In his discourse on the causes of the Peloponnesian War (Pericles 31–32), Plutarch devotes an inordinate time to what he calls ‘the worst charge [against Pericles], but that having the greatest number of supporters’. The elements of this charge may be outlined briefly:
1. Pheidias was indicted for embezzling the precious materials used in the construction of the great statue of Athena Parthenos. The informer was a certain Menon, a fellow workman, who was subsequently given immunity and tax-free status by a decree of the assembly proposed by Glycon.
2. At the same time, Pericles' consort Aspasia was indicted and his friend and teacher Anaxagoras was attacked indirectly through a law against religious nonconformity brought by Diopeithes.
3. While the people were still in this mood, Dracontides had a decree passed, requiring that Pericles' accounts be deposited with the council and that the dicasts try any resulting cases on the acropolis with ballots specially sanctified at the altar. This last clause was stricken from the bill by Hagnon, who specified that any resulting suits were to be tried by a jury of 1,500.
4. Because of all these attacks, Pericles resolved to start the war, using the Megarian decree as provocation.
Plutarch reports here the popular fancy—that Pericles started a foreign war to avoid domestic embarrassments. The development of this tradition is a well-known chapter in the history of Greek literature, but as it is fundamental to this discussion, a brief review is called for.