Report to the Gerousia: A Spartan's View of Athens and It's People

  • April 9, 2000
  • James Skemp
  • article

My wise Gerousia,

You have told me to visit Athens and gather information on the Athenians. I have done so and am writing this report to try to describe to you Athenian society. I have many things to tell you about; their culture and politics, the personalities of the Athenians, Athenian “democracy”, and I want to tell you about Pericles and his “Funeral Oration”.

Upon my arrival, one of the first things I noticed was the size of Athens. I was told how large Athens is, but I took the stories to be lies. Now, however, I see that they spoke the truth.

Another thing I noticed almost instantly, was how much their culture differs from ours. They seem fascinated with art, as it is everywhere.

Athenian politics is truly frightening. Athenians believe that the ability to talk well is very important. Often times, people gather at law courts to hear the people speak. I was able to hear from one such person, whose name is Pericles, who made claims about Athens in his “Funeral Oration”. I will speak of that a little bit later.

Politics even governs the Athenian military. I found out that Athenian’s generals are pretty much, according to those I spoke to, professional politicians. Also alarming is the fact that the generals are elected each year. As I learn more and more about Athens, I see more and more problems with their society. Why don’t they allow their king to hold the position of general? It works for us in Sparta.

Athenians are very carefree. I was able to go to a symposium while in Athens after meeting a extremely carefree man. A symposium is a type of dinner party that a person holds. The person who has the party, or the host, usually sets up some kind of topic of the party. I didn’t really get into it very much, but I know the topic had something to do with one of their past king, and his politics. Once again, politics pops up. There was quite a bit of entertainment. There were drinking contests and they sang songs. During the party, I could tell that quite a few people were very drunk. In fact, one of the songs that they song, had to deal with one of the speakers that I had heard a couple days before, who had been speaking during one of the law cases. Another was about some political item, which I did not understand.

A few weeks after the party, I was able to witness an election. This election was not for a position, rather it was for who was going to have to leave Athens! After first hearing this, I laughed and passed it as another story. It turns out however that the upcoming election was indeed for who would be kicked out; for 10 years at that. After watching the voting process, and talking to a couple of slaves, I was able to find out a little bit more. To vote, each citizen takes a broken piece of pottery and writes an individuals name on it, and each citizen votes only once, no matter if they are a high citizen or low. After all the citizens have voted, they tally up the results. As long as over 6000 people voted, whoever has the most votes wins the anti-election. This time, it was one of the same people from the party that I had been to a few weeks before. In passing, I over heard someone mention his name and the name of the speaker who he made the drinking song about. It turns out that they believe the speaker set the man up. That would also explain why I saw one person vote approximately ten times.

I would now like to tell you about Pericles and his “Funeral Oration”. As I told you before, he is a speaker, and I good one at that, I am told by many Athenians. Pericles was chosen to speak about the Athenians who have fallen during the first year of our war against Athens. Even though we are currently ahead in the battle, Pericles spoke on how great Athens is. First Pericles spoke of the ancestors of the Athenians and the fathers of the currently living Athenians. He spoke on how brave they were. He also spoke of their government. Pericles also talks about the Athenians democracy. He calls their government a democracy, and then states that ‘the administration is in the hands of the many and not the few’, but then goes on to say that those citizens that are in some way distinguished from others, they are preferred to the public service. He says that is not a privilege, but a reward for merit. I don’t see how this is a democracy. A true democracy doesn’t allow some to be preferred over others. In a true democracy, every citizen is allowed an equal chance to be in a position.

A little later, he speaks that Athenians are not suspicious of each other and that they are not angry if someone does what they like. I question why the anti-election takes place then.

Pericles then talks about the Athenian military. He talks about how superior their military training is and that Athens is open to the world. How they don’t rely on trickery. He then attacks the Spartan way of military education. He speaks on how they live at ease, while we train our youth all the time. That only shows me that Athenians are lazy, not that they are better. He also tells how when they invade cities, that the Athenians are able to defeat them, even though they are fighting to protect their land.

Pericles then sums it up by saying that Athens is the school of Hellas. I doubt all cities watch Athens, why would we want to do as Athens does? Perhaps other cities would, but not us. Finally Pericles also says why he talked about Athens instead of the dead. He talked about Athens because he said that in magnifying the city he has magnified the dead.

My wise Gerousia, I hope that this report is able to describe to you about the state of Athens at this time. As soon as I have more information, I will send you another letter, or, if my being here is found out, I will come to you. So far however, I am confident in the fact that no one knows that I am a Spartan. Until we speak again.


Created: April 9th 2000
Modified: September 10th 2004
Notes: Only modifications to this document include cleaning up of style and any necessary spelling changes.