My latest post at the group blog New APPS
The idea of a republic has been very tied up from the beginning with the idea of loss, even when linked with the hope for a new beginning. The first great political text of republican political theory may be the Funeral Oration of Pericles as reported (invented?) by Thucydides in The Peloponnesian War, where the defence of the Athenian form of self-government as tolerant and cultured, as well as heroic in war, is articulated in a speech of mourning. It is the loss of the lives of the citizen soldiers of Athens that provides an opportunity for putting foward the general greatness of Athens. So a rather immediate sense of loss is the moment for an imformal pit of republican theory. The speech itself is a model for later commentary on republics and democracy, including Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, which echoes some phrases from Thucydides and is again a celebration of a republic driven in its rhetoric of passion but the immediacy of loss.
The model that Pericles, Thucydides, and other writers of Classical Greece, have for courage in war as a civic virtue, does not come from a republic though. It comes from the Homeric epics of the Mycenaean monarchs at war, kings and heroes from societies where those who rule states and command armies are close to the gods, and those commanded are from some lower order of life. Nevertheless Homer permeates the culture of classical Greece. Pottery surviving from Athens of that era suggests a fascination with the martial courage of Achilles, Ajax, and Odysseus, though many of Odysseus’ fights are wit mythical dangers rather than war in the most organised and politically defined sense. The broader nature of Odysseus’ struggles maybe give us an idea of a culture in which war seems to be part of a constant struggle with divine and natural dangers including fate and chance, along with the inevitability of death.