeus Pericles. He had a thundering voice. When he spoke at the Athenian Assembly (the Agora), the crowd had the feeling that Zeus was thundering from heaven. Pericles used to appear at the Athenian Assembly bearing the arms associated with Zeus. Before beginning his speech, he would make a show of praying to the Gods. He was the longest lasting leader of Athens—the period in which he led Athens, from 461 to 429 BC, is known as the Age of Pericles.

When the Athenian assembly was in session, the mob of voters would gather in the assembly and create a ruckus. Scuffles between the political factions was a common occurrence at the assembly—at times people would get injured or even killed. The noise at the Athenian assembly would be so great that unless a leader had a thundering voice he could not control the restive crowd and make himself heard. Cimon, the military general who was Pericles’s rival in Athenian politics for several years, is known to have complained that Pericles was favored by the Athenians merely because of his booming voice.

Which class of individuals is capable of speaking in a thundering voice? Obviously, the military generals who have the experience of screaming orders to troops in battles. A civilian from a humble background had no chance of winning the support of the Athenian crowd because his voice would not get heard. From the sixth century BC, when the Athenian democracy developed, to 322 BC, when the Macedonians conquered Athens and wiped out the democratic system, every leader elected by the Athenians was a loud-talking military general.

Athens was a democracy in name only. It was a militaristic society. A series of powerful military families dominated Attica and held political office in Athens.

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