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Stow on September 11 and Public Mourning

Abstract: What does the choice of the Gettysburg Address as a eulogy for the September 11 dead reveal about public mourning in the polity that made it? Tracing the genealogy of the Address back to Pericles’ Funeral Oration, this essay argues that Thucydides provides two models of public mourning: one based on the Oration alone, the other on the rituals surrounding the Festival of Dionysia. Each generates a particular patriotic perspective: one unquestioning and partial, the other balanced and theoretical. Using Plato’s Menexenus to distinguish the models, the essay employs them as a lens to view two moments of American public mourning linked by the Gettysburg Address. Suggesting that 1863 saw a Dionysian approach; and 2002, one based on the Oration alone, it traces the beneficial impact of the 1863 choice for American politics, and considers the possible consequences of the 2002 reading in light of American and Athenian historical experience.

Simon Stow (2007), “Pericles at Gettysburg and Ground Zero: Tragedy, Patriotism, and Public Mourning,” American Political Science Review 101:195-208. Available (sub required) here.

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