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Unit 35 – Pericles in Athens

Difficulty: easy

Time: 4 minutes 30 seconds

Below is an extract fro Old Men in Love by Alasdair Gray.

Soon after daybreak Pericles came to the Athenian port and for nearly three hours conferred with harbourmasters, dockers and seamen, occasionally scratching notes on a thin wax tablet backed by wood. He then returned to the city, striding swiftly uphill between two great new walls joining the port to the Athenian citadel. The sky was clear and blue, the air warm yet fresh, the big marketplace more than usually busy. He crossed it, entered the council chambers and stood in a corner of the big lobby, glancing over his notes but able to see those who entered or left. Most councillors were as familiar to him as he to them. He steadily ignored knowing looks from many who shared his views and enquiring looks from some who did not, but beckoned to his side one at a time new councillors whose opinions were not exactly known. He talked to them about revenues to be voted for dock maintenance, for equipping warships and for building new ones. Each councillor tried, usually successfully, to hide his elation at being singled out by the nation’s greatest statesman. He listened to them as carefully as they to him, giving different reasons for increased expenditure, He told a merchant it was needed to protect trade from barbarians and pirates – an arms manufacturer that it would maintain Athenian military supremacy – a landowner that it would reduce local unemployment – a patriotic farmer that it would spread democracy abroad. Pericles thought all these reasons valid but did not expect others to be so broad-minded. He ended each speech by saying how the expenditure would profit dealers in timber, metal, sailcloth, cable, earthenware and food.

All councillors were chosen from the electorate by lot so only one of his hearers belonged (like Pericles) to The Few who owned big estates. The rest were from The Many, but all Athenians profited by some commodity the navy needed and his final appeal to the profit motive clinched every previous argument. By its fourth utterance Pericles was sick of that argument and almost sick of himself. He regarded Athenian democracy as an example to every nation, present and in future, so regretted that what most united his fellow citizens was greed. “You’re tired! Come and eat with me,” said the fourth councillor, pleased to see the great statesman show signs of weakness. He gestured toward the excellent restaurant where councillors dined at public expense and could entertain guests.
“Impossible. Goodbye,” said Pericles regretfully. He was hungry but always avoided flaunting his privileges.


1. Based on evidence from the passage, Pericles is:

  • A      An experienced politician
  • B      A persuasive lobbyist
  • C      A wealthy harbourmaster
  • D      A well-known naval officer


2. ‘The Many’ (2nd line of paragraph 2) most likely refers to:

  • A      The voting public
  • B      Those who sold materials to the navy
  • C      Affluent workers
  • D      The lower-classes


3. Based on the information provided in the passage, why did Pericles regret ‘that what most united his fellow citizens was greed.’?  (middle of 2nd paragraph)

  • A      It fortified the moral superiority of monarchies
  • B      It undermined his pride in the nation
  • C      He anticipated it leading Athens into dictatorship
  • D      He knew the masses would vote selfishly, not for the greater good



Nearly finished all the sample questions on the website already? No worries.. You can download practice papers for Section 1 and keep on learning!

  • Q1: A
    ‘the great statesman’ means he is a good politician. Many other councillors know him and are proud when he asks to speak with them. His experience shows in his persuasive skills, he knows how to get things done in Athens.

    Q2: D
    The Few are those who own large estates. The very upper class. The Many is the majority, the rest. We can infer that this is the opposite of The Few and that they are therefore the lower classes.

    Q3: B
    Based on information in the passage… and we are not given much. We know that he is proud in his country. The intellectual superiority granted to Athens by its historical position as one of the first large scale democracies. The fact that the people of Athens do not reflect Pericles’ intellect and are not motivated by greed undermines this thought-superiority of the nation and as such, his pride in it. In contrast it could be said to fortify the moral superiority of nations who would challenge the Athenian model of leadership, but this is not specific to monarchies. C and D are not supported by evidence in the passage.

    Gamsat Sample Questions

    June 15, 2012

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