Modern students have often derived their picture of Greek politics in general from the superb speech that Pericles, the most celebrated of the leaders of Athens, made in 431 B.C. over the Athenian soldiers killed in the first year of a great war against Sparta-as reported in the history of the war by the historian Thucydides.
Praising Athenian democracy. Pericles said that in Athens the law guaranteed equal justice to all, that talent and not wealth was the Athenian qualification for public service, that Athenians expected everyone to participate in public affairs.
In fact, his picture corresponded more to an ideal world than to the real Athens, where the courts were often prejudiced, where wealth remained an important qualification for office, and where political ambition burned hotly and was pursued ruthlessly. The Greeks often fell far short of their ideals as expressed by Pericles, but in the expression of these ideals they also defined civility in ways for which society has striven ever since.