Loraux’s The Invention of Athens

Nicole Loraux, The Invention of Athens: The Funeral Oration in the Classical City
Area: History of Rhetoric and Memory Studies
Intro: A Very Athenian Invention
•    Funeral oration=genre; epitaphios=examples of the genre
Chapter Two: The Address to the Dead and Its Destination
•    The nature of the ceremony implies that the city recognizes the existence of “the others”
o    Takes cognizance of the casualties it has inflicted on the enemy
•    An ally was merely a subject—all conflicts were resolved in admiration
•    A speech without a reply, intended to arouse in its listeners both submission and respect
•    If you want to praise a city, you must compare it with a worthy rival
•    Pericles: memory “is to be attached more to the decision that to the act of the dead”
•    There is not life but that of the city
•    By exalting the city’s present, he would ensure its future
Critical moments from the text
•    36: “From this perspective, the funeral oration begins to look like an every-absent model, a ghost-oration that, with one exception, we will know only through more or less accurate copies: a historian and a philosopher were pleased to compose an exemplary epitaphios, a way of proposing a theory of the funeral oration; a Sophist and a rhetor used the official oration in order to write a fictitious logos; within the corpus, then, the “false” follows hard upon the “true,” and one begins to regret that authentic epitaphioi should have remained unknown because national eloquence resisted for so long the seductions of writing.”
•    119-20: “But there is a considerable difference between a speech delivered before a battle by way of encouragement and a eulogy of the dead, even if it includes an exhortation to the living.  In the first case, the words are delivered immediately before an action, and thus are aimed at an immediate effect; in the other, they take place after the action, and any effect they are to have must be long-term, in the lifetime of the city itself.”
•    121: “If each oration is intended to be efficacious here and now, the desired effect is not necessarily always the same or always obtainable.  And it the funeral oration has several different aims, trying to win support for a particular strategy or being content to confirm accepted values, it is because it is rooted both in the evolution of the city and in its own, at first sight paradoxical, destiny.”
•    129: “And the verb sunkatopkizein, with which the passage closes, farm from indicating a colonizing act, assumes a figurative sense by virtue of the direct object attributed to it: what the Athenians are founding are “commemorative monuments” of good and evil things.  Now, the orator has just declared that the true monument is a trace in men’s memories and not a material building; so we must regard these mnemeia, which refer to no tangible realization of Athenian imperialism, as memories of fine victories or noble defeats, as signs of arête.”
•    140: “We can compare Isocrates’s text with Pericles’s epitaphios, bit in addition to the resemblances we must stress the profound differences in inspiration between the two speeches whereas Pericles praises the demokratia, Isocrates exalts the ancient politeia established by the original Athenians; and far from offering the democratic system as a universal model, he attributes to Athens the creation of the first constitution, and undifferentiated matrix from which every political form may emerge.”
•    145: “At once a eulogy of worthy men, and honor accorded the dead, and a stock of instructive examples, the funeral oration is, both for Lysias and for Periclaes, a lesson in civic morality intended for the living.  It is a one-dimensional lesson in which the virtue of the citizen is canceled out by the valor of the soldier, in which military activity is offered as a model for civic practice.  This strict ethic is suggestive of the original time of the hoplitic phalanx rather than a reflection of the military organization of Athens in the fifth century, based as it was on the political organization of the city.”
•    148: “In its extremism, the funeral oration foes much further than this: if, as a passage in Hyperides’s epitaphios suggests, one is truly an aner only in death, a fine death has all the characteristics of an initiation—a fearful initiation in which death no longer has anything symbolic about it, in which thanatos is a transition bit also a beginning and end, in which one is born into a new status only be renouncing forever the condition of the living creature.”
•    176: “By exalting the city’s present, he would ensure its future.  It was s risky enterprise, of course, and one that tended toward the loss of any sense of temporality: if one overvalues the future, except to absorb them into an excessively drawn-out present?  We know what happens to the past in the epitaphios.  Where the future is concerned, Pericles’s’ strategy is more subtle: by integrating the future into the present and the unknown into the known, the statesman may have been trying not so much to conquer the eternal as to confirm the present, not so much to transcend time as to dominate it.”


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