Their Best Man

Pericles (495-429 BC). Photo: Wikipedia.

When the Peloponnesian War (431-404) started, Pericles had been Athen’s leading statesman for over twenty years. This war was a debacle for Athens and Greece however.

The Peloponnesian War was to Greek history what the First World War was to Europe. The First World War resulted in the collapse of four empires (the Ottoman, German, Austrian and Russian), Athens was among the big losers of the Peloponnesian War.

Before the war, Athens had been the most prosperous city in the Aegean and an economic, cultural, scientific and constitutional miracle. The Greek historian Thucydides regards Pericles as the most important politician of his age and the (re) building of the Acropolis as the showpiece of democratic Athens.

Many American Presidents used the words of Pericles (or the reconstruction by Thucydides) in 431 BC at the occasion of a Funeral Oration:

“..and they by their courage and their virtues have handed it on to us, a free country…..when you realize Athens’ greatness, then reflect that what made her great was men with spirit of adventure and who knew their duty…They gave their lives”.

America’s first president, George Washington (1732-1799), choose for the Roman Republican Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus (5th century BC). Both politicians resigned voluntary after victorious wars as true Republicans.

Churchill and his finest hour in the dark days of 1940 inspired Reagan and Bush Jr.

Obama was perhaps inspired by Emperor Septimius Severus (145-211), the first Afro-Roman emperor. Rome was an imperial society which allowed ‘newcomers’ to rise to power within two of three generations.

America knows a similar social mobility. (Source: Ch.Freeman, The Greek Achievement (London, 1999).