Université de Strasbourg

The Athenian Funeral Oration: 40 Years after Nicole Loraux

An International ConferenceBritish soldiers admire the Erechtheum on the Acropolis in Athens during October 1944. London, Imperial War Museum, neg. no. TR 2516. Photographer: Captain A. R. Tanner.

Monday 9 - Wednesday 11 July 2018, 9-17.00

Salle de Conférence - Maison interuniversitaire des sciences de l'Homme-Alsace (MISHA) - 5 allée du Général-Rouvillois - Esplanade Campus - University of Strasbourg - Strasbourg, France

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David M. Pritchard (University of Queensland/University of Strasbourg)



This international conference is taking place at the University of Strasbourg from 9 to 11 July 2018. English-, French- and German-speakers often read Pericles’s famous funeral oration at school or university. Once a year, in democratic Athens, such an oration was delivered in honour of the war dead. For the Athenians it was a vitally important speech, because it reminded them who they were as a people and why they had sacrificed their sons in war. This conference aims to undertake the most thorough study of this genre in 40 years. The resulting book will be published by Cambridge University Press.

In 1981 the great French ancient historian, Nicole Loraux, published a transformational study of this oration - The Invention of Athens: The Funeral Oration in the Classical City. Loraux proved that it had played a central part in maintaining Athenian self-identity. Yet, despite her study’s huge impact, it was far from complete. Her study did not compare the funeral oration and the other genres of Athens’s popular literature and Loraux could therefore not prove her claim that the funeral oration was the most important of these genres. This aim of this conference is to complete Loraux’s study by making this comparison. In doing so it will furnishe new studies of the five extant funeral orations and the most-comprehensive account to date of war’s place in democratic Athens’s popular culture. 



The conference is sponsored by the University of Strasbourg Institute for Advanced Study (USIAS) and co-sponsored by:


The two keynote speakers are Peter Hunt (University of Colorado at Boulder) and Dominique Lenfant (University of Strasbourg). The other 22 paper-givers and session-chairs are:

  • Nathan Arrington (Princeton University)
  • Vincent Azoulay (University Paris-Est Marne-la-Vallée)
  • Ryan Balot (The University of Toronto)
  • Thomas Blank (Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz)
  • Alastair J.L. Blanshard (The University of Queensland)
  • Leonhard Burckhardt (University of Basel)
  • Jason Crowley (Manchester Metropolitan University)
  • Jonas Grethlein (Heidelberg University)
  • Johanna Hanink (Brown University)
  • Judson Herrman (Allegheny College)
  • Paulin Ismard (Panthéon-Sorbonne University, Paris 1)
  • Sophie Mills (The University of North Carolina at Asheville)
  • Neville Morley (University of Exeter)
  • Estelle Oudot (University of Burgundy)
  • Christophe Pébarthe (University of Bordeaux)
  • David M. Pritchard (The University of Queensland/ University of Strasbourg)
  • Charles Pry (The University of Queensland)
  • Kurt A. Raaflaub (Brown University)
  • Violaine Sebillotte Cuchet (Panthéon-Sorbonne University, Paris 1)
  • Claudia Tiersch (Humboldt University of Berlin)
  • Johannes Wienand (Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf)
  • Bernhard Zimmermann (University of Freiburg)

Programme and Podcasts

The programme can be downloaded here.

Practical information


  • The conference is taking place at the Maison interuniversitaire des sciences de l’Homme-Alsace (MISHA) - 5 allée du Général-Rouvillois, from 9.00 on Monday 9 July to 17.00 on Wednesday 11 July 2018.
  • The MISHA building is located on the University of Strasbourg's Esplanade campus, which is about 15.km to the east of Strasbourg's town centre. The nearest tram stop is "Observatoire" (see map below).


  • The conference’s registration fee is 145€. This fee covers day-to-day catering as well as the conference dinner on Monday 9 July.
  • Registration is now closed.


  • The "official" conference hotel is Ibis Strasbourg Centre Gare. This hotel is offering conference-delegates the special rate of 65€ per night (please specify 'université de Strasbourg' when you reserve).
  • For those who would like to pay a bit more for a historic and family-run hotel there is the Hôtel du Dragon. It offers a discount rate of 90€ to those who are linked to the University of Strasbourg (please specify 'université de Strasbourg' when you reserve).


  • Train
    • Strasbourg is approximately 2 hours by train from Paris and Frankfurt.
  • Plane
    • The closest airport is Strasbourg Entzheim (SXB). There is a shuttle between the airport and the central train station that takes 9 minutes (departures 4 times per hour).
    • Karlsruhe-Baden (FKB) airport is about 40km from Strasbourg (shuttle services from 20€ / taxi c.80€).
    • Bâle-Mulhouse (BSL) airport is at a distance of 130km (shuttle bus to Saint Louis trains station, then train to Strasbourg).
    • Frankfurt airport (FRA) is 200km away (c. 2.5 hours journey by Lufthansa bus).


Conference theme

Each year the classical Athenians held a public funeral for fellow citizens who had died in war. On the first two days they displayed the war dead’s coffins in town centre of Athens. On the third day they carried them in a grand procession to the public cemetery. There they placed the coffins in a funeral monument that the democracy had built at great expense. Beside it a leading politician delivered an oration, ostensibly in honour of those who had died in conflict. In 1981 Nicole Loraux published a transformational study The Invention of Athens of this funeral oration, before which ancient historians had considered this speech of little importance. But Loraux proved that it played an absolutely central role in the self-perception of the Athenian people. Each funeral oration rehearsed the same image of them: the Athenians were always victorious and capable of repelling foreign invaders, because they were braver than the other Greeks, while their wars only brought benefits and were always just. The Invention of Athens proved that the funeral oration typically created this image by narrating Athens’s military history in mythical and historical times. Her study also made bold claims about the genre. For Loraux it was the most important one for the maintenance of Athenian self-identity, whose content, she asserted, was confined to what the funeral oration rehearsed. The Invention of Athens claimed that this self-identity adversely affected how the dēmos (‘people’) conducted foreign affairs. Yet, her study did not systematically compare the funeral oration and the other genres of Athens’s popular literature. Consequently Loraux was unable to prove these bold claims.

This conference builds on Loraux’s rightly famous study by making this comparison. The first way that it does so is by exploring the extent to which the other genres reproduced the funeral oration’s commonplaces. In dramatising the genre’s mythical military exploits tragedy certainly rehearsed its image of the Athenians, while comedy regularly parodied it. All this shows the funeral oration’s importance. At other times, however, these two genres contradicted its commonplaces, depicting, for example, not just the benefits but also the huge human costs of war. If Loraux’s claim about the funeral oration’s adverse impact is correct, its image of the Athenians must have had a big part in the assembly’s debates about war. The political speeches that survive partially support her claim; for they do show how proposals for war often were couched in terms of justice. But, it appears - again - that this genre’s treatment of war also went well beyond the funeral oration. The second way that the conference makes this comparison is by studying how these different genres depicted the state’s military history, democracy and sailors. This, too, will force us to modify Loraux’s claims. There is no doubt that the funeral oration set the pattern for the depiction of Athens’s wars. But this, apparently, was not the case with the other common topics; for tragedy, it seems, took the lead with democracy, while all genres equally reflected the dēmos’s positive view of sailors.

The Invention of Athens showed the need to study the funeral oration’s intertextuality. By completing such a study this conference measures how important this genre was in Athens’s popular culture. The conference will provide what is the richest account yet given of war’s depiction in democratic Athens. It also studies anew the five complete examples of the funeral oration, because each continues to have ongoing problems. The first funeral oration, which is said to be the one that Pericles delivered in 431 BC, comes from Thucydides, who did not accurately record speeches. There is uncertainty, too, about the funeral orations from the Corinthian War, as their authors, clearly, did not deliver them; for Lysias, as a metic, was not entitled to do so, while Plato detested Athens’s democratic politics. With each of these examples the conference considers why each writer wrote or recorded it and to what extent it is good evidence of the genre. The other two funeral orations must be re-examined as well, because, in spite of the fact that they were delivered in, respectively, 337 BC and 321 BC, the authorship of Demosthenes’s still raises doubts, while Hyperides’s breaks so many of the genre’s commonplaces. Since Loraux’s 1981 book a lot more has been learnt about Athens’s funeral monuments and cultural history. Consequently the conference will also re-examine how the funeral oration related to the public funeral as well as Loraux’s claim that both were a democratisation of elite practices. Because Reception History is now a major sub-discipline, the conference can also do what Loraux never attempted: to begin to write the history of the funeral oration’s reception in ancient and modern times. 


David M. Pritchard (The University of Queensland/University of Strasbourg)


Image credit : British soldiers admire the Erechtheum on the Acropolis in Athens during October 1944. London, Imperial War Museum, neg. no. TR 2516. Photographer: Captain A. R. Tanner.

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