Debbie Notari received her Bachelor’s degree in English and M.S. in Education Literacy and Learning for Grades 6-12. Debbie has over 28 years of teaching experience, teaching a variety of grades for courses like English, Reading, Music, and more.
A funeral oration is a lengthy speech given at a funeral. However, it started as an ancient Greek art form. One of the most famous of these speeches is Pericles' Funeral Oration. In this speech, Pericles mourned the deaths of soldiers in the beginning battles of the Peloponnesian War. Funeral orations are generally formal in nature and their themes sometimes extend beyond the deaths of the people who are being mourned.
Characteristics of Early Greek Funerals
Greek funerals had distinct characteristics. Tents would be built, and the bones of the dead would rest for three days before the actual funeral. People would bring gifts and leave them near the tents. Then, according to their tribes, the bones were brought to a sepulcher, where they were buried in the ground. A large crowd of people often joined the friends and relatives of the deceased. Women had the role of publicly mourning, and after the burial, a wise man was chosen to give a speech. This speech was a funeral oration.
Pericles' Funeral Oration
After the deaths of several soldiers in the Peloponnesian War, Pericles presented his funeral oration. His speech was eloquent, and he used this opportunity to promote the virtues of Democracy as well. From the beginning, the tone of funeral oration is both formal and poetic. Here is part of the speech he presented:
'So died these men as became Athenians. You, their survivors, must determine to have as unfaltering a resolution in the field . . . And not (be) contented with ideas derived only from words of the advantages which are bound up with the defence of your country . . . you must yourselves realize the power of Athens, and feed your eyes upon her from day to day, till love of her fills your hearts; and then, when all her greatness shall break upon you, you must reflect that it was by courage, sense of duty, and a keen feeling of honour in action that men were enabled to win all this, and that no personal failure in an enterprise could make them consent to deprive their country of their valour, but they laid it at her feet as the most glorious contribution that they could offer.'
Other Examples of Funeral Oration
Shakespeare presents a strong example of funeral oration in Marc Antony's speech after the brutal killing of Caesar. In the speech, Marc Antony cleverly manipulates the crowd to rise against Caesar's conspirators, although he claims that Brutus, one of the instigators, is an 'honorable man.' Here is part of Marc Antony's speech:
'Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus
Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:
If it were so, it was a grievous fault;
And grievously hath Caesar answer'd it.
Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest, --
For Brutus is an honourable man;
So are they all, all honourable men, --
Come I to speak in Caesar's funeral.'
Clearly, funeral orations were used for personal gain at times, and as funerals are usually emotional times, crowds could be swayed towards the opinion of the funeral orator.
Praise for Noble Men
However, as in the case of Abraham Lincoln, funeral orations were also a chance to give due praise and honor to the fallen. On April 16th, 1865, Miss Emma Hardinge presented such an oration in honor of the assassinated president. In her speech, she said:
'It seems to me as if I heard a tone, borne on the wings of time and sounding through the corridors of space, sweeping the earth like a breeze, from the shores of the remotest East to this land of the distant West - a voice that for eighteen hundred years has pleaded before the throne of Almighty Justice in the only strain that can solve the dire and dreadful problem of red murder saying, 'Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.' Friends, this voice most surely speaks, both to you and me, in this hour of awful grief.'
Once again, we see lofty language, and in this case, an appeal to God to forgive those who committed the murder of such a respected leader of our country.
The practice of funeral oration began with the Greeks and has continued to this day. When people give speeches at burials, they are provided with a chance to both remember and honor the ones they have lost. Funeral oration was and still is an important part of the burial ceremony when someone we loved has died.
- Funeral oration - a lengthy speech given at a funeral
- Early Greek funerals - A wise man was usually chosen to give a speech after a burial.
- Fallen soldiers in Peloponnesian War - Pericles presented an oration that was eloquent; he used the opportunity to promote the virtues of Democracy.
- In Shakespeare - Marc Antony gave a funeral oration after the brutal killing of Caesar; he cleverly manipulated the crowd to rise against the conspirators.
- Abraham Lincoln - On April 16th, 1865, Miss Emma Hardinge presented an oration in honor of the assassinated president.
Studying this lesson on funeral oration should result in your ability to:
- Define funeral oration
- Describe the early Greek funerals
- Recite a portion of Pericles's funeral oration for soldiers who perished in the Peloponnesian War
- Cite other examples of well-known funeral orations
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