Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Athens: The Pearl of the Hellenes

Conner Lewis, World History 4                                                                                      1/14/15
Thoughts and Reflections On: The Funeral of Oration
Book by Thucydides
Athens: The Pearl of the Hellenes

          Athens and Sparta are often compared when historians and professors talk about Classical Greece, often being described as opposites who chose different approaches to similar situations. Sparta developed a great infantry army, with an oligarchy run by a ruling class of Spartan warriors and land lords. The Athenians, however, developed a navy unmatched by any nation at that time, with a limited democracy lacking class. There is often debate about which nation was greater, however it is very obvious, Athens was superior to Sparta and any other Greek city-state. 
          One main reason that Athens was such a great nation was its government. Athens' government was a limited democracy, and often considered the earliest form of democracy. It is considered limited because women could not vote or run for election. Although this government was bias towards women, it was substantially better than any other government at the time. It allowed for the people,  the men at least, to choose who they thought could best led their nation in the way they wanted it to be led. This also got rid of the problem many hereditary systems encounter, in that there was a much lower chance of the government being led by an incompetent ruler who just happened to be the son of the previous ruler, as it would be likely that he would not be elected. In this sense the people have control over the nations path and success.
          The Athenian government was also very strong, and unlike Sparta, could survive during peace and war. The state was stable, allowing for it to focus its eyes outward towards advancement and growth. They did not have to focus on just maintaining the state and the people, but could instead allow for the people, economy, and culture of Athens to grow. Unlike the Spartans, who were so afraid to leave their nation for they thought they might lose it all, the Athenians could afford to allow their armies to disband, to some extent, and allow the people to perform civil activities. The people were not bred for service so that the state could remain, but were instead bred to help Athens as a state, as well as pursue their own desires.
          Another reason that Athens was so great, and a reason which was also tied into the government of Athens, was that there was no class. While there was discrimination between genders, there were no classes to be born into. This meant that all people had an equal chance to be elected for government, meaning that genius' and brilliant people born into poverty could still run and support the city of Athens. The ability for all people to have equal chances meant that no talent went to wasted due to the talented individual being born into a position in which he could not use his ability. The egalitarian rule also lead to more people accepting Athenian rule after being conquered, as they often gained rights which were previously held from them.
          Athenian people were also more open-minded and forward thinking than most other peoples. They were content to allow each person search for his or her own happiness. This is reflected in their belief that people should seize and savor life, as they are stating that the main goal in life is to find what makes one happy, and to hold on and savor this thing as much as one can. This meant that they were more open-minded towards new ideas, new fashions, new beliefs. They believed that if this new thing could make someone happy, and as long as it respected the law, then it should be embraced and integrated into society. This meant that Athens was often ahead of its time, because any entertainment could be integrated and become a pivotal part of society.
          The Athenians were also great because each citizen upheld the laws by which their city remained so strong and stable. Each Athenian citizen who did his duty knew of politics, was interested in them, and could speak about them in conversation and in court. The Athenian's limited
democracy meant that every citizen had a part to play in the government, so they all knew and cared about it. Each Athenian was ready to report wrong doings and criminal activity. The Athenians thought it their duty to uphold the laws because it was the only way for them to keep Athens as the best Hellenic city. The Athenian laws were based around equality, with each citizen being affected by the same laws. This meant that all the Athenians felt as if they were treated fairly. The Athenians also upheld the laws by attending court cases as juries of hundreds. This system was a simple majority, and meant that the rulings of these cases were not contested and usually based on general opinion. It also meant that citizens were being judged by people like them, who cared about the law and wanted true justice to be done.
          The Athenians were also great because, while they spent large amounts of time investing themselves in politics and personal matters, each citizen had the time to perform any recreation that they wanted. The Athenian city was different than Sparta, as they allowed time for the pursuit of personal happiness, without the intervention of the state in these matters. The Athenians were able to do what they wanted, allowing for great politicians to also be talented poets, philosophers, or writers. This meant that many more cultural works came from Athens than any other Hellenistic state. This meant that even while they were growing in territory or fighting to defend it, there were always great works being produced, meaning that Athens was always growing in influence and culture.
          Athens was also great because of the kindness and integrity of its people. The Athenians believed not in creating friends by receiving favors, but by making friends by doing them. They believed that to truly create a friend and be a good person, one must commit himself to performing good towards them. They must act with a kindness which they expect to receive from their friends as well. This meant that the Athenians were more philanthropic than any other people. They believed that kindness was one of the best attributes which one could be labelled as having. This meant that the integrity of their people was greater than any other. This philanthropy carried over into their attitude towards poverty and oppression. They believed that to not attempt to fix poverty if they had the chance was wrong, and that oppression was one of the worst crimes a government or people could commit against a people, and this ideology is reflected in their government.
          The Athenian people were also extremely brave and honorable, without being bred to do this
for the state. The Spartans were bred from birth for a single purpose, and although they performed this very well, the Athenians were the truly brave people. They were bred to pursue their own happiness, and to forge their own path through the world. However each person in the army saw the greatness of Athens, and the desire to protect and maintain this greatness led them to do things which weaker peoples could only dream of. They were so honorable that they were ready to voluntarily die for their nation, instead of running to live another day. They did not need mothers and family members telling them to never surrender as the Spartans did, for they could never forgive themselves for letting down their great nation if they came back with their tail between their legs. They were brave due to their own spirit and loyalty, not the loyalty created by the state to control and breed warriors. In this way the Athenians are the truly brave warriors, as they were ready to lay their life on the line with no outside pressure or influence.
          The Athenian army was also superior to Sparta and the rest of the Hellenistic world due to their size, discipline, and loyalty. The Athenian army was vast, as was their navy. Not only was their military large, but it was all voluntary. This meant that the people in the military wanted to be there, and were ready and willing to die. They did not need the state to press them into service, as the Spartans did, so their troops were more loyal than the Spartans, as they willingly chose to face the horrors of the world. The Athenians had such a great army that they were not afraid to show its strengths, weakness', and abilities to their enemies. They were so confident in its strength that it didn't matter if the enemy was ready, because the Athenians would win all the same.
          The Athenians were the greatest city-state in all of Greece, and the reasons why are nearly innumerable, with this list only scratching the surface of their legacy. The Athenians had a better government, people, and military than any other state. The Spartans were an oppressive culture, who slaughtered others and did not contribute to Hellenistic culture at all. The Athenians were the spearhead of what Classical Greece represents, and this is why they shall always be remembered.

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