Pericles and Aspasia
Pericles and Aspasia
Pericles was only fifteen years of age when Sparta led all the Greeks against the invading Persians. But nineteen years later, when he became the undisputed leader of Athens, he led his people to mastery of the seas and the military power that came with it. He also brought forth a wealth of prosperity and the arts that came to be known as the Golden Age of Athens.
All of these things tell us about Pericles in his role as Athens' leading citizen. But to see Pericles the man, we need to spend a few moments with him and the love of his life, a young woman named Aspasia.
"[Pericles] took Aspasia, and loved her exceedingly. Twice a day, as they say, on going out and on coming in from the market-place, he would salute her with a loving kiss."
Lives: Pericles XXIV
Pericles and Aspasia lived together for many years, and his political enemies took note. When they saw he could not be attacked personally because of the high regard in which he was held by the people of Athens, they attacked him through Aspasia. She was accused of being a corrupting influence on other women, and was put on trial. The nature of this corrupting influence? Her accusers tried to make it about sex because she was a woman who entertained socially -- which did sometimes involve sex. But they had no case since many other women did this as well, and were not put on trial for it. They might have had better luck with her real crime, which was that she was well-educated at a time when education was mainly reserved for men. By becoming educated she was setting a "bad example" that was "corrupting" other women.
In any event, Pericles came to the aid of the woman he loved. Known for being a man who kept his emotions under control and relied only on even-keeled, logical arguments to get his way, Pericles spoke at the trial and was so surprisingly passionate in her defense that those present had no choice but to find in her favor.
"Aspasia he begged off, by shedding copious tears at the trial, as Aeschines says, and by entreating the jurors."
Lives: Pericles XXXII
Pericles delivering an oration with the Acropolis in the background
Pericles was said to have been so committed to Aspasia that he even had Athens go to war with Samos at her request. Samos was at war with Miletus, and Aspasia was born in Miletus before coming to Athens. So in the public mind, there was a connection. How much of a connection there was in real life is not known.
All of these things make Pericles seem more human and more real to us. Because in reality he was not just a leader who won votes, and a great general who won battles. He was also a man involved in a serious relationship who worked through things day by day.
The more we learn about the Golden Age of Athens, the more fascinating it becomes.
For additional reading:
Plutarch's Lives of Themistocles, Pericles et al -- The Harvard Classics (trans.Arthur Hugh Clough) New York: Grolier, 1980.
If you want to use a picture from this page, must link back to this page.
This page updated on August 26, 2020.
Aspasia and Pericles
web design by webwizards © 2015-2020 Santorini
How much of Classical Athens can we still see today in the City and in the Arts? And what is the fascinating history behind each of those during the Golden Age of Greece? Discover all these things here in beautiful detail.
Great New Book
The latest addition to our bookshelf is Ancient Athens: Five Intriguing Lives by historian Sanford Holst. The compelling stories of these people give a fascinating look inside Athens and its rise to the golden age. Highly recommended.
Here we see Socrates as not only an educator, but as someone who had to make his way through a society of high-powered people. One of his allies on that journey was Aspasia, who had been well-educated in Miletus before coming to Athens.
See Socrates and Aspasia.
As a rich young Greek woman in the city of Miletus, Aspasia made an unusual choice in life by becoming a hetaira professional woman. Then she moved to Athens and sought to live among the most powerful people in its society. And she succeeded.
See Aspasia of Miletus.
Feel free to comment about anything you see here, or your own trip to Greece.
Pericles and Aspasia
Classical Athens Golden Age, Delphi Greece Oracle, Pericles and Aspasia, Ancient Athens Acropolis Map, Ancient Sparta Greece, Aspasia, Ancient Athens Agora Map, Aspasia Miletus, Socrates and Aspasia, Classical Greece Culture, Euripides, Ancient Greece and Foreigners