We have arrived at the most flourishing period of Athenian history, during which Pericles rose to distinction, and greatly contributed to the beautifying of the capital. The talents of Pericles were of the very first order, and they had been carefully cultivated by the ablest tutorage which Greece could afford. After serving for several years in the Athenian army, he ventured to take a part in the business of the popular assembly, and his powerful eloquence soon gained him an ascendancy in the national councils; and his power, in fact, became as great as that of an absolute monarch (445 B.C.). Some of the most interesting events of Grecian history now occurred. After a number of years of general peace, a dispute between the state of Corinth and its dependency the island of Corcyra (now Corfu), gave rise to a war which again disturbed the repose of all the Grecian states. Corcyra was a colony of Corinth, but having, by its maritime skill and enterprise, raised itself to a higher pitch of opulence than its parent city, it not only refused to acknowledge Corinthian supremacy, but went to war with that state on a question respecting the government of Epidammus, a colony which the Corcyreans had planted on the coast of Elyria,. Corinth applied for and obtained aid from several of the Peloponnesian states to reduce the Corcyreans to subjection; while Corcyra, on the other hand, concluded a defensive alliance with Athens, which sent a fleet to assist the island in vindicating its independence. tv way of punishing the Athenians for intermeddling in the quarrel, the Corinthians stirred up a revolt in Potidaea, a town of Chalcidice, near the confines of Macedonia, which had originally been a colony of Corinth, but was at this time a tributary of Athens. The Athenians immediately despatched a fleet and army for the reduction of Potidaea, and the Peloponnesians were equally prompt in sending succors to the city. The Corinthians, meanwhile, were actively engaged in endeavoring to enlist in their cause those states which had not yet taken a decided part in the dispute. To Lacedmon, in particular, they sent ambassadors to complain of the con duct of the Athenians, which they characterized as a violation of a universally-recognised law of Grecian policy - that no state should interfere between another and its dependencies. The efforts of the Corinthians were successful, and almost all the Peloponnesian states, headed by Sparta, together with many of those beyond the isthmus, formed themselves into a confederacy for the purpose of going to war with Athens. Argos and Achaia at first remained neuter. Corcyra, Acarnania, some of the cities of Thessaly, and those of Plataea and Naupactus, were all that took part with the Athenians.

Pericles beheld without dismay the gathering of the storm, but his countrymen were not equally undaunted. They perceived that they were about to be called upon to exchange the idle and luxurious life they were at present leading for one of hardship and danger, and they began to murmur against their political leader for involving them in so alarming a quarrel. They had not at first the courage to impeach Pericles himself, but vented their displeasure against his friends and favorites. Phidias, a very eminent sculptor, whom the great statesman had appointed superintendent of public buildings, was condemned to imprisonment on a frivolous charge; and the philosopher Anaxagoras, the preceptor and friend of Pericles, was charged with disseminating opinions subversive of the national religion, and banished from Athens. Respecting another celebrated individual who at this time fell under persecution, it becomes necessary to say a few words. Aspasia of Miletus was a woman of remarkable beauty and brilliant talents, but she wanted that chastity which is the greatest of feminine graces, and by her dissolute life was rendered a reproach, as she would otherwise have been an ornament, to her sex. This remarkable woman having come to reside in Athens, attracted the notice of Pericles, who was so much fascinated by her beauty, wit and eloquence, that, after separating from his wife, with whom he had lived unhappily, he married Aspasia. It was generally believed that for the gratification of a private grudge, she had instigated Pericles to quarrel with the Peloponnesian states, and her unpopularity on this score was the true cause of her being now accused, before the assembly of the people, of impiety and grossly-immoral practices. Pericles conducted her defense in person, and plead for her with so much earnestness, that he was moved even to tears. The people, either finding the accusations to be really unfounded, or unable to resist the eloquence of Pericles, acquitted Aspasia. His enemies next directed their attack against himself. They accused him of embezzling the public money; but he completely rebutted the charge, and proved that he had drawn his income from no other source than his private estate. His frugal and unostentatious style of living must have of itself gone far to convince the Athenians of the honesty with which he had administered the public affairs; for while he was filling the city with temples, porticoes, and other magnificent works of art, and providing many costly entertainments for the people, his own domestic establishment was regulated with such strict attention to economy, that the members of his family complained of a parsimony which formed a marked contrast to the splendor in which many of the wealthy Athenians then lived.

Confirmed in his authority by his triumphant refutation of the slanders of his enemies, Pericles adopted the wisest measures for the public defense against the invasion which was threatened by the Peloponnesians. Unwilling to risk a battle with the Spartans, who were esteemed not less invincible by land than the Athenians were by sea, he caused the inhabitants of Attica to transport their cattle to Euboea and the neighboring islands, and to retire with as much of their other property as they could take with them, within the walls of Athens. By this provident care, the city was stored with provision sufficient for the support of the multitudes which now crowded it; but greater difficulty was found in furnishing proper accommodation for so vast a population. Many found lodgings in the temples and other public edifices, or in the turrets on the city walls, while great numbers were obliged to construct for themselves temporary abodes in the vacant space within the long walls extending between the city and the port of Piraeus.

The memorable contest of twenty-seven years' duration, called, the Peloponnesian War,' now commenced (431 B.C.). The Spartan king, Archidamus, entered at the head of a large army of the confederates, and meeting with no opposition, proceeded along its eastern coast, burning the towns, and laying waste the country in his course. When the Athenians saw the enemy ravaging the country almost up to their gates, it required all the authority of Pericles to keep them within their fortifications. While the confederates were wasting Attica with fire and sword, the Athenian and Corcyrean fleets were, by the direction of Pericles, avenging the injury by ravaging the almost defenseless coasts of the Peloponnesus. This, together with a scarcity of provisions, soon induced Archidamus to lead his army homewards. He retired by the western coast, continuing the work of devastation. as he went along.

Early in the summer of the following year, the confederates returned to Attica, which they were again permitted to ravage at their pleasure, as Pericles still adhered to his cautious policy of confining his efforts to the defense of the capital. But an enemy far more terrible than the Peloponnesians attacked the unfortunate Athenians. A pestilence, supposed to have originated in Ethiopia, and which had gradually spread over Egypt and the western parts of Asia, broke out in the town of Pirus, the inhabitants of which at first supposed their wells to have been poisoned. The disease rapidly advanced into Athens, where it carried off a great number of persons. It is described as having been a species of infectious fever, accompanied with many painful symptoms, and followed, in those who survived the first stages of the disease, by ulcerations of the bowels and limbs.

Historians mention, as a proof of the singular virulence of this pestilence, that the birds of prey refused to touch the unburied bodies of its victims, and that the dogs which fed upon the poisonous relics perished.

The mortality was dreadful, and was of course greatly increased by the overcrowded state of the city. The prayers of the devout, and the skill of the physicians, were found equally unavailing to stop the progress of the disease; and the miserable Athenians, reduced to despair, believed themselves to be forgotten or hated by their gods. The sick were in many cases left unattended, and the bodies of the dead allowed to lie unburied, while those whom the plague had not yet reached, openly sat at defiance all laws, human and divine, and rushed into every excess of criminal indulgence.

Pericles was in the meantime engaged, with a fleet of 150 ships, in wasting with fire and sword the shores of Peloponnesus. At his return to Athens, finding that the enemy had hastily retired from Attica, through fear of the contagion of the plague, he despatched the fleet to the coast of Chalcidice, to assist the Athenian land forces who were still engaged in the siege of Potidaea - an unfortunate measure, productive of no other result than the communication of the pestilence to the besieging army, by which the majority of the troops were speedily swept away. Maddened by their sufferings, the Athenians now became loud in their murmurs against Pericles, whom they accused of having brought upon them at least a portion of their calamities, by involving them in the Peloponnesian war. An assembly of the people was held, in which Pericles entered upon a justification of his conduct and exhorted them to courage and perseverance in defense of their independence. The hardships to which they had been exposed by the war, were, he observed, only such as he had in former addresses prepared them to expect; and as for the pestilence, it was a calamity which no human prudence could either have foreseen or averted. He reminded them that they still possessed a fleet which that of no potentate on earth could equal or cope with, and that, after the present evil should have passed away, their navy might yet enable them to acquire universal empire. 'What we suffer from the gods,' continued he, 'we should bear with patience; what from our enemies, with manly firmness; and such were the maxims of our forefathers. From unshaken fortitude in misfortune has arisen the present power of this commonwealth, together with that glory which, if our empire, according to the lot of all earthly things, decay, shall still survive to all posterity.'

The eloquent harangue of Pericles diminished, but did not remove, the alarm and irritation of the Athenians, and they not only dismissed him from all his offices, but imposed upon him a heavy fine. Meanwhile domestic afflictions were combining with political anxieties and mortifications to oppress the mind of this eminent man, for the members of his family were one by one perishing by the plague. Still, however, he bore himself up with a fortitude which was witnessed with admiration by all around him; but at the funeral of the last of his children, his firmness at length gave way; and while he was, according to the custom of the country, placing a garland of flowers on the head of the corpse, he burst into loud lamentations, and shed a torrent of tears. It was not long till his mutable countrymen repented of their harshness towards him, and reinvested him with his civil and military authority. He soon after followed his children to the grave, falling, like them, a victim to the prevailing pestilence (429 B.C.). The concurrent testimony of the ancient writers assigns to Pericles the first place among Grecian statesmen for wisdom and eloquence. Though ambitious of power, he was temperate in its exercise; and it is creditable to his memory, that, in an age and country so little scrupulous in the shedding of blood, his long administration was as merciful and mild as it was vigorous and effective. When constrained to make war, the constant study of this eminent statesman was, how to overcome his enemies with the least possible destruction of life, as well on their side as on his own. It is related that, when he was lying at the point of death, and while those who surrounded him were recounting his great actions, he suddenly interrupted them by expressing his surprise that they should bestow so much praise on achievements in which he had been rivaled by many others, while they omitted to mention what he considered his highest and peculiar honor - namely, that no act of his had ever caused any Athenian to put on mourning .

After the death of Pericles, the war was continued, without interruption, for seven years longer, but with no very decisive advantage to either side. During this period the Athenian councils were chiefly directed by a coarseminded and unprincipled demagogue named Cleon, who was at last killed in battle under the walls of Amphipolis, a Macedonian city, of which the possession was disputed by the Athenians and Lacedaemonians. Cleon was succeeded in the direction of public affairs by Nicias, the leader of the aristocratic party, a man of virtuous but unenterprising character, and a military officer of moderate abilities. Under his auspices a peace for fifty years, commonly known by the name of the 'Peace of Nicias,' was concluded in the tenth year of the war (421 B.C.). It was not long, however, till the contest was resumed. Offended that its allies had given up a contest undertaken for the assertion of its alleged rights, Corinth refused to be a party to the treaty of peace, and entered into a new quadruple alliance with Argos, Elis, and Mantinaea, a city of Arcadia; the ostensible object of which confederation was the defense of the Peloponnesian states against the aggressions of Athens and Sparta. This end seemed not difficult of attainment, as fresh distrust had arisen between the two last-mentioned republics, on account of the reluctance felt and manifested by both to give up certain places which they had bound themselves by treaty mutually to surrender. The jealousies thus excited were fanned into a violent flame by the artful measures of Alcibiades, a young Athenian, who now began to rise into political power, and whose genius and character subsequently exercised a strong influence upon the affairs of Athens.