Athenian Artistic Performances Were They a Form of Propaganda Essay
The “glory that was Greece” reached its height in 5th century BCE in Athens, under the leadership of Pericles. He opened Athenian democracy to the ordinary citizen, was responsible for the construction of magnificent temples and statues on the Acropolis and he, in effect created the Athenian empire. The definition of propaganda is “the planned use of any form of public or mass-produced communication designed to affect the minds of a given group for a specific purpose, whether military, economic or political” (Linearger, p. 39, 1954).
This has connotations of dishonesty and while people assume it is a modern phenomenon, its roots go back much further. The question is however, was propaganda rife in 5th century BCE Athens and if so, was it the driving force whether explicitly or not behind many of the public displays? A funeral oration or epitaphios logos is an official speech delivered at a funeral. The epitaphios is regarded as a virtually unique Athenian concept, although early elements of such speeches exist in the Epic poetry of Homer and in Lyric poetry of Pindar; in addition modern parallels have been drawn between Lincoln’s Gettysburg address and Pericles.
When Pericles gave the epitaphios for Athenian soldiers who had been killed in the first year of the Peloponnesian War. He took the opportunity to not only praise the deceased, but Athens itself, in an oration which has been both praised as enshrining the archetypal democratic system and condemned as barefaced propaganda. In Thucydides’ book History of the Peloponnesian War, Pericles’ Funeral Oration is a powerful rhetorical piece. In addition it is important evidence for the study of the Athenian sense of identity and the way they represented themselves and others.
It eloquently discusses the ancient democratic model and the picture it portrays serves as a prototype for democratic states today (Abbott, 1970). Thucydides specified a man would be chosen to make an ‘appropriate speech’ i. e. it matched formulaic prescriptions of the epitaphios, which according to Edinger, “consisted of a number of recognised topics: praise of the dead, praise of the ancestors, praise of the city, consolation of the families of the dead.
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