Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. I. Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century
Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. I. Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century
The Greatness of Pericles
By Sir Thomas North (1535–1601?)
From the Life of Pericles

BUT Pericles perceiving that the orators of Thucydides’ faction in their common orations did still cry out upon him, that he did vainly waste and consume the common treasure, and that he bestowed upon the works all the whole revenue of the city; one day when the people were assembled together before them all, he asked them if they thought that the cost bestowed were too much. The people answered him, a great deal too much. Well, said he then, the charges shall be mine (if you think good) and none of yours; provided that no man’s name be written upon the works but mine only. When Pericles had said so, the people cried out aloud, they would none of that (either because that they wondered at the greatness of his mind, or else for that they would not give him the only honour and praise to have done so sumptuous and stately works), but willed him that he should see them ended at the common charges, without sparing for any cost. But in the end, falling out openly with Thucydides, and putting it to an adventure which of them should banish other, with the banishment of ostracism: Pericles got the upper hand, and banished Thucydides out of the city, and therewithal also overthrew the contrary faction against him. Now when he had rooted out all factions, and brought the city again to unity and concord, he found then the whole power of Athens in his hands, and all the Athenians’ matters at his disposing. And having all the treasure, armour, galleys, the isles, and the sea, and a marvellous seigniory and kingdom (that did enlarge itself partly over the Grecians, and partly over the barbarous people) so well fortified and strengthened with the obedience of nations subject unto them, with the friendship of kings, and with the alliance of divers other princes and mighty lords; then from that time forward he began to change his manners towards the people, and not so easily to give place and frame himself to the people’s wills and desires, no more than as it were to contrary winds. Furthermore he altered his over-gentle and popular manner of government which he used until that time, as too delicate and too effeminate an harmony of music, and did convert it unto an imperious government, or rather to a kingly authority; but yet held still a direct course, and kept himself ever upright without fault, as one that did, said, and counselled that which was most expedient for the commonweal. He many times brought on the people by persuasions and reasons to be willing to grant that he preferred unto them; but many times also he drave them to it by force, and made them against their wills do that which was best for them. Following therein the device of a wise physician, who in a long and changeable disease doth grant his patient sometimes to take his pleasure of a thing he liketh, but yet after a moderate sort; and another time also, he doth give him a sharp or bitter medicine that doth vex him, though it heal him. For (as it falleth out commonly unto people that enjoy so great an empire) many times misfortunes did chance, that filled them full of sundry passions, the which Pericles alone could finely steer and govern with two principal rudders, fear and hope; bridling with the one the fierce and insolent rashness of the common people in prosperity, and with the other comforting their grief and discouragement in adversity. Wherein he manifestly proved, that rhetoric and eloquence (as Plato saith) is an art which quickeneth men’s spirits at her pleasure, and her chiefest skill is to know how to move passions and affections throughly, which are as stops and sounds of the soul, that would be played upon with a fine-fingered hand of a cunning master. All which, not the force of eloquence only brought to pass, as Thucydides witnesseth, but the reputation of his life, and the opinion and confidence they had of his great worthiness, because he would not any way be corrupted with gifts, neither had he any covetousness in him. For, when he had brought his city not only to be great, but exceeding great and wealthy, and had in power and authority exceeded many kings and tyrants, yea, even those which by their wills and testaments might have left great possessions to their children; he never for all that increased his father’s goods and patrimony left him the value of a groat in silver. And yet the historiographer Thucydides doth set forth plainly enough the greatness of his power. And the comical poets also of that time do report it maliciously under covert words, calling his familiar friends the new Pisistratides, saying, how they must make him swear and protest he would never be king, giving us thereby to understand that his authority was too exceeding great for a popular government. And Teleclides (amongst other) saith, that the Athenians had put into his hands the revenue of the towns and cities under their obedience, and the towns themselves, to bind the one and loose the other, and to pull down their walls, or to build them again at his pleasure. They gave him power to make peace and alliance, they gave all their force, treasure, and authority, and all their goods wholly into his hands. But this was not for a little while, nor in a geere 1 of favour, that should continue for a time, but this held out forty years together, he being always the chief of his city amongst the Ephialtes, the Leocrates, the Mironides, the Cimons, the Tolmides, and the Thucydides. For after he had prevailed against Thucydides, and had banished him, he yet remained chief above all other, the space of fifteen years. Thus having attained a regal dignity to command all, which continued as aforesaid, where no other captain’s authority endured but one year: he ever kept himself upright from bribes and money, though otherwise he was no ill husband, and could warily look to his own. As for his lands and goods left him by his parents, that they miscarried not by negligence, nor that they should trouble him much, in busying himself to reduce them to a value; he did so husband them as he thought was his best and easiest way. For he sold in gross ever the whole year’s profit and commodity of his lands, and afterwards sent to the market daily to buy the cates, and other ordinary provision of household. This did not like his sons that were men grown, neither were his women contented with it, who would have had him more liberal in his house; for they complained of his over hard and strait ordinary, because in so noble and great a house as his, there was never any great remain left of meat, but all things received into the house, ran under account, and were delivered out by proportion. All this good husbandry of his was kept upright in this good order, by one Evangelus, steward of his house, a man very honest and skilful in all his household provision; and whether Pericles had brought him up to it; or that he had it by nature, it was not known.
Note 1. geere = a circle or turn (gyrus). [back]
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