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The Athenian Paradox Understanding the Duality of Athenian culture as seen in the cultural icons The Parthenon, and

Thucydides History of the Peloponnesian War Monty Hill, 2011

As the world transitions from the Sixth to Fifth century BC, the Greek city-state of Athens, in response to internal struggles for power between pro and anti-democratic political parties, has recently redefined its socio-political status as a Nation governed by its citizens. That being the case, literally from the moment that Ancient Athens is born into the year 499 B.C. its new identity will, leap from the pan and into the fire. Its peoples allegiance is tested by war, plague, and political strife, all the while still managing to find themselves with the responsibilities associated with holding great fortune. It seems that such persistent challenges created a State whose rise to power is made possible because of this paradoxical nature. As will be explored, Athenian culture of this era is riddled with symbolism that reveals conflicting positions on its identity and its perceptions of the foreign Other. Looking to Athens cultural, political, and military achievement of this period, namely the architectural marvel, The Parthenon, with its depictions of the Centauromachy, and Thucydides History of the Peloponnesian War, the State is revealed to be an embodiment of two oppositional roles: a democratic freedom fighter amongst a league of equal allies, and a tyrant that thrives off of the tribute of its servant nations. This hypocritical existence seems unbefitting of a nation such at Athens, but within the Parthenon, a symbol of Athenian power and artistry, the Centauromachy, among other aspects of the Pantheons visual program, is a clear visual display of the

duality at hand. In the context of recent wars with Persia, these depictions of mythic conflict act as a reminder for the Athenian people of their victory over barbaric invaders. This imagery bolsters the Athenian notion that the Persians were impious half-men, and appears throughout Athenian culture like propaganda. The foreign Others are stripped of their humanity while being built up as aggressors, serving to promote pro-war sentiments and add credibility to notions of Athenian superiority. However, inspection of the Metopes that the Centauromachy is set upon, does show a certain dominance of the half-breeds over the Athenian warriors. Perhaps this is meant to call to mind the Persians previous sack of Athens and the Acropolis. Showing them as senseless and brutal destroyers, who set fire to temples and for a time ransacked the Athenian state without a care for the respect and honor Greece saw as customary even in war. The Centauromachy is a monument of the Athenian peoples struggle against the impious, [and] uncontrollably violent Persians, and a constant reminder of the their misdeeds against Greece as a whole (Kousser, 11). Aside from these images, there are of course, scenes where the humans have the upper hand, valiantly standing in defense of their civility. These depict the Athens that emerged victorious against an enemy of mythic proportions, and through such military achievement established itself as superior. However, I would argue that in opposition to all this, the monstrous half-men of the Centauromachy are in many ways reflections of the Athenian political state. Where Athens exists as a nation run by its citizens, wherein each man is his own master, and yet presides over an empire like a tyrant does a conquered people. Athens in this manner is acting in both its ideal civilized way, and in the way of its barbarian enemies. The warriors who stand against the centaurs, in this interpretation, no longer represent valiant Athenian warriors, but

instead equate to the nations and city-states that belong to Athens empire. Half democratic civilized human and half tyrannical barbarian, the centaur ideally models the duality of Athenian identity. As presented by Thucydides, contradiction regarding Athenian identity is also found in the Pericles speeches. Pericles is in many ways the face of Athens, chosen among all its great citizens for his intellectual gifts and for his general reputation, his words provide great insight into what it means to be Athenian, and what makes Athens great (Thucydides, II. 34). However, as a speaker attempting to convince the Athenian people of the favorability of war he is whole-heartedly using crafty rhetoric as a means of persuading the masses and convincing them of his every word. In this manner, his words often conflict one another, and in doing so, Athens, the city he represents, is cast as equally contradictory. In his funeral oration, Pericles reminds his audience of Athens strengths. Of its democratic rule and political freedom, piety, wealth, and equally valued military, art, and education sectors. Pericles even claims that Athens shows nothing but continued good will to its ever grateful allies (Thucydides, II. 40). He addresses the Athenian army, noting that the Athenian nation neednt rely on foreign support, when they launch an attack abroad, [they] do the job themselves (Thucydides, II. 39). In chapter forty-two of book two he calls the people to rally, and finally declares Athens to be the kind of city for which one could not bear the thought of losing (Thucydides, II. 42). A nation that the Athenian people should be willing to undergo hardships in[the] service and defense of (Thucydides, II. 42). Athens is a powerful state, whose citizens should be willing to sacrifice their lives in its defence. But again, though there are convincing statements towards such interpretation, Pericles himself later cultivates

the Athenian hypocrisy. Early in Thucydides work, Pericles lists among the strength of Athens the support it receives from its allies. Clearly, as leader of an empire Athens is receiving tribute, but Pericles adds such emphasis on the necessity of the allied states that it appears as if Athens is wholly dependent on them. His says that the destruction of the whole of Attica would be less cataclysmic for the Athenian people than the loss felt by the Peloponnesian people if only a part were to be destroyed (Thucydides, I. 143). He says that the land Athens in founded upon means little, and is hardly worth defending in respect to the empire as a whole. In fact, he goes further to say that in time of need, the Athenian people should be ready to think of [them]selves as islanders and abandon [their] land (Thucydides, I. 143). For it is in actuality its allies on whom [its] strength depends (Thucydides, I. 143). Pericles is saying that the defense of the Empire is more important that the defense of Atticas soil. And these words piece together a convoluted causal loop, wherein the Athenian people should be willing to sacrifice their land to protect their lives and the strength of their allies, such that their allies will provide Athens with support enough for its people to defend their land. Beyond this military dependence, Pericles describes Athenian economic strength as [coming] from the money paid in tribute by her allies (Thucydides, II. 13). It would seem, without support from its empire, Athens would collapse into itself. Having become increasingly reliant on its tribute, it is no longer possible for [Athens] to give up this empire without threatening its own longevity (Thucydides, II. 63). In this way Athens has used its allies, taking for itself their resources and soldiers as tribute, and thus obtained great power. This reliance is further displayed by its inability to let allies leave the Delian League. Despite claims regarding the gratefulness felt by Athenian allies, Pericles remarks of them, they will

immediately revolt if we [the Athenians] are left with insufficient troops to send against them (Thucydides, I. 143). The second Athens loosens its grasp, its empire, and thus its power, will fall apart. Under no circumstances are its allies allowed to break off from the empire, and any revolts are met with swift retaliation from the Athenian army. The polis puts the lives of Athenian citizens on the line to ensure that no nation, from whom Athens derives its power, can obtain the political freedom that Athens claims for itself. In this manner, the great Athenian figurehead Pericles casts his nation both as tyrant that lives off of its subordinate nations, and in opposition to this, as a nation that values its land and its allies, and is in and of itself powerful. However, there are arguments against this particular duality of Athens, especially considering that Athens has always existed as a powerful state, and has not always had allies to draw strength from. That aside from the resources siphoned off of its empire, Athens commanded some 6,000 talents of coined silverofferings made either by individuals or by the state as well as 13,000 hoplites in addition to the 16,000 others who were in various garrisons (Thucydides, II. 13). But to this I would state that by its nature Athens itself has an internal duality. Looking back through history, before Athens rose to power the inhabitants of Attica had always lived in independent cities, each holding sovereignty over themselves (Thucydides II 15). Amongst these, Pre-Athenian cities war was not uncommon, and the sharing of a common identity was unheard of. But through the actions of the great king Theseus, Attica was unified together into the present city of Athens, making oneseat of government for all with the city itself being the centre for their political life (Thucydides II 15). Athens in this way is no ordinary city-state, its boarders reaching much farther and encompassing more people than any

other. By way of Theseus, Athens developed as a union of cities all adhering to a single identity. It is very possible that in response to the many needs of a wide array of people, the Athenian democracy developed as it did. In regards to the general Greek ideal that when a large force is so well disciplined that it seems to be acting like one it will reach a pinnacle of strength, and it seems the state of Athens does exactly this (Thucydides II 11). In other words, Athens owes all of its power to the paradoxical duality of existing as a single nation comprised of many smaller ones. Through the analysis of two monumental symbols of Athenian identity, the nature of the Athens as a paradox is revealed. Its contradictory existence being exemplified in the image of the half civilized human, half barbarous animal centaur, as well as in the speeches of Pericles the Athenian figurehead. For 5th Century B.C. Athens, power is apparently is the result of a double sided identity.

Works Cited. Warner, Rex, trans. Thucydides History of the Peloponnesian War. Middlesex, England: Penguin, 1972. Kousser, Rachel. "Destruction and Memory on the Athenian Acropolis - The Art Bulletin | HighBeam Research." Research - Articles - Journals | Research Better, Faster at HighBeam Research. Web. 03 Dec. 2011. David Castriota. Myth, Ethos, and Actualty. 1992

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