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Houston School Marks Greek Bicentennial with Pericles’ Funeral Oration

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Houston’s Saint Constantine School sponsored an online reading of the Funeral Oration of Pericles to celebrate the Greek Bicentennial in 2021. Credit: Facebook/Saint Constantine School

On March 25, 2021, the Bicentennial of the Greek War of Independence, the Saint Constantine School of Houston had its students recite the renowned Funeral Oration of Pericles as a way to mark the contributions of the ancient Greeks to the concept of democracy.

The school has now shared the video of the event with the world to celebrate the Greek Bicentennial.

Students and staff from The Saint Constantine School brought to life the famous Funeral Oration of Pericles, which was written down by Thucydides more than 2,000 years ago in his work “The Peloponnesian War” to commemorate the momentous day and to remember that it was the ancient Greeks who gave birth to the concept of democracy — and fought for it.

The Funeral Oration of Pericles, by Philipp Foltz. Credit: Public Domain

This famous speech, which has endured for millennia as one of the most compelling descriptions of democracy in history, was, the school said, “an appropriate tribute to the heroic efforts of the revolutionaries who fought bravely for Greece once again in 1821. Ζήτω η Ελλάδα!”

Pericles, a well-known politician of the fifth century BC, gave his oration at the foot of the Acropolis at the end of the first year of the Peloponnesian War (431–404 BC) as a part of the annual public funeral for those who had given their lives in the war.

Greek bicentennial commemorates fight for Greek concept of democracy

In the speech, Pericles says that he wished to focus on “the road by which we reached our position, the form of government under which our greatness grew, and the national habits out of which it sprang” in addition to praising the dead.

This amounts to a snapshot of the Athens of the time; historians say that Thucydides’ Pericles thus “decides to praise the war dead by glorifying the city for which they died.”

Describing the great city, Pericles said:  “If we look to the laws, they afford equal justice to all in their private differences…if a man is able to serve the state, he is not hindered by the obscurity of his condition. The freedom we enjoy in our government extends also to our ordinary life. There, far from exercising a jealous surveillance over each other, we do not feel called upon to be angry with our neighbour for doing what he likes…”

Equal justice under law enshrined in Oration

These sentences form the roots of the famous Greek concept of “equal justice under law.”

The liberality of which Pericles spoke also extended to Athens’ foreign policy, as we an hear Pericles say to his listeners: “We throw open our city to the world, and never by alien acts exclude foreigners from any opportunity of learning or observing, although the eyes of an enemy may occasionally profit by our liberality…”

He speaks highly of the power of the ordinary people, saying “Advancement in public life falls to reputations for capacity, class considerations not being allowed to interfere with merit… our ordinary citizens, though occupied with the pursuits of industry, are still fair judges of public matters…at Athens we live exactly as we please, and yet are just as ready to encounter every legitimate danger.”

In the conclusion of the Oration, Pericles declares: “In short, I say that as a city we are the school of Hellas; while I doubt if the world can produce a man, who, where he has only himself to depend upon, is equal to so many emergencies, and graced by so happy a versatility as the Athenian.”

St. Constantine School’s motto: Virtus, Sapientia, Gaudium

He says in summation of his beloved city “…for the Athens that I have celebrated is only what the heroism of these and their like have made her…none of these men allowed either wealth with its prospect of future enjoyment to unnerve his spirit, or poverty with its hope of a day of freedom and riches to tempt him to shrink from danger.

“No, holding that vengeance upon their enemies was more to be desired than any personal blessings, and reckoning this to be the most glorious of hazards, they joyfully determined to accept the risk… Thus, choosing to die resisting, rather than to live submitting, they fled only from dishonour…”

Pericles finished his overview of the city state of Athens and her people by saying: “Therefore, having judged that to be happy means to be free, and to be free means to be brave, do not shy away from the risks of war.”

Houston’s Saint Constantine School is a boarding school designed with four houses, with each new student “sorted” into their new house when they arrive on campus.

The Saint Constantine School motto is Virtus Sapientia Gaudium, or “Virtue, Wisdom and Joy.”

Those who are interested in learning more about Houston’s preeminent Greek school may follow their Facebook page, here or check their website, here.

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