July 13: Pericles is a complicated man

In this coffee battle, is it unfair to cast Starbucks as Sparta?


I think I'll do a bullet-pointy like post today; Plutarch lends itself to it, first of all, and then I am distracted (my son is in the same room, reading while laying over a yoga ball while I type this).

One thing about the blogosphere -- or maybe it's our current political situation, which is actually older than the blogosphere -- is that it doesn't tend to do nuance. Yet Plutarch's portrait of him will give you something to admire and to detract from in the same paragraph. One the one hand, he built the Parthenon. On the other hand, he appears to have engaged in some budget chicanery in order to do it:
That which gave most pleasure and ornament to the city of Athens, and the greatest admiration and even astonishment to all strangers, and that which now is Greece’s only evidence that the power she boasts of and her ancient wealth are no romance or idle story, was his construction of the public and sacred buildings. Yet this was that of all his actions in the government which his enemies most looked askance upon and cavilled at in the popular assemblies, crying out how that the commonwealth of Athens had lost its reputation and was ill-spoken of abroad for removing the common treasure of the Greeks from the isle of Delos into their own custody; ...and how that “Greece cannot but consider herself to be tyrannized over openly, when she sees the treasure, which was contributed by her upon a necessity for the war, wantonly lavished out by us upon our city, to gild her all over, and to adorn and set her forth, as it were some vain woman.”
Or this, after he has managed to get his chief rival ostracized and has basically unchecked power:
After this he was no longer the same man he had been before, nor as tame and gentle and familiar as formerly with the populace, so as readily to yield to their pleasures and to comply with the desires of the multitude, as a steersman shifts with the winds. Quitting that loose, remiss, and, in some cases, licentious court of the popular will, he turned those soft and flowery modulations to the austerity of aristocratical and regal rule...
This sounds bad, but let Plutarch finish:
and employing this uprightly and undeviatingly for the country’s best interests, he was able generally to lead the people along, with their own wills and consents, by persuading and showing them what was to be done.
Plutarch, writing during the beginning of the Empire, is pro-regal rule, I guess, but still, red flags go up. And Athens lost the Peloponnesian Wars, which Pericles got them into -- a folly of unchecked rulers, IMO.

That Plutarch presents him in such a way that one can argue for or against him is a big point in his (Plutarch's) favor; it is a pity that he (still Plutarch) isn't as well known as he once was. Note that I say this even though he (still Plutarch) unloads a broadside against me and my ilk:
The comic writers of the town,...bespattered him with all the ribaldry they could invent... And how can one wonder at any number of strange assertions from men whose whole lives were devoted to mockery, and who were ready at any time to sacrifice the reputation of their superiors to vulgar envy and spite, as to some evil genius?
On further consideration, fair enough, I guess.

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