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NIHIL NOVUM SUB SOLE

1001 deeds, sayings, curiosities and anecdotes of the ancient world

Was Pericles a Keynesian?

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The majestic buildings of the Acropolis of Athens, which have caused much admiration from antiquity until today, were built by Athenians unemployed people. The beautification of Athens is attributed to Pericles and are quoted the great artists like Ictinos, Callicrates, Phidias ...

Certainly this great program of public construction was due to political and strategic genius of Pericles, but few know that it was possible because Pericles decided to  give work and occupation  to Athenian citizens who live poor and badly. Pericles decided, in what today we would consider a Keynesian economic policy, "social" policy, stimulate the economy and divide the  wealth increasing public works.

..should apply her abundance to such works as, by their completion, will bring her everlasting glory, and while in process of completion will bring that abundance into actual service, in that all sorts of activity and diversified demands arise, ..

Pericles, although from aristocratic origin, led the Democratic Party, the party of the people. All this tells us Plutarch recounting his life, and  as if it were a current chronic, we learned that the aristocratic party of Cimon and Thucydides (not the historian) accused Pericles of trying to win the people's will with gifts and presents  and ultimately wasting public money.

Thucydides and his party kept denouncing Pericles for playing fast and loose with the public moneys and annihilating the revenues.

How as modern is all this¡ How as disturbing is that 2,400 years later plans of miserable job  in areas especially unprotected still are criticized by the same argument: waste public money to win hearts!

And if Pericles had not launched its program to combat unemployment, would there been  built the Parthenon, the great "temple of the virgin", (that's what the word means, derived from the Greek Παρθένος, "parthenos", virgin) ? And would been  built the Odeon, from the Greek  Ωδείον and Latin odeum, ὠδεῖον ("Odeion", the place to  sing) and this from  ἀείδω ("aeido" ,sing,  of ᾠδή ("Odé" ode, song) building for concerts? And the Propylaea or porches, of προπύλαια of προ "pro" and πύλιον "pylaion" - Προπυλαιον = "front door"? And there would be the famous statues of Zeus, Venus, Athena ... thousand times copied and pricked out to fill the museums of Europe and the cultured salons of rich aristocrats?

But it will be better to read direct and widely the text of Plutarch, as current and so obvious that it avoids any comment, on the translation by Bernadotte Perrin. Cambridge, MA. Harvard University Press. London. William Heinemann Ltd. 1916:

Plutarch, Parallel Lives, Live of Pericles:
IX
…And soon, what with festival-grants and jurors' wages and other fees and largesses, he bribed the multitude by the wholesale, and used them in opposition to the Council of the Areiopagus. Of this body he himself was not a member  …

XII
But that which brought most delightful adornment to Athens, and the greatest amazement to the rest of mankind; that which alone now testifies for Hellas that her ancient power and splendor, of which so much is told, was no idle fiction,—I mean his construction of sacred edifices,—this, more than all the public measures of Pericles, his enemies maligned and slandered. They cried out in the assemblies: ‘The people has lost its fair fame and is in ill repute because it has removed the public moneys of the Hellenes from Delos into its own keeping,..

And it is but meet that the city, when once she is sufficiently equipped with all that is necessary for prosecuting the war, should apply her abundance to such works as, by their completion, will bring her everlasting glory, and while in process of completion will bring that abundance into actual service, in that all sorts of activity and diversified demands arise, which rouse every art and stir every hand, and bring, as it were, the whole city under pay, so that she not only adorns, but supports herself as well from her own resources.’

And it was true that his military expeditions supplied those who were in the full vigor of manhood with abundant resources from the common funds, and in his desire that the unwarlike throng of common laborers should neither have no share at all in the public receipts, nor yet get fees for laziness and idleness, he boldly suggested to the people projects for great constructions, and designs for works which would call many arts into play and involve long periods of time, in order that the stay-at-homes, no whit less than the sailors and sentinels and soldiers, might have a pretext for getting a beneficial share of the public wealth.

The materials to be used were stone, bronze, ivory, gold, ebony, and cypress-wood; the arts which should elaborate and work up these materials were those of carpenter, moulder, bronze-smith, stone-cutter, dyer, worker in gold and ivory, painter, embroiderer, embosser, to say nothing of the forwarders and furnishers of the material, such as factors, sailors and pilots by sea, and, by land, wagon-makers, trainers of yoked beasts, and drivers. There were also rope-makers, weavers, leather-workers, road-builders, and miners. And since each particular art, like a general with the army under his separate command, kept its own throng of unskilled and untrained laborers in compact array, to be as instrument unto player and as body unto soul in subordinate service, it came to pass that for every age, almost, and every capacity the city's great abundance was distributed and scattered abroad by such demands.

XIII

So then the works arose, no less towering in their grandeur than inimitable in the grace of their outlines, since the workmen eagerly strove to surpass themselves in the beauty of their handicraft. And yet the most wonderful thing about them was the speed with which they rose. Each one of them, men thought, would require many successive generations to complete it, but all of them were fully completed in the heyday of a single administration.

For this reason are the works of Pericles all the more to be wondered at; they were created in a short time for all time. Each one of them, in its beauty, was even then and at once antique; but in the freshness of its vigor it is, even to the present day, recent and newly wrought. Such is the bloom of perpetual newness, as it were, upon these works of his, which makes them ever to look untouched by time, as though the unfaltering breath of an ageless spirit had been infused into them. His general manager and general overseer was Pheidias, although the several works had great architects and artists besides. Of the Parthenon, for instance, with its cella of a hundred feet in length, Callicrates and Ictinus were the architects; it was Coroebus who began to build the sanctuary of the mysteries at Eleusis,

The Propylaea of the acropolis were brought to completion in the space of five years, Mnesicles being their architect.

But it was Pheidias who produced the great golden image of the goddess, and he is duly inscribed on the tablet as the workman who made it.

Plutarch also tells us how all kinds of slander and falsehoods about Pericles and his family, which at another time perhaps remark had been spread,   and laments how difficult it is to find the truth.

He tells us in this chapter XIII:

To such degree, it seems, is truth hedged about with difficulty and hard to capture by research, since those who come after the events in question find that lapse of time is an obstacle to their proper perception of them; while the research of their contemporaries into men's deeds and lives, partly through envious hatred and partly through fawning flattery, defiles and distorts the truth.

And Plutarch continues at the beginning of Chapter XIV:

Thucydides and his party kept denouncing Pericles for playing fast and loose with the public moneys and annihilating the revenues.

And so I just end this long quotation referred to an Athenian leader who lived from 495 BC ., and 429, ie nearly 2500 years ago in the world's first democracy, ephemeral existence, it is true, because immediately it had to suffer attacks of the aristocracy and owners armies dictators, but set a goal and example to get for many men for two millennia, virtually until to  present.

Well, as Pericles did not know Keynes, we can ask if  Keynes had read Plutarch and his life of Pericles? I do not know in sufficient detail the biography of Keynes, but it is likely to he know the text of Plutarch, because he has studied at Eton College and then at King's College, Cambridge,  where he went to study mathematics and precisely the "classical ". Keynes is also very interested in philosophical questions and their contribution in this field, less well-known economist, no less important.

Dostaler Gilles, Professor of Economics at the University of Quebec and Montreal, who wrote the play Keynes and His Battles, confirms this reading.  The Chapter 9, "Art: theoretician, Consumer and Patron of the Arts", is dedicated to some philosophical reflections on the nature of beauty and offers a vision of Pericles of a civilization in which art is valued for its own sake and not as an means.

The famous economist Stuart Mill, certainly eighty years earlier but who have decisively influenced on the ethical and moral conception of Keynes, began studying Greek at age three and read the Greeks, including Plutarch, on Greek language.

In any case, the text is of extraordinary interest, by  its resemblance to modern times, although the difference is big too: now we are not building  Parthenon, nor Propylaea or odeons,  or ...
 

   
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