Idlers, Cowards, and Gossips

Saturday, February 27th, 2010

The poison of the orators worked rapidly on Athenian democracy:

Pericles first introduced the practice of paying the Athenians for attending at the public assemblies, and hearing him harangue. Plato, by the mouth of Socrates in his dialogue the “Gorgias,” thus describes the consequences of this measure: “I hear it said,” says Socrates, “that Pericles made the Athenians idlers, and cowards, and gossips, and covetous; being the first who established the system of wages.” The Athenian sovereign multitude found it far pleasanter to be paid for listening to Pericles than to earn an honest subsistence by any sort of labour; and they also found it very far pleasanter to hire foreign mercenaries to fight their battles than to fight those battles themselves; in fact, without going farther than the evidence of those very orators, the public orations of Demosthenes afford abundant proof that, in his time, the Athenian government had fallen into a condition of hopeless imbecility.

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