The Role of Language for Thucydides and Sophocles


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In Thucydides' On Justice, Power and Human Nature and Sophocles' Oedipus plays, they use language and speeches to convey the same things. The political orders in these works use their speeches to form a sense of purpose, sway political views and to manipulate for their own personal self-interest.

In both of their works, Thucydides and Sophocles write of a speech that instills a sense of ambition. In On Justice, Power and Human Nature, Pericles uses the oration not only to respect the departed, but to instill in the Athenians national pride and a zest to fight. The speeches that were given at funerals would primarily talk about the ancestors of the deceased and the lives they led. Pericles acknowledges this custom and proceeds to remind Athens what they are fighting for. He claims that the Athenian government is more of "an example to others, then they are to [Athens]," (Thucydides, ii.37) and that not only is there freedom and generosity between the government and the citizens, but also between one another as well. Pericles continues his eulogy by praising Athens' recreational activities, her soldiers' courage and loyalty, and her citizens' restraint against extravagance in what is beautiful (Thucydides, ii.37-40). Pericles praises do not cease until he finishes with his remarks of Athens being an education for Greece. He wants the citizens to remember the soldiers but forget about the tragedy that had occurred. These Greeks "ran away from the word shame," and Pericles urges the rest of the Athenian public body to do the same as well. In summation, Pericles' purpose of his speech was to convince the people to not be afraid of dying in battle and choose the most honorable course of action by fighting boldly. In "Oedipus the King," Oedipus gives a speech

Also Thucydides and Sophocles incorporate speeches of a political order to demonstrate its power to sway the one's political view. During the debate at Athens in 415, two particular political leaders fought to sway the decision of the Sicilian expedition. It began with Nicias coming forward with the intention of changing the minds of the Athenians. He understood that the character of Athens was bold and daring, but he hoped that his logic would prevail (Thucydides, vi.9). He reminds the assembly that Athens had just recovered from the plague and war to allow the population and money to increase.

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He argues that instead of spending the money on "refugees," Athens should spend the money on herself (Thucydides, vi.12). Alcibiades retorts with a speech of his own in order to solidify Athens' promotion of the expedition to Sicily. Alcibiades boasts of his accomplishments and claims to be proud of his notorious reputation (Thucydides, vi.17). He then incorporates the idea that if an empire ceases to grow, then its power ceases to exist. He reminds the assembly of this philosophy by reminding them that in their situation they are compelled to plan new conquests and keep a tight grip on their subjects, because if they "do not rule others [they] run the risk of being ruled by them," (Thucydides, vi.18). After the speeches, Thucydides reveals that the Athenians were far more eager to start the expedition than they had before. Sophocles also includes a speech in one of his plays that attempts to sway a political opinion. In "Oedipus the King," the Chorus

Lastly Thucydides and Sophocles wrote of political speeches that were formulated to manipulate the public for the orator's personal gain. In On Justice, Power and Human Nature and Alcibiades "made the most spirited case" for the expedition partly out of his desire to iritate Nicias and because Nicias had made a slanderous reference to him," (Thucydides, vi.15). Mainly, however, it was because he wanted to have a command of the army and had aspirations to become the man who would take Sicily and Carthage, thus increasing his own personal wealth and glory (Thucydides, vi.15). In his speech he gloats in his own reputation and exclaims that people as successful as him are always envied, and after their deaths their legacies live on, (Thucydides, vi.16). He explains that a youthful leader like him will lead Athens to victory. He continues by saying that "a city is like anything else: if it rests, it will wear itself out by itself," (Thucydides, vi. 17-18). In "Antigone" Sophocles offers Creon as a man whose political goals are based on practicality and self-interest. He tries to manipulate his son, Haemon, into believing that sentencing Antigone to death was the right thing. He declares that Antigone is worthless and a "misery in [Haemon's] bed," (Sophocles, 93). Creon believes in total submission, whether from women (Sophocles, 94) or the city as a whole (Sophocles, 97). In his finals words to his son he says that it is "better to fall from power at the hands of a man" than to be rated inferior to a woman. His intentions were for self-gain, as well as Alcibiades'.

In conclusion the language in Thucydides' speeches was consistent with Sophocles' speeches. Both of these writers included in their works political speeches that formed a sense of purpose, influenced the political view and were manipulative for the orator's personal profit.

Works Cited

Sophocles. The Three Theban Plays: Antigone, Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus. Transltr. Robert Fagles. New York: Penguin Group Inc., 1984.

Thucydides. On Justice Power and Human Nature. Transltr Paul Woodruff. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 1993.



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