but by their ... pg. 74
In that case I would rather be from Sikinos or Pholegandros, no Athenian, for soon the word would go about, “he’s one of those Athenian Salamis-abandoners.” 2
Let’s start for Salamis, fight for the lovely isle and free ourselves from terrible disgrace. 3
Our state will never fall by Zeus’s ordinance or the immortal blessed gods’ intent: such a stout-hearted guardian, she of the mighty sire, Pallas Athene, holds her hand above: but by their foolishness the citizens themselves seek to destroy its pride, from avarice, with the unprincipled mob-leaders, who are set to suffer badly for their great misdeeds. They know not how to prosper modestly, enjoy in festive peace the happiness they have. … and they grow wealthy by unrighteousness. [When wicked men…] and, sparing neither sacred property nor public, seize by plunder, each one what he can, careless of Righteousness’s august shrine – the silent one, who knows what is and has been done, and comes at last to claim the payment due – this aims a sure blow at the whole community, and soon it comes to wretched slavery which rouses war from sleep, and strife within the clan, and sunders many from their lovely youth. For if men injure their own people, they soon find their lovely city scarred and faction-torn. Among the populace these evils roam at large, and many of the poor folk find themselves in foreign lands, sold into slavery and bound in shameful bonds… And so the public ill comes home to every man: the yard doors are no more disposed to hold; it leaps the high wall, and it finds him out for sure, though he take refuge in his inmost room. This lesson I desire to teach the Athenians: Lawlessness brings the city countless ills, while Lawfulness sets all in order as is due; many a criminal it puts in irons. It makes the rough smooth, curbs excess, effaces wrong, and shrivels up the budding flowers of sin; it straightens out distorted judgments, pacifies the violent, brings discord to an end, brings to an end ill-tempered quarrelling. It makes all men’s affairs correct and rational. 4
And as for you, who now have all the wealth you want, make the stern spirit gentler in your hearts, adjust to moderation. We will not accept this state of things, nor will it work for you. 4c
The commons I have granted privilege enough, not lessening their estate nor giving more; the influential, who were envied for their wealth, I have saved them from all mistreatment too. I took my stand with strong shield covering both sides, allowing neither unjust dominance. 5
Thus would the commons and its leaders best accord, not given too free a rein, nor pushed too hard. Surplus breeds arrogance, when too much wealth attends such men as have no soundness of intent. 6
Hard to please everyone in politics. 7
As from the cloudbank comes the storm of snow or hail, and thunder follows from the lightning flash, exalted men portend the city’s death: the folk in innocence fall slave to tyranny. Raise them too high, and it’s not easy afterwards to hold them. Now’s the time to read the signs. 9
A short time now will show the Athenians how mad I am, when truth comes out for all to see. 10
If by your own fault you have suffered grief and harm, put no part of the blame upon the gods. You raised these men up, by providing bodyguards, and that’s why wretched slavery’s your lot. Your trouble is, each of you treads the fox’s way, but your collective wits are thin as air. You watch a crafty fellow’s tongue, and what he says, but fail to look at anything he does. 11
It’s by the winds the sea’s disturbed: if nobody stirs it, it stays of all things best-behaved. 12
Bright daughters of Olympian Zeus and Memory, Pierian Muses, hearken to my prayer. Grant me that I have fortune from the blessed gods, and good repute from all men all the time; may I be honey to my friends, gall to my foes, honored on sight or feared respectively. Wealth I desire, but not to hold unrighteously, for surely sometime retribution comes. The riches that the gods give are dependable from top to bottom of the storage jar, but those that mortals cultivate with violence come awkward and unwilling at the call of crime, and soon are tangled in calamity, which from a small beginning grows like fire, a trifling thing a first, but grievous in the end, for mortal violence does not live long. Zeus supervises every outcome. Suddenly like a March wind he sweeps the clouds away, a gale that stirs the billowing ocean to its bed and ravages the tidy fields of wheat before ascending to the gods’ high seat in heaven, and then, behold, the sky is clear again: the strong sun shines out on the fertile countryside in beauty; not a cloud remains to see. Such is the punishment of Zeus. He does not flare at every insult, like a mortal man, but all the time he is aware whose heart is marked with sin, and in the end it shows for sure. One pays at once, another later; and if some escape the gods’ pursuing fate themselves, it comes sometime for sure: the innocent will pay – their children, or their later family. Whether of high or low degree, we mortals think our various vanities are running well until some blow falls; then we moan. But up to then we take fond pleasure in our empty hopes. Whoever is oppressed by comfortless disease gets the idea he will return to health. A man of low esteem imagines it is high; an ill-shaped man is proud of his good looks; propertyless, and in the grip of poverty, he still has fancies of acquiring wealth. They bustle on their different ways: one roams the sea hoping to bring some profit home from trade, tossed by tempestuous winds where fishes wait below, with no concession made to life and limb. Another carves the soil – his business is the plough – and slaves away till fruit-time ends the year; another’s learnt Athena’s and Hephaestus’s craft, and earns a living by his handiwork. Another has been taught the Olympian Muses’ boon, skilled in the rules of lovely poesy; another one the lord Apollo’s made a seer, who sees disaster coming from afar, if he is favored by the gods; but what is doomed no augury or sacrifice averts. Others are healers, Paeon’s office, well resourced in drugs: they too can give no guarantees. Often a minor pain becomes an agony that cannot be relieved by soothing drugs, whereas another, crazed by terrible disease, under the doctor’s hands is quickly cured. Fate brings to mortal men both good and ill: the gifts the immortals give are inescapable. There’s risk in every undertaking. No one knows, when something starts, how it will finish up. One man makes noble efforts, but despite them all falls into unforeseen calamity; another handles ill, yet god gives him complete success, freed from his folly’s consequence. But as to wealth, no limit’s laid down clear for men, since those among us who possess the most strive to earn double. Who could satisfy them all? Remember, profit’s in the immortals’ gift, but loss’s source is in men’s selves: when sent by Zeus to punish them, it comes to each in turn. 13
Nor yet is any mortal fortunate, but all are wretched that the sun looks down upon. 14
For many curs are rich, and men of class are poor, but we’ll not take their riches in exchange for our nobility, which always stays secure, while wealth belongs to different men by turns. 15
But wisdom’s hidden formula, which holds the key to all things, is the hardest to discern. 16
The gods’ intent is hidden every way from man. 17
As I grow old I’m always learning more. 18
Happy the man who has his sons, his hounds, his horses, and a friend from foreign parts. 23
Equally rich is he who has abundancy of silver, gold, and acres under plough, horses and mules, and he that only has the means to eat well, couch well, and go softly shod, and by and by enjoy a lad’s or woman’s bloom, with youth and strength still his to suit his need. This is a man’s true wealth: he cannot take all those possessions with him when he goes below. No price he pays can buy escape from death, or grim diseases, or the onset of old age. 24
But now I like the gods of love and wine and song and what they do for human happiness. 26
A boy, an ungrown child, in seven years puts forth a line of teeth and loses them again; but when another seven God has made complete, the first signs of maturity appear. In the third hebdomad he’s growing yet, his chin is fuzzy, and his skin is changing hue, while in the fourth one, each achieves his peak of strength, the thing that settles whether men are men. The fifth is time a man should think of being wed and look for sons to carry on his line; and by the sixth he’s altogether sensible, no more disposed to acts of fecklessness. With seven hebdomads and eight – fourteen more years – wisdom and eloquence are at their peak, while in the ninth, though he’s still capable, his tongue and expertise have lost some of their force. Should he complete the tenth and reach the measured line, not before time he’d have his due of death. 27
Poets say much that’s false. 29
Rulers must be obeyed, however right or wrong. 30
(To Phocus) If I have spared my country, if I’ve not disgraced my name by grasping brute force and dictatorship, I’m not ashamed: this way I think I’ll win more people over. 32
I know many people say “Solon is a stupid fellow, not a man who thinks ahead: God has offered him a fortune, but he hasn’t taken it. There he had the prey encircled, but he didn’t close the net – lost his nerve, no doubt about it, and his common sense as well. I’d not mind, if I’d seized power and the city’s lavish wealth and become the lord of Athens even for a single day, being flayed to make a wineskin, with my family wiped out.” 33
Others came along for plunder. They had hopes of being rich, every one of them expecting he would make his fortune there and that I, for all my cooing, would reveal a harsh intent. After those vain calculations now they’re furious with me, and they all look sideways at me, just as if I were their foe – wrongly. The decrees I uttered had the blessing of the gods, and I took no foolish further measures, since I have no taste by dictator’s force to … or to see our fruitful land portioned out to good-for-nothings equally with men of worth. 34
Those aims for which I called the public meeting – which of them, when I stopped, was still to achieve? I call as witness in the court of time the mighty mother of the Olympian gods, dark earth, from whom I lifted boundary-stones that did beset her – slave before, now free. And many to Athena’s holy land I brought back, sold abroad illegally or legally, and others whom their debts had forced to leave, their speech no longer Attic, so great their wonderings; and others here in ugly serfdom at their master’s mercy I set free. These things I did in power, blending strength with justice, carried out all that I promised. I wrote laws for all, for high and low alike, made straight and just. But if another man had got the goad, someone imprudent or acquisitive, he’d not have checked the mob. If I’d agreed to what the opposition favored then, and then to what the other party thought, this city would be mourning many dead. Therefore I turned to guard my every side, a wolf at bay among a pack of hounds. 36
If I must spell out where the mob’s at fault, they never would have dreamt what they have now … while all the bigger and the stronger men would then approve of me and call me friend. For if another man had got the goad, he’d not have checked the mob, or been content until he’d churned the milk and lost the cream. I marked the frontier in the No Man’s Land between these warring parties. 37
…they drink; and some of them eat cakes, some bread, and others pastries mixed with lentils. Nor are they lacking any sort of bake that the dark earth provides for mortal men, but everything is freely there at hand. 38
Some run for the mortar, others for pickles, or for vinegar, or pomegranate-seeds, or sesame. 39-40
The following is from Diogenes Laertius
He repealed most of the laws of Draco; introduced a timokratia, an oligarchy with a sliding scale of rights determined by property, dividing the population into four classes: · Pentakosiomedimnoi, · Hippeis, · Zeugitai and · Thetes; He introduced the trial by jury; military obligations were codified based on class; the Council of the Four Hundred (or Boule) and the Areopagus were established as the main consultative and administrative bodies; introduced many new laws, especially those covering debt and taxation ; remodelled the calendar; and regulated weights and measures. Also, he took measures to protect children from sexual abuse. His laws were written onto special wooden cylinders and placed in the Acropolis.
Solon wrote the laws as a compromise between oligarchy and democracy, tailored to what the people would accept. After having his constitution accepted he left Athens for over ten years, travelling to Egypt, Cyprus and Lydia. According to the historian Herodotus of Halicarnassus, in Lydia he offended Croesus when he was asked "Who is the happiest man you have ever seen?", instead of complimenting the king he said "I can speak of no one as happy until they are dead". It was recalling this story which, again according to Herodotus, saved Croesus from execution when his kingdom was overcome by Cyrus's invading Persians. Solon returned to Athens in the 550s BC during the reign of the tyrant Pisistratus. The tyrant retained some of the constitution and showed Solon considerable respect. Solon died soon afterwards.
SOLON the son of Execestides, a native of Salamis, was the first person who introduced among the Athenians, an ordinance for the lowering1 of debts; for this was the name given to the release of the bodies and possessions of the debtors. For men used to borrow on the security of their own persons, and many became slaves in consequence of their inability to pay; and as seven talents were owed to him as a part of his paternal inheritance when he succeeded to it, he was the first person who made a composition with his debtors, and who exhorted the other men who had money owing to them to do likewise, and this ordinance was called seisachtheia; and the reason why is plain. After that he enacted his other laws, which it would take a long time to enumerate; and he wrote them on wooden revolving tablets.
II. But what was his most important act of all was, when there had been a great dispute about his native land Salamis, between the Athenians and Megarians, and when the Athenians had met with many disasters in war, and had passed a decree that if any one proposed to the people to go to war for the sake of Salamis he should be punished with death, he then pretended to be mad and putting on a crown rushed into the market place, and there he recited to the Athenians by the agency of a crier, the elegies which he had composed, and which were all directed to the subject of Salamis, and by these means he excited them; and so they made war again upon the Megarians and conquered them by means of Solon. And the elegies which had the greatest influence on the Athenians were these:
Would that I were a man of Pholegandros,2 Or small Sicinna,3 rather than of Athens: For soon this will a common proverb be, That's an Athenian who won't fight for Salamis.
And another was:
Let's go and fight for lovely Salamis, And wipe off this our present infamy. He also persuaded them to take possession of the Thracian Chersonesus, and in order that it might appear that the Athenians had got possession of Salamis not by force alone, but also with justice, he opened some tombs, and showed that the corpses buried in them were all turned towards the east, according to the Athenian fashion of sepulture; likewise the tombs themselves all looked east, and the titles of the boroughs to which the dead belonged were inscribed on them, which was a custom peculiar to the Athenians. Some also say that it was he who added to the catalogue of Homer, after the lines:
III. And ever after this time the people was willingly obedient to him, and was contented to be governed by him: but he did not choose to be their ruler, and moreover, as Sosicrates relates, he, as far as in him lay, hindered also his relative Pisistratus from being so, when he saw that he was inclined to such a step. Rushing into one of the assemblies armed with a spear and shield, he forewarned the people of the design of Pisistratus, and not only that but told them that he was prepared to assist them; and these were his words: "Ye men of Athens, I am wiser than some of you, and braver than others. Wiser than those of you who do not perceive the treachery of Pisistratus; and braver than those who are aware of it, but out of fear hold their peace." But the council, being in the interest of Pisistratus, said that he was mad, on which he spoke as follows:
A short time will to all my madness prove, When stern reality presents itself.
And these elegiac verses were written by him about the tyranny of Pisistratus, which he foretold,
Fierce snow and hail are from the clouds borne down, And thunder after brilliant lightning roars, And by its own great men a city falls, The ignorant mob becoming slaves to kings.
IV. And when Pisistratus had obtained the supreme power, he, as he would not influence him, laid down his arms before the chief council-house, and said, "O my country, I have stood by you in word and deed." And then he sailed away to Egypt, and Cyprus, and came to Croesus. And while at his court being asked by him, "Who appears to you to be happy?"5 He replied, "Tellus the Athenian, and Cleobis and Biton," and enumerated other commonly spoken of instances. But some people say, that once Croesus adorned himself in every possible manner, and took his seat upon his throne, and then asked Solon whether he had ever seen a more beautiful sight. But he said, "Yes, I have seen cocks and pheasants, and peacocks; for they are adorned with natural colours, and such as are ten thousand times more beautiful." Afterwards leaving Sardis he went to Cilicia, and there he founded a city which he called Soli after his own name; and he placed in it a few Athenians as colonists, who in time departed from the strict use of their native language, and were said to speak Solecisms; and the inhabitants of that city are called Solensians; but those of Soli in Cyprus are called Solians.
V. And when he learnt that Pisistratus continued to rule in Athens as a tyrant, he wrote these verses on the Athenians:
If through your vices you afflicted are, Lay not the blame of your distress on God; You made your rulers mighty, gave them guards, So now you groan 'neath slavery's heavy rod— Each one of you now treads in foxes' steps, Bearing a weak, inconstant, faithless mind, Trusting the tongue and slippery speech of man; Though in his acts alone you truth can find.
VI. But Pisistratus, when he was leaving Athens, wrote him a letter in the following terms:
PISISTRATUS TO SOLON. I am not the only one of the Greeks who has seized the sovereignty of his country, nor am I one who had no right whatever to do so, since I am of the race of Codrus; for I have only recovered what the Athenians swore that they would give to Codrus and all his family, and what they afterwards deprived them of. And in all other respects I sin neither against men nor against gods, but I allow the Athenians to live under the laws which you established amongst them, and they are now living in a better manner than they would if they were under a democracy; for I allow no one to behave with violence: and I, though I am the tyrant, derive no other advantage beyond my superiority in rank and honour, being content with the fixed honours which belonged to the former kings. And every one of the Athenians brings the tithe of his possessions, not to me, but to the proper place in order that it may be devoted to the public sacrifices of the city; and for any other public purposes, or for any emergencies of war which may arise.
But I do not blame you for laying open my plans, for I know that you did so out of regard for the city rather than out of dislike to me; and also because you did not know what sort of government I was about to establish; since, if you had been acquainted with it, you would have been content to live under it and would not have fled. Now, therefore, return home again; believing me even without my swearing to you that Solon shall never receive any harm at the hands of Pisistratus; know also that none of my enemies have suffered any evil from me; and if you will consent to be one of my friends, you shall be among the first; for I know that there is no treachery or faithlessness in you. Or if you wish to live at Athens in any other manner, you shall be allowed to do so; only do not deprive yourself of your country because of my actions.
Thus wrote Pisistratus.
VII. Solon also said, that the limit of human life was seventy years, and he appears to have been a most excellent lawgiver, for he enjoined, "that if any one did not support his parents he should be accounted infamous; and that the man who squandered his patrimony should be equally so, and the inactive man was liable to prosecution by any one who choose to impeach him. But Lysias, in his speech against Nicias, says that Draco first proposed this law, but that it was Solon who enacted it. He also prohibited all who lived in debauchery from ascending the tribunal; and he diminished the honours paid to Athletes who were victorious in the games, fixing the prize for a victor at Olympia at five hundred drachmae,6 and for one who conquered at the Isthmian games at one hundred; and in the same proportion did he fix the prizes for the other games, for he said, that it was absurd to give such great honours to those men as ought to be reserved for those only who died in the wars; and their sons he ordered to be educated and bred up at the public expense. And owing to this encouragement, the Athenians behave themselves nobly and valiantly in war; as for instance, Polyzelus, and Cynaegirus, and Callimachus, and all the soldiers who fought at Marathon, and Harmodius, and Aristogiton, and Miltiades, and numberless other heroes.
But as for the Athletes, their training is very expensive, and their victories injurious, and they are crowned rather as conquerors of their country than of their antagonists, and when they become old, as Euripides says:
They're like old cloaks worn to the very woof.
IX. So Solon, appreciating these facts, treated them with moderation. This also was an admirable regulation of his, that a guardian of orphans should not live with their mother, and that no one should be appointed a guardian, to whom the orphans' property would come if they died. Another excellent law was, that a seal engraver might not keep an impression of any ring which had been sold by him, and that if a person struck out the eye of a man who had but one, he should lose both his own, and that no one should claim what he had not deposited, otherwise death should be his punishment. If an archon was detected being drunk, that too was a capital crime. And he compiled the poems of Homer, so that they might be recited by different bards taking the cue from one another, so that where one had left off the next one might take him up, so that it was Solon rather than Pisistratus who brought Homer to light, as Dieuchidas says, in the fifth book of his History of Megara, and the most celebrated of his verses were:
He was the first person also who assembled the nine archons together to deliver their opinions, as Apollodorus tells us in the second book of his Treatise on Lawgivers. And once, when there was a sedition in the city, he took part neither with the citizens, nor with the inhabitants of the plain, nor with the men of the sea-coast.
He used to say, too, that speech was the image of actions, and that the king was the mightiest man as to his power; but that laws were like cobwebs—for that if any trifling or powerless thing fell into them, they held it fast; but if a thing of any size fell into them, it broke the meshes and escaped. He used also to say that discourse ought to be sealed by silence, and silence by opportunity.
It was also a saying of his, that those who had influence with tyrants, were like the pebbles which are used in making calculations; for that every one of those pebbles were sometimes worth more, and sometimes less, and so that the tyrants sometimes made each of these men of consequence, and sometimes neglected them.
Being asked why he had made no law concerning parricides, he made answer, that he did not expect that any such person would exist.
When he was asked how men could be most effectually deterred from committing injustice, he said, "If those who are not injured feel as much indignation as those who are."
Another apophthegm of his was, that satiety was generated by wealth, and insolence by satiety.
he also forbade Thespis to perform and represent his tragedies, on the ground of falsehood being unprofitable; and when Pisistratus wounded himself, he said it all came of Thespis's tragedies.
Consider your honour, as a gentleman, of more weight than an oath.
Never speak falsely.
Pay attention to matters of importance.
Be not hasty in making friends; and do not cast off those whom you have made.
Rule, after you have first learnt to submit to rule.
Advise not what is most agreeable, but what is best.
Make reason your guide.
Do not associate with the wicked.
Honour the gods; respect your parents."
They say also that when Mimnermus had written: Happy's the man who 'scapes disease and care, And dies contented in his sixtieth year Solon rebuked him, and said: Be guided now by me, erase this verse, Nor envy me if I'm more wise than you. If you write thus, your wish would not be worse, May I be eighty ere death lays me low.
Watch well each separate citizen, Lest having in his heart of hearts A secret spear, one still may come Saluting you with cheerful face, And utter with a double tongue The feigned good wishes of his wary mind.
Seek excess in nothing
when he was lamenting his son, who was dead, and when some one said to him, "You do no good by weeping," he replied, "But that is the very reason why I weep, because I do no good."
SOLON TO PERIANDER. You send me word that many people are plotting against you; but if you were to think of putting everyone of them out of the way, you would do no good; but some one whom you do not suspect would still plot against you, partly because he would fear for himself, and partly out of dislike to you for fearing all sorts of things; and he would think, too, that he would make the city grateful to him, even if you were not suspected. It is better, therefore, to abstain from the tyranny, in order to escape from blame. But if you absolutely must be a tyrant, then you had better provide for having a foreign force in the city superior to that of the citizens; and then no one need be formidable to you, nor need you put any one out of the way.
SOLON TO EPIMENIDES. My laws were not destined to be long of service to the Athenians, nor have you done any great good by purifying the city. For neither can the Deity nor lawgivers do much good to cities by themselves; but these people rather have this power, who, from time to time, can lead the people to any opinions they choose; so also the Deity and the laws, when the citizens are well governed, are useful; but when they are ill governed, they are no good. Nor are my laws nor all the enactments that I made, any better; but those who were in power transgressed them, and did great injury to the commonwealth, inasmuch as they did not hinder Pisistratus from ursurping the tyranny. Nor did they believe me when I gave them warning beforehand. But he obtained more credit than I did, who flattered the Athenians while I told him the truth: but I, placing my arms before the principal councilhouse, being wiser than they, told those who had no suspicion of it, that Pisistratus was desirous to make himself a tyrant; and I showed myself more valiant than those who hesitated to defend the state against him. But they condemned the madness of Solon. But at last I spoke loudly—"O, my country, I, Solon, here am ready to defend you by word and deed; but to these men I seem to be mad. So I will depart from you, being the only antagonist of Pisistratus; and let these men be his guards if they please." For you know the man, my friend, and how cleverly he seized upon the tyranny. He first began by being a demagogue; then, having inflicted wounds on himself, he came to the Heliaea, crying out, and saying, "That he had been treated in this way by his enemies." And he entreated the people to assign him as guards four hundred young men; and they, disregarding my advice, gave them to him. And they were all armed with bludgeons. And after that he put down the democracy. They in vain hoped to deliver the poor from their state of slavery, and so now they are all of them slaves to Pisistratus."
SOLON TO PISISTRATUS. I am well assured that I should suffer no evil at your hands. For before your assumption of the tyranny I was a friend of yours, and now my case is not different from that of any other Athenian who is not pleased with tyranny. And whether it is better for them to be governed by one individual, or to live under a democracy, that each person may decide according to his own sentiments. And I admit that of all tyrants you are the best. But I do not judge it to be good for me to return to Athens, lest any one should blame me, for, after having established equality of civil rights among the Athenians, and after having refused to be a tyrant myself when it was in my power, returning now and acquiescing in what you are doing.
SOLON TO CROESUS. I thank you for your goodwill towards me. And, by Minerva, if I did not think it precious above everything to live in a democracy, I would willingly prefer living in your palace with you to living at Athens, since Pisistratus has made himself tyrant by force. But life is more pleasant to me where justice and equality prevail universally. However, I will come and see you, being anxious to enjoy your hospitality for a season.
4. Hom. II 2. 671. Dryden's Version. 5. Vide Herod. lib. 1. c. 30-33.
The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, by Diogenes Laertius, Literally translated by C.D. Yonge. London: Henry G. Bohn, 1853