One possible reconstruction of Solon's new law code, publicly displayed on wooden blocks (kurbeis) revolving on axles (axones) set in a frame.

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PLUTARCH, LIFE OF SOLON

(c. 640/635 - after 560 BCE)

from I. Scott-Kilvert, The Rise and Fall of Athens. Nine Greek Lives by Plutarch (New York: Penguin Books, 1960) pp. 43-76 (modified). Copyrighted material. Do not cite or download except for study purposes.

1. DIDYMUS the grammarian wrote a reply to Asclepiades' treatise on Solon's tables of the law, in which he quotes Philocles' statement that Solon's father was Euphorion, but this contradicts the opinion of every other authority who has written about Solon. The others all agree that he was the son of Execestides, a man whose personal wealth and influence in Athens were modest enough, but who belonged to its most distinguished family, since he traced his descent from Codrus, one of the ancient kings of Attica. Solon's mother, so Heraclides of Pontus tells us, was a cousin of the mother of Pisistratus. The two men were at first great friends, party because they were related and partly because of the youthful good looks of Pisistratus, to whom, according to some writers, Solon was passionately devoted. This may very well be the reason why at a later date, when they took opposite sides in politics, their antagonism never carried with it any harsh or vindictive feelings; on the contrary their earlier attachment still lingered in their hearts and kept alive the cherished memory of their affection:

The embers of Zeus's flaming thunderbolt
Still glowing

as Euripides puts it. In Solon's poems, too, we can find evidence of the fact that he could not resist good looks and did not challenge love

To meet him like a boxer in the ring.

He also proposed a law which forbade slaves to rub themselves dry with oil, to practice in the gymnasium or to have a boy lover, so that his intention was evidently to class this as an honourable and dignified practice and thus, in a sense, to recommend it to reputable men by the act of forbidding it to the unworthy. Pisistratus, too, is said to have had a boy lover named Charmus and to have dedicated the statue of Love in the Academy, where the runners in the sacred torch race light their torches.

2. Solon's father, according to Hermippus, dissipated a great deal of his estate in various acts of charity, but there was no lack of friends who would have been ready to help his son. Solon, however, coming as he did of a family which had always been accustomed to give help to others, was ashamed to accept any for himself, and so while he was still a young man, he ventured into commerce. On the other hand we are also told that he travelled to gain experience and to extend his knowledge rather than to make money. There is no doubt that he was a lover of knowledge, for even when he was far advanced in years he could still say

I never cease to learn as I grow old

and also that he was no great admirer of wealth, since he goes so far as to declare that two me are equally wealthy, even when one

. . . has great possessions,
Silver and gold and broad wheat bearing acres,
Herds and horses and mules: while the other's portion
Is but his daily bread, clothes for his back,
Shoes for his feet and a fair wife and child
With a span of years to share their lives together.

But elsewhere he writes:

I long for wealth, but to win it by wrongful means
I have no desire. Justice, though slow, is sure.

There is, in fact, no necessity for an upright statesman to pay great attention to acquiring superfluous wealth, nor again to frown upon a reasonable sufficiency of it. In those times, as Hesiod tells us, 'work was no disgrace'; no trade carried with it any mark of inferiority and commerce could even win a man prestige, because it gave the merchant familiarity with barbarous countries and gained him the friendship of foreign rulers and a wide experience of affairs. Some merchants even became the founders of great cities, such as Protis, for example, who won the friendship of the Gauls living along the Rhone and founded Marseille. It is said that both Thales and Hippocrates the mathematician engaged in trade, and Plato paid for the expenses of his stay in Egypt by selling oil.

3. The fact, then, that Solon was somewhat luxurious and extravagant in his way of living, and that in his verses he refers to pleasure more readily than one might expect of a philosopher, is generally put down to his mercantile career. He took many risks and expected compensations for these in the form of various pleasures and relaxations. But for all this it is plain from the following verses that he classed himself with the poor rather than with the rich:

Often the wicked prosper, while the righteous starve;
Yet I would never exchange my state for theirs,
My virtue for their gold. For mine endures,
While riches change their owner every day.

He seems to have written his poetry in the first place without any serious end in view and simply for his own amusement during his leisure. Later on he introduced philosophical aphorisms and wove a great deal of political matter into his poems, not only to provide a historical record, but also in some cases to justify his own acts, and in others to exhort, or warn, or rebuke the Athenians. Some writers say that he tried to express his laws in the form of epic verse before he published them, and they quote his introduction to them which ran as follows:

First let us pray to Zeus, royal son of Cronos
To grant my laws success and wide renown.

In philosophy, like most of the wise men of that age, he was concerned above all with applying morals to politics. In physics his ideas are extremely elementary and old fashioned, as is plain from the following verses:

The drifting clouds let fall the snow and hail,
The thunder bursts from the dazzling lightning flash,
The sea is lashed to fury by the winds,
Yet, sleeping, it is the gentlest of the elements.

Generally speaking, Thales seems to have been the only sage of that period who pursued his speculations beyond the limits of strictly practical problems; all the rest gained their reputation for wisdom from their prowess as statesmen.

4. They are said to have all come together at Delphi and again at Corinth, where Periander arranged a kind of congress for them and gave a banquet. But what increased their reputation even more was the affair of the tripod, which circulated amongst them, passed through the hands of all seven and was declined by every one in turn, each striving to outdo the other in modesty and goodwill. The story goes that some men of Cos were hauling in a net and a number of strangers from Miletus purchased the catch before they had seen what was in it. It turned out to contain a golden tripod which, according to the legend, was thrown in there by Helen on her homeward voyage from Troy, in obedience to some ancient oracle. The Milesians began by quarrelling with the fishermen about the tripod, and then their respective cities took up the dispute and finally went to war. At this point the Pythian priestess of Apollo declared to both parties that the tripod must be given to the wisest of men. So it was sent first of all to Thales of Miletus, and the Coans willingly presented him personally with the object for which they had fought the whole population of Miletus. Thales, however, declared that Bias was a wiser man than himself, and the tripod was sent on to Bias, who again passed it on to another candidate wiser than himself. So it was declined and passed on by each sage in turn until it came to Thales for the second time. Finally, it was conveyed from Miletus to Thebes and dedicated to Apollo of the Ismenus, a nearby river.

According to Theophrastus, however, the tripod was first sent to Bias at Priene, and after that to Thales at Miletus at Bias's request. In this fashion it went the round of all the wise men, until it returned once more to Bias and was eventually sent to Delphi. These, then, are the best known versions of the story, although some people say that the gift was not the tripod which is now to be seen at Delphi, but a bowl sent there by Croesus, and others that it was a drinking cup left there by Bathycles.

5. Solon is said to have had a private meeting with Anacharsis and one on another occasion with Thales, and the accounts we have of these run as follows. Anacharsis came to Athens, knocked on Solon's door and announced that he was a stranger who had arrived to make friends with him and enjoy his hospitality. Solon replied that it was better to make one's friends at home, to which Anacharsis retorted: 'Very well, you are at home! You can make me your friend and your guest.' Solon was impressed by his quick wit, welcomed him hospitably and entertained him for some while at his house. This was at a time when Solon was already involved in politics and was drawing up his laws. When Anacharsis discovered this, he laughed at Solon for supposing that his countrymen's injustice and greed could be kept within bounds by means of written laws, which were more like spiders' webs than anything else; he said that they would hold the weak and the small fry who might get entangled, but would be torn to pieces by the rich and the powerful. To this Solon replied, we are told, that men abide by their agreements when neither side has anything to gain by violating them, and that he was framing his laws for the Athenians in such a way as to make it clear that it would be to everybody's advantage to keep rather than to break them. However, the results turned out much more in accordance with Anacharsis's forecast than with Solon's hopes. It was Anacharsis, too, who remarked, after attending a session of the assembly, that he was amazed to find that in Greece wise men spoke on public affairs, but fools decided them.

6. When Solon went to visit Thales at Miletus, he is said to have shown his surprise that his host apparently had no desire to marry and raise a family. Thales said nothing at the time, but a few days later he arranged for a stranger to announce that he had just arrived after leaving Athens ten days before. When Solon asked whether anything new had happened there, the man, whose answers had been carefully rehearsed, told him: 'Only the funeral of a young man, who was followed to the grave by the whole city. He was the son, I heard, of one of the leading citizens, who excelled all others in virtue, but the father was not present at his son's funeral. I was told that he had been travelling abroad for a long time.' 'Unhappy man!' exclaimed Solon. 'What was his name?' 'I heard the name,' the man said, 'but I forget it now, although there was a great deal of talk of his wisdom and justice.' In this way each one of his answers sharpened Solon's misgivings, and at last in great distress he told the stranger his name and asked whether it was Solon's son who had died. When the man answered that it was, Solon began to beat his head and act like a man overcome with passionate grief, but Thales took him by the hand and said with a smile, 'Now you can understand, Solon, what keeps me from marrying and having children; it is too much even for the most dauntless of men like yourself. But you need not upset yourself over this story. It is quite untrue.' This, at any rate according to Hermippus, is the story related by Pataecus, who boasted that he had inherited Aesop's soul.

7. At the same time it is surely an absurd and ignoble attitude for a man to give up all the things he may rightly claim, simply for fear that he may lose them. According to this reasoning, nobody would ever enjoy the possession of riches or fame or wisdom, in case he might one day be deprived of them. Even virtue, the greatest and most precious possession in the world, we often see banished by disease or by drugs. For that matter Thales, too, although he remained unmarried, could not entirely rid himself of fear, unless he refused to have relations or friends or a country at all: but in practice, we are told, he adopted his sister's son, Cybisthus. The truth is that every man's soul has implanted within it the desire to love, and it is as much its nature to love as it is to feel, to understand, and to remember. In this desire it clothes itself, and if it finds nothing to love at home, it will fasten upon some alien object; and just as happens to a house or an estate where there are no lawful heirs, so with this craving for affection, alien or illegitimate children move in and occupy it, and engage not merely our love, but even our fears and anxieties on their behalf. It is quite common, for example, to find men of a harsh temper who will argue against marriage and the procreation of children, but who, as soon as their servants' or concubines' children fall ill and die, will be tormented with grief and give way to the most abject lamentations, or others who suffer the most degrading and intolerable anguish even at the death of dogs or horses. On the other hand there are men who have endured the death of noble sons without showing any extravagant grief or unworthy conduct, and have continued to be guided by reason all the rest of their lives. Those who have failed to learn how to fortify themselves with reason against the blows of fortune lay up endless troubles and fears for themselves, and it is not affection but weakness which brings this about. Such people cannot even enjoy what they long for when they get it, but allow themselves to be obsessed with continual anguish and anxieties and apprehensions, because they are forever anticipating some future loss. The wisest course is not to guard against the loss of our wealth by taking refuge in poverty, nor of our friends by rejecting friendship, nor of our children by having none, but rather to forearm ourselves with reason against every kind of misfortune. However, we have already said more than enough on this subject.

8. The Athenians had exhausted themselves with a long and harassing war against the Megarians for the possession of the island of Salamis, and finally they passed a law forbidding anybody in future, on pain of death, either to speak or write about reviving the Athenian claim to Salamis. Solon found this an intolerable humiliation, and he noticed that many of the younger men at Athens were eager for a pretext to declare war, but did not dare propose it on account of the law. He therefore pretended to have gone out of his mind, and his family put about the story in the city that he was insane. In the meanwhile he secretly wrote some elegiac verses, and when he had learnt them by heart, he suddenly rushed into the market place with a small felt cap on his head. A large crowd gathered around him, and he then climbed on to the herald's stone and recited the poem which begins with the lines:

I come as a herald from lovely Salamis
To tell you, not with a speech, but with a song
What must be done.

The title of the poem is Salamis and it consists of a hundred gracefully turned verses. When Solon had sung it, there was a chorus of praise from his friends and Pisistratus, in particular, urged the people to act on his words. And so they repealed the law and went to war again and appointed Solon as their commander.

The popular version of the story then runs as follows. Solon sailed with Pisistratus to Cape Colias, where he found all the women of Athens performing the customary sacrifice to Demeter. He then sent a man he could trust to Salamis, who made himself out to be a deserter and told the Megarians to sail with him as quickly as they could to Colias, if they wanted to capture the women of the principal Athenian families. The Megarians fell into the trap and sent off a party of men in his ship. As soon as Solon saw the vessel coming over from the island, he ordered the women out of the way and arranged that those of the younger men, whose beards had not yet grown, should disguise themselves in the women's robes and head-dresses and sandals, carrying daggers concealed about them at the same time, and should dance and play on the beach until the enemy landed and the ship was within their grasp. All this was carried out according to his orders; the Megarians were lured on by the sight of the supposed women, ran their ship aground, and leaped out to seize them, scrambling over one another to be first. They were cut down to the last man and the Athenians at once sailed across and seized the island.

9. There is another tradition, however, that Salamis was not captured in this way, but that Solon first received the following oracle from the god at Delphi:

First sacrifice to the warriors who once had their home in this island,
Whom now the rolling plain of fair Asopia covers,
Laid in the tombs of heroes with their faces turned to the sunset,

and that in obedience to this command he sailed to Salamis at night and offered sacrifice to the heroes Periphemus and Cychreus. Then he chose from among the Athenians 500 volunteers, who had been promised by decree the chief posts in the administration of the island if they captured it. He set sail in a number of fishing boats escorted by a thirty oared warship, and anchored off Salamis at a point on the coast which faces towards Euboea. Meanwhile the Megarians in the town of Salamis, who had heard only a confused report of what was happening, hurried to arms and set off for the place, and at the same time sent out a ship to observe the enemy's movements. As soon as the ship approached, Solon captured it and put the crew under guard. Then he manned her with the best of his volunteers, and ordered them to sail for the city, keeping themselves as much out of sight as possible. Meanwhile, with the rest of his Athenian force, he attacked the Megarians on land, and while this battle was still in progress the men in the ship surprised and captured the city.

This account seems to be borne out by a number of ceremonies which were established later on. In the performance of these an Athenian ship would sail up, first of all in silence, and then as they neared the shore, the crew would utter warlike shouts and one man in full armour would leap out with a cry of triumph and run to the headland of Sciradium to meet the force which was attacking by land. Near this spot stands the temple of Ares which Solon built, for he defeated the Megarians and all the survivors of the battle were released on parole.

10. Still in spite of these setbacks the Megarians carried on the war and each side inflicted great damage on the other, until they finally agreed to make the Spartans arbitrators and judges between them. Now most writers say that Solon on this occasion brought the weight of Homer's authority to bear on his side, for he inserted into the passage in The Iliad which contains the Catalogue of Ships the two verses:

Twelve warships Ajax brought from Salamis
And beached them close to the Athenian host

and read these out before the court.

The Athenians themselves, however, hold that this story is nonsense and claim that Solon proved to the arbitrators that Ajax's sons, Philaeus and Eurysaces, became Athenian citizens, ceded their island to Athens and settled in Attica, one at Brauron and the other at Melite, and in fact there is a town called Philaidae named after Philaeus, to which Pisistratus belonged. They also say that Solon, in his efforts to weaken the Megarian case still further, made the point that the dead on the island of Salamis are buried in the Athenian not the Megarian fashion, for the Megarians bury their dead facing the east and the Athenians facing the west. Hereas the Megarian, on the other hand, denies this and maintains that the Megarians also turn the faces of their dead towards the west, and, more important still, he asserts that every Athenian has a tomb to himself, whereas the Megarians (like the early inhabitants of Salamis) place three or four bodies in each tomb. However, the story goes that Solon was also supported by various oracular pronouncements from Delphi, in which the god referred to Salamis as Ionian. The case was judged by five Spartans, Critolaidas, Amompharetus, Hypsechidas, Anaxilas, and Cleomenes.

11. Solon's reputation and authority had already been greatly increased by these events. But he became still more admired and celebrated throughout the Greek world when he spoke out on behalf of the temple at Delphi and declared that the Greeks must not allow the people of Cirrha to profane the oracle, but must come to its rescue and help the Delphians to ensure that Apollo was still honoured there. It was on his advice that the Amphictyonic Council went to war, as Aristotle, among others, confirms in his list of the victors at the Pythian games, where he gives Solon the credit for taking up this attitude. He was not, however, appointed general for this war, as Evanthes of Samos alleges (according to Herrnippus). Certainly Aeschines the orator makes no such statement, and according to the records at Delphi it was Alcmaeon, not Solon, who commanded the Athenians.

12. Athens had long been troubled by the blood guilt which it had incurred over the treatment of Cylon and his party. On that occasion Megacles, the archon, had induced Cylon and his fellow conspirators, who had taken sanctuary in the temple of Athena, to come down and stand their trial. The men had fastened a braided thread to the goddess's statue and kept hold of it so as to remain under her protection. But as they reached the shrine of the Furies on their way down from the Acropolis, the thread snapped of its own accord, whereupon Megacles and the other archons rushed up to seize them, on the pretext that the goddess had refused them the rights of suppliants. Those who were outside the sacred precincts were stoned to death, others who had fled for sanctuary to the altars were massacred there, and the only men to be spared were those who appealed as suppliants to the archons' wives. For this reason the archons were laid under a curse and were regarded with loathing by the people. Those of Cylon's partisans who survived built up a strong following again, and formed a permanent faction against the descendants of Megacles. At the time of which we are speaking this feud was at its height and the city was torn between the two factions. Accordingly, Solon, whose reputation now stood very high, came forward to mediate between them with the help of some of the most prominent Athenians, and by argument and entreaty prevailed upon those who were still under the curse to stand trial and be judged by a jury of 300 citizens, selected from the noblest families. Myron of Phlya was the prosecutor and Megacles' family was found guilty. Those members of it who were still alive were banished and the bodies of those who had died were dug up and cast out beyond the frontiers of Attica. In the midst of these disorders the Athenians were also attacked by the Megarians and they lost Nisaea and were again driven out of Salamis. At this time, too, the city became a prey to superstitious alarms and strange apparitions, and the seers declared that their sacrifices gave warning of various curses and defilements which demanded expiation.

In this situation they sent to Crete for Epimenides of Phaestus, who is regarded as the seventh of the Sages of Greece by those who do not admit Periander of Corinth to their number. He was believed to be a man especially favoured by the gods and to be deeply versed in religious matters, particularly in everything relating to divine inspiration and mystic rites. For this reason his contemporaries said that he was the son of a nymph named Balte and they addressed him as a modern Cures, or Cretan priest of Zeus. When he arrived in Athens, he formed a friendship with Solon, gave him help in many ways and prepared the way for his legislation. He made the Athenians more punctilious in their religious worship and more restrained in their rites of mourning; he did this by immediately introducing certain sacrifices into their funeral ceremonies and by abolishing the harsh and barbaric practices in which Athenian women had indulged up to that time. But his greatest service, which he achieved by various rites of atonement and purification and by erecting places of worship, was to sanctify and consecrate the city and to make the people more amenable to justice and better disposed to live in harmony with one another. It is said that when he had seen Munychia, the citadel of Piraeus, and inspected it carefully for some time, he remarked to the bystanders: 'How blind men are to the future! If the Athenians could only know what misfortunes this place will bring on their city, they would devour it with their own teeth to be rid of it.' Thales is also reputed to have possessed a similar gift of foresight. He is said to have left instructions that he should be buried in a mean and neglected quarter of the city, and to have foretold that this would one day be the market place of Miletus. At any rate, the Athenians had the greatest admiration for Epimenides and they offered him large sums of money and high honours, but he asked for nothing more than a branch of the sacred olive tree, and with this he returned home.

13. However, once the disturbances concerning Cylon were past and those involved in the blood guilt had been banished, as I have described, the Athenians relapsed into their perennial squabbles about the form their government should take. The city was divided into as many [parties as there were geographical features in its territory. The party of the Hill supported an extreme democracy, the Plain an extreme oligarchy, while the Shore formed a third party, which wanted a mixed form of government somewhere in between, opposed the other two and prevented either of them from getting the upper hand. At this point, too, the inequalities between rich and poor had, as it were, come to a head. The city stood on the brink of revolution, and it seemed as if the only way to put a stop to its perpetual disorders and achieve stability was to set up a tyranny. All the common people were weighed down with the debts they owed to a few rich men. They either cultivated their lands for them and paid them a sixth of the produce and were hence called Hectemorioi and Thetes, or else they pledged their own persons to raise money and could be seized by their creditors, some of them being enslaved at home, and others being sold to foreigners abroad. Many parents were even forced to sell their own children (for there was no law to prevent this), or to go into exile because of the harshness of their creditors. However, the majority, which included the men of most spirit, began to make common cause together and encourage one another not to resign themselves to these injustices, but to choose a man they could trust to lead them. Having done this, they proposed to set all enslaved debtors free, redistribute the land and make a complete reform of the constitution.

14. At this point the most level headed of the Athenians began to look towards Solon. They saw that he, more than anyone else, stood apart from the injustices of the time and was involved neither in the extortions of the rich nor the privations of the poor, and so finally they appealed to him to come forward and settle their differences. Phanias of Lesbos, however, maintains that Solon of his own accord went behind the backs of both parties in order to save the city, and secretly promised the poor that he would redistribute the land, and the rich that he would guarantee the pledges which were their security. Solon's own version is that he only engaged in politics very unwillingly, because he was afraid of the grasping nature of the one party and the arrogance of the other. However, he was chosen archon in succession to Philombrotus to act both as arbitrator and as legislator, for the rich were ready to accept him as a man of wealth and the poor as a man of principle. It is also said that a remark of his to the effect that 'equality breeds no strife' was widely repeated before his election and pleased property owners and paupers alike; the first assumed that he meant an equality based on merit and achievement, and the second a quantitative equality based on the counting of heads. Consequently, both sides' hopes were raised and both sets of leaders repeatedly pressed upon Solon the idea of establishing a tyranny: they sought to persuade him that he could seize control of the city with all the greater confidence now that he had it in his power. There were many people, besides, who were not attached to either party and who saw that it would be a weary and laborious process to bring about any radical change by means of debate and legislation, and they were by no means unwilling to have a single man, the justest and wisest in the state, placed at the head of affairs. There are some who say that Solon received an oracle from Delphi, which ran as follows:

Seat yourself now amidships, for you are the pilot of Athens.
Grasp the helm fast in your hands; you have many allies in your city.

His intimate friends reproached him most of all for turning his back upon absolute power merely because he shrank from the name of tyrant, without allowing for the fact that the virtues of the man who assumed such authority could transform it at once into a lawful sovereignty. They quoted the earlier precedent of Tynnondas in Euboea and the contemporary one of Pittacus, whom the people of Mitylene had chosen to be their tyrant.

None of these arguments could shake Solon's resolution. His reply to his friends, we are told, was that tyranny is a fine place in itself, but there is no way down from it, and in one of his poems he writes to Phocus:

And if I spared my country
Refrained from ruthless violence and tyranny
And chose to keep my name free from all taint
I feel no shame at this; instead, I believe
It will be my greatest glory.[18]

From this it seems clear that he enjoyed a great reputation, even before he became the lawgiver of Athens. As for the taunts that were hurled at him for refusing the tyranny, he has written as follows:

Solon was no deep thinker, not even a man of sound judgment;
When the gods showered good fortune upon him, he only refused it.
When his nets swarmed with fish, he could not pull them in for amazement.
Give me the chance to be tyrant, with such power and infinite riches
I should not turn it down, though I ruled but a day over Athens;
Then I could bear to be flayed and my name cast into oblivion.

15. This is how he makes the unscrupulous elements and, indeed, the people in general speak of him. But in spite of his refusal to become a tyrant, he was by no means over-indulgent in his handling of affairs and there was nothing feeble about his legislation. It did not make concessions to the strong, nor did it humour the whims of the voters. Wherever he approved of the existing arrangement, he made no attempt to remedy or meddle with it, for he feared that if he turned everything upside down and thoroughly disorganized the state, he might not have power enough to restore order and reconstitute it for the best. He only introduced changes where he believed he could get his way by persuasion or enforce it by authority, and, in this fashion, as he puts it, he

Made force and justice work in harmony.

And so, when at a later date he was asked whether he had provided the best laws for the Athenians, his reply was, 'The best that they would accept.'

Later writers point out that the Athenians were in the habit of disguising the unpleasant aspects of things by giving them endearing and charitable names and finding polite equivalents for them. Thus they refer to whores as mistresses, taxes as contributions, garrisons of cities as guards, and the common gaol as the residence. Solon, it appears, became a pioneer of this device, when he referred to his cancelling of all debts as a discharge. The first measure which he put into force decreed that existing debts were wiped out and that in future nobody could accept the person of a debtor as security. Some writers, however, Androtion among them, maintain that Solon relieved the poor, not by wiping out their debts, but by reducing the interest on them, and that they were so delighted by this act of humanity, that they gave the name of 'discharge' not only to that decree, but also to the enlargement of various Attic measures and the rise in the value of money which took place at the same time. Solon fixed the value of the mina at 100 drachmas, whereas it had previously consisted of seventy three. In this way, although the actual amount of payment remained the same, its value was less, so that the debtors received a substantial benefit without their creditors being any the worse o£. However, most writers agree that the so-called 'discharge' meant the abolition of pledges, and Solon's own poems support this interpretation, for in these he prides himself on having uprooted

The mortgage stones that everywhere were planted
And freed the fields that were enslaved before.

He also speaks of bringing back from foreign countries some of the citizens whose persons had been seized for debt

Who speak no more their native tongue,
So far their wanderings in distant lands;
And others who dwelt at home in shameful bondage . . .

he says he set free.

This problem is said to have involved him in the greatest trouble of his whole life. When he had made up his mind to abolish the debts and was thinking over the best arguments to justify the measure and the best occasion for introducing it, he confided to his most intimate friends, Conon, Cleinias, and Hipponicus, that he did not intend to touch the land, but had decided to abolish debts. They promptly took advantage of this confidence and anticipated the decree by borrowing large sums from the rich and buying up big estates. Then, when the decree was published, they went on enjoying the use of their property but refused to pay their creditors. This affair gave rise to the most damning accusations against Solon and brought him into great discredit, for people could hardly believe that he was the victim of such a trick and concluded that he must have been a party to it. However, he was able to repudiate this charge at once by the well known sacrifice he made of five talents; for it came to light that he had lent this amount and he was the first to comply with his own law by cancelling the debt. Some people, among them Polyzelus the Rhodian, say that the sum was fifteen talents. His friends, on the other hand, were for ever after known as chreocopidae, or swindlers.

16. At first, however, his policy did not please either party. The rich were angry at being deprived of their securities, and the poor even more so, because Solon did not carry out a redistribution of the land, as they had expected, or impose a strictly equal and uniform style of living upon everybody, as Lycurgus had done. But Lycurgus, it must be remembered, was the eleventh in direct descent from Heracles; he had reigned for many years in Sparta, enjoyed great prestige and possessed many friends and exceptional authority, all of which he knew how to employ in support of his policy. Lycurgus also relied on force rather than on persuasion, to such an extent indeed that he actually lost an eye, but he did enact the most important measure for ensuring the safety and unity of Sparta, by making it impossible for any citizen to be either poor or rich. Solon, on the other hand; because his own fortune was modest and he was a man chosen by the people, did not achieve anything so far reaching in his constitution; and yet, considering that his position rested on the will of the voters and their confidence in him, he certainly made full use of the power that was placed in his hands. Still, we have his own word for it in the following verses that he offended the majority, who had expected different results:

. . . the people once placed
Extravagant hopes in me, but now they are angry
And look askance, as if I were their enemy.

And yet if anyone else, he adds, had been granted the same power

He would not have forborne nor stopped where I did,
Till he had shaken up the laws of the state
And skimmed the cream for himself.

However, it was not long before they saw the advantages of his policy, put aside their private complaints and offered a public sacrifice, which they called the Seisachtheia, or discharge of burdens, and they went on to appoint Solon to reform the constitution and draw up a code of laws. No limit was set to his powers and every function of the state was committed to his charge, the magistracies, the public assemblies, the courts of law and the Councils. He had authority to decide the property qualifications, the numbers and the times of meeting of each of these bodies and also to preserve or dissolve all existing institutions as he thought fit.

17. First of all, then, he repealed all the Draconian laws because of their harshness and the excessively heavy penalties they carried; the only exceptions were the laws relating to homicide. Under the Draconian code almost any kind of offense was liable to the death penalty, so that even those convicted of idleness were executed, and those who stole fruit or vegetables suffered the same punishment as those who committed sacrilege or murder. This is the reason why, in later times, Demades became famous for his remark that Draco's code was written not in ink but in blood. Draco himself, when he was once asked why he had decreed the death penalty for the great majority of offenses, replied that he considered the minor ones deserved it, and so for the major ones no heavier punishment was left.

18. Secondly, Solon was anxious to leave all the offices of state as he found them, in the hands of the rich, but at the same time to give the masses a share in the other processes of government which they had never before possessed, and he therefore took a census of every citizen's property. Those who received an annual income of 500 measures or more of wet and dry produce, he placed in the first class and called Pentacosiomedimni. The second class consisted of men who could afford a horse, or possessed an income of 300 measures, and these, because they paid a 'horse tax', were known as Knights. The third class were the Zeugitai, whose yearly income amounted to 200 measures of wet and dry produce. The rest of the citizen body were known as Thetes; they were not entitled to hold office and their only political function consisted in sitting in the Assembly or on a jury. This latter privilege appeared at first to be worth very little, but later became extremely important, because the majority of disputes were finally settled before a jury. Even in those cases which Solon placed under the jurisdiction of the magistrates, he also allowed the right of appeal to the popular court. He is said also to have framed the laws in obscure and contradictory terms and to have done this deliberately so as to increase the power of the popular courts. In consequence, since the parties to a dispute were unable to settle it according to the letter of the law, they were constantly obliged to resort to the juries and lay every disagreement before them, so that in a sense the jurors became the arbiters of the laws. Solon himself claims the credit for this in the following verses:

To the mass of the people I gave the power they needed,
Neither degrading them, nor giving them too much rein:
For those who already possessed great power and wealth
I saw to it that their interests were not harmed.
I stood guard with a broad shield before both parties
And prevented either from triumphing unjustly.[25]

Solon considered that the common people were still weak enough to need further protection, and so he gave every citizen the privilege of going to law on behalf of any one whose rights had been infringed. If a man was assaulted or suffered violence or injury, anybody who had the ability and the desire to do so was entitled to bring a suit and prosecute the offender. In this way the lawgiver wisely accustomed the citizens as members of one body to feel and sympathize with one another's wrongs. We are also told of a saying of Solon's which echoes the spirit of this law. He was apparently asked which city he considered the best governed of all, and his reply was 'The city where those who have not been wronged show themselves just as ready to punish the offender as those who have been.'

19. He established the Council of the Areopagus, which was composed of men who had held the annual office of archon, and as he had done so himself, he, too, became a member of this body. He then observed that the people were becoming restive and unruly because of their release from their debts, and he therefore formed a second chamber consisting of 400 men, 100 being drawn from each of the four tribes. Its functions were to deliberate public business in advance of the general assembly, and not to allow any matter to be brought before the people without its having been previously considered. He charged the upper chamber with the task of exercising a general supervision and acting as guardian of the laws. His object here was that the state with its two Councils should ride, as it were, at double anchor and should therefore be less exposed to the buffetings of party politics and better able to secure tranquillity for the people.

Now most writers agree that the Council of the Areopagus was constituted by Solon as I have explained above. This view seems to be strongly reinforced by the fact that Draco at no point makes any mention of the members of the Areopagus, but in all cases of homicide refers to the Ephetae. On the other hand Solon's thirteenth table contains his eighth law, which is set down in these very words:

All citizens who were disfranchised before the archonship of Solon shall recover their rights, except for those who were convicted either by the Areopagus, or by the Ephetae, or by the king archons in the Prytaneum on charges of murder or manslaughter or attempting to set up a tyranny, and except also for those who were in exile when this law was published.

This surely points to the conclusion that the Council of the Areopagus existed before Solon's archonship and so before his legislation. For how could anybody have been condemned in the Areopagus before Solon's time if he was the first to give that court its powers of criminal jurisdiction? It may be that there is some obscurity or omission in the phrasing of the law, and that its meaning is that citizens convicted on charges coming under the jurisdiction of those who were members of the Areopagus, or Prytanes, or Ephetae when the law was published shall remain disfranchised, while those convicted on other charges shall regain their rights. However, the reader must decide this question for himself.

20. Among Solon's other laws there is one very peculiar and unexpected one, which decrees the disfranchisement of any citizen who, in the event of revolution, does not take one side or the other. Solon's intention was evidently that men should not remain indifferent or apathetic to the public interest or safeguard their private affairs while congratulating themselves upon having nothing to do with the disorders and misfortunes of their country; he wished instead to encourage them to attach themselves at once to the better cause, share its dangers, and give it their support, not to sit back in safety waiting to see which side would win. Another law, which seems out of place, and even ridiculous, is the one which permits an heiress, in the event of her lawful husband proving impotent, to marry one of his next of kin. Still there are some who say that this was a sound provision against men who are incapable of fulfilling the duties of a husband, but marry heiresses for the sake of their property and so exploit the law to do violence to nature. When such men see that the heiress may consort with whoever she chooses, they will either put an end to the marriage or, if they persist in it, suffer disgrace for their greed and presumption. It was also wise to stipulate that the heiress should not be completely free in her choice of a consort, but should be limited to her husband's relatives, so that her child should belong to the same family. The same purpose, too, is served by Solon's direction that the bride and groom should be shut in the bridal chamber and should eat a quince together, and that an heiress's husband should have intercourse with her at least three times a month. Even though they have no children, this is a mark of honour and of affection which a man owes to a chaste wife; it removes many of the frustrations which arise in such cases and prevents their differences from bringing about a complete estrangement.

In all other marriages Solon abolished dowries. The bride was to bring with her nothing but three changes of clothes and some household possessions of small value. His object here was that marriage should not be a mercenary or profit making institution, but that man and wife should live together for love, affection, and the procreation of children. Even Dionysius, the ruler of Syracuse, when his mother asked him to give her in marriage to one of his citizens, felt bound to reply that although he had broken his city's laws in making himself tyrant, he could not outrage the laws of nature by sponsoring so unseasonable a marriage. And indeed abnormalities such as these should not be permitted in any state; we should not tolerate alliances which have neither love nor fitness to recommend them, which do not fulfill the function of marriage and indeed defeat its object. In fact a judicious magistrate or lawgiver, when he sees an old man who has chosen a young wife, might well quote to him the poet's words to Philoctetes:

My poor fellow, a fine state you are in to marry!

And when he finds a young man in the house of some rich and elderly matron, growing plump like a cock partridge from his attentions to her, he should take him away and settle him instead with some marriageable girl, who has no husband in prospect. So much, then, for this subject.

21. Another law of Solon's which is highly praised is the one forbidding anybody to speak ill of the dead, for piety requires us to regard the dead as sacred; justice to refrain from attacking the absent, and political wisdom to prevent the perpetuation of hatreds. He also forbade people to abuse the living in temples, courts of law, public offices, and during games or festivals. The penalty was a fine of three drachmas to be paid to the injured party and two more to the public treasury. Solon was mindful here that it is the sign of an undisciplined nature and of a lack of training never to be able to control one's temper; on the other hand to do so on all occasions is difficult and for some people impossible. The law, for its part, has to take account of what is practicable, if the legislator wishes to punish a few people effectually rather than a large number to no effect whatever.

Solon was also much admired for his law which deals with wills. Before his time wills were not permitted and the whole estate of the deceased was bound to remain within his family. Solon, however, by allowing any man who had no children to bequeath his property to whomsoever he chose, showed that he rated friendship above the ties of blood and free choice above necessity, and the effect of his law was to make every man's possessions truly his own. On the other hand he did not give people absolute freedom in drawing up their bequests, but prohibited those made under the influence of sickness or drugs or imprisonment, or extorted by compulsion or by the pressure exerted by a wife. He considered very rightly and properly that to be persuaded against one's judgement was no better than to be coerced, and he rated fraud and compulsion, pleasure and pain in the same category, as being equally capable of upsetting a man's powers of reasoning. He also made a law which regulated women's appearances in public, as well as their mourning and their festivals, and put an end to wild and disorderly behaviour. When women went out of doors, they were not allowed to wear more than three garments, or to carry more than an obol's worth of food or drink, or a basket more than eighteen inches high, or to travel at night except in a wagon with a lamp in front of it Besides this he abolished the practice of lacerating the flesh at funerals, of reciting set dirges, and of lamenting any person at the funeral ceremonies of another.[27] People were also forbidden to sacrifice an ox at the graveside, or to bury their dead with more than three changes of clothing, or to visit the tombs of others besides their own family except at the time of burial. Most of these practices are forbidden by our own laws in Chaeronea, but ours also provide that offenders shall be punished by the board of censors for women for weak and unmanly behaviour, and for carrying their mourning to extravagant lengths.

22. Solon observed that the city was filling up with people who now poured into Attica in a steady stream from every quarter because of the security of conditions there; at the same time he recognized that the country was for the most part poor and unproductive, and that seafaring peoples elsewhere are not in the habit of sending their goods to those who have nothing to offer in exchange. He therefore encouraged the Athenians to turn to the arts of manufacture and made a law that no son was obliged to support his father unless he had first been taught a trade. Now the problems which faced Lycurgus had been quite different. His country had no large influx of foreigners. and the territory it possessed was in Euripides' words

ample for a great people
With space enough, indeed, for twice as many.

Above all there was the great mass of Helots spread over the whole of Sparta, whom it was considered best to keep constantly employed so as to crush their spirit by perpetual toil and hardship. So it was all very well for Lycurgus to exempt his citizens from laborious or mechanical occupations and concentrate their attention exclusively upon fighting, giving them this one profession to learn and practice. But in Solon's case he had to make his laws conform to the situation, rather than the situation to the laws; he saw that the soil of Attica could yield no more than a bare subsistence to those who tilled it and could never support an idle and leisured proletariat, and so he set about investing the various trades with dignity and ordered the Council of the Areopagus to inquire into every man's means of livelihood and to punish those who had no occupation.

He took an even harsher step, so Heracleides of Pontus tells us, when he exempted illegitimate sons from the obligation of supporting their fathers. But we should remember that the man who chooses to disregard the honourable state of marriage is plainly taking to himself a woman, not for the sake of rearing a family but simply to indulge his own pleasure; this is his reward, and in dealing with his children he has left himself without a leg to stand on, since he has made them ashamed of having been born.

23. In general, however, Solon's laws concerning women seem incongruous to a degree. For example, he made it illegal to kill any adulterer who was caught in the act, but the offence of rape against a free woman was punished by a fine of no more than 100 drachmae. If the man seduced her, he would be fined twenty drachmae, except in the case of women who openly sell their bodies, courtesans, that is to say, for they come without any concealment to those who pay them. He also made it illegal for a man to sell his daughter or sister, unless he discovered that she was no longer a virgin. But it is surely quite absurd that the same offence should be treated in the one case with the most remorseless severity and in the other with the most genial tolerance, by the imposition of nothing more than a nominal fine, unless possibly money was so short in the city at that time that the difficulty of raising it made these penalties heavy. At any rate in the valuations which were drawn up for sacrifices, a sheep and a bushel of grain were reckoned at one drachma; a prize of 100 drachmae was awarded to a victor at the Isthmian games and one of 500 to a victor at Olympia. Five drachmae was the reward for anyone who brought in a wolf and one for a wolf cub, and Demetrius of Phaleron records that these were also the prices for an ox and a sheep respectively. The prices for choice victims which Solon lays down in his sixteenth table are naturally many times higher than those paid for ordinary beasts, but even so they are low compared with the prices of today. The Athenians from time immemorial had waged an unrelenting war against the wolf, because their lands were better suited for pasture than for arable farming. Some authorities say that the four Athenian tribes derive their names not from the sons of Ion, but from the various classes into which their occupations were divided. Thus the fighting men were named Hoplites, the craftsmen Ergadeis, and of the remaining two the farmers were called Gelontes and the shepherds and herdsmen Aigikoreis.

Attica cannot rely for her water upon rivers that flow all the year round, or upon lakes or abundant springs, but most of it comes from artificial wells. Solon therefore made a law that wherever there was a public well within a distance of half a mile, everyone should use that, but if the distance was greater they should dig one for themselves. But if, after digging to a depth of ten fathoms on their own land they still could not strike water, they were allowed to fill a vessel of six gallons twice a day at their neighbour's well, for Solon thought it his duty to help those in real need, but not to encourage the idle. The regulations which he laid down for the planting of trees also display an expert knowledge: nobody was allowed to plant a tree in a field within five feet of his neighbour's land, or within nine feet in the case of an olive or a fig tree. These spread their roots out farther and cannot be planted close to some trees without damaging them, because they absorb their nourishment and also give off a harmful exhalation. Anybody who wished to dig trenches or pits had to do so at a distance from his neighbour's land equivalent to their own depth, and bee hives were to be placed at least 300 feet away from those of another owner.

24. Oil was the only product of Attica which Solon allowed to be exported, and he decreed that any offender against this regulation should be solemnly cursed by the archon, or else should pay 100 drachmae to the public treasury. This law is inscribed upon the first of his tables, so that there seems to be some evidence for the tradition that the export of figs was prohibited in ancient times, and that those who exposed or informed against such exporters were called sycophants, or 'fig declarers'. He also made a law to deal with injuries suffered from beasts, which included an ingenious safety device whereby a dog which had bitten anybody must have a collar and a pole three feet long fastened to it and be delivered up to the injured party.

His law concerning naturalized citizens is a surprising one, because it granted naturalization only to those who had been permanently exiled from their own country, or who had emigrated with their families to Athens to practice a trade. Solon's object here, we are told, was not so much to discourage other types of immigrant as to invite these particular categories to Athens with the assurance that they could become citizens there. He also judged that one could safely rely on the loyalty of men who had been compelled to leave their country, and also of those who had left it with a definite end in view. Another characteristic item in Solon's legislation dealt with attendance at the public table, which was maintained in the Prytaneum; his word for the practice of eating there was parasitein. He did not allow the same person to dine there often, but on the other hand those who failed to attend when it was their duty to do so were punished. He regarded the behaviour of the first as grasping and of the second as showing contempt for the public interest.

25. All his laws were to remain in force for a hundred years, and they were inscribed upon axones, or wooden tablets which revolved with the rectangular frames containing them. Some small remains of these were still preserved in the Prytaneum in Athens in my time, and according to Aristotle they were known as kurbeis. There is also a passage somewhere in Cratinus the comic poet:

By Solon and by Draco I give my word
Whose tablets [
kurbeis] now are used to heat our barleycorns.

There are some writers, however, who say that the word kurbeis only belongs, strictly speaking, to those tablets which are concerned with sacred rites and sacrifices, and that the rest are called axones.

However this may be, the whole Council took a collective oath to ratify Solon's laws and each of the Thesmothetae, or guardians of the statutes, took a separate oath by the herald's stone in the market place, where each man swore that if he offended against these laws in any way he would dedicate to Delphi a golden statue of the same weight as himself

Solon had taken note of the irregularity of the months and of the fact that the orbit of the moon is not exactly synchronized with the rising and setting of the sun, but that it often overtakes and passes the sun on the same day. He therefore decreed that that day should be carted the Old and the New, and that the part of it which had elapsed before the conjunction of the two should belong to the old month and the remainder to the month just beginning. He was thus apparently the first to interpret correctly the verse in the Odyssey which refers to a day when

The old month is ending and the new beginning

and the following day he called the first of the month. After the twentieth of the month he did not reckon the days forwards but backwards, by subtracting them from thirty in a descending scale on the same principle as the waining phases of the moon.

Once Solon's laws had been put into effect, people came to visit him every day, praising some of them and finding fault with others, or advising him to insert a certain provision here or to take out another there. A great many wanted to ask questions and cross examine him on points of detail, and they kept pressing him to explain what was the object of this or that regulation. Solon saw that it was out of the question to meet such demands, but also that he would earn great ill will if he turned them all down. He was anxious to disengage himself from these complications and thus escape the faultfinding and the captious criticism of his fellow countrymen, for as he remarks himself

In great affairs you cannot please all parties.

So he made his commercial interests as a ship owner an excuse to travel and salted away after obtaining leave of absence for ten years from the Athenians, in the hope that during this period they would become accustomed to his laws.

26. He went first of all to Egypt and stayed for awhile, as he mentions himself:

Where the Nile pours forth
Its waters by the shore of Canopus.

He also spent some time studying and discussing philosophy with Psenophis of Heliopolis and Sonchis of Sais, who were the most learned of the Egyptian priests. According to Plato it was from them that he heard the legend of the lost continent of Atlantis, which he tried to introduce to the Greeks in the form of a poem. After this he salted to Cyprus, where he was particularly warmly welcomed by Philocyprus, one of the local sovereigns. He was the ruler of a small city, founded by Demophon, the son of Theseus, and situated near the river Clarius. It was strongly placed for defence, but was inconvenient in other respects and possessed poor soil. Solon therefore persuaded him to transplant his people to the smiling plain which lay below, and build there a pleasanter and more spacious city. He stayed there himself, supervised the founding of the new city and helped to plan it in the most effective fashion, from the point of view of its amenities as well as its defence. The result was that many colonists flocked to Philocyprus, and he became the envy of the neighbouring kings. Because of this he paid Solon the honour of giving the city, which had previously been known as Aipeia, the new name of Soli. Solon himself refers to the founding of this place in the elegiac verses in which he addresses Philocyprus:

Long may you reign here over the Solii
And dwell in this city, you and your posterity.
As for me, let Cypris of the violet crown
Guide me to a safe voyage in my swift ship
As we sail away from her island, famed in story;
Let her bless and glorify your new founded city
And grant me a happy return to my own country.

27. As for his meeting with Croesus, there have been various attempts to prove on the grounds of chronology that this must have been an invention. However, when a story is so celebrated and is vouched for by so many authorities and, more important still, when it is so much in keeping with Solon's character and bears the stamp of his wisdom and greatness of mind, I cannot agree that it should be rejected because of the so called rules of chronology, which innumerable authors have continued to revise, without ever being able to this day to reconcile their inconsistencies. At any rate the story goes that Solon came to visit Sardis at Croesus's invitation, and there experienced much the same feeling as a man from the interior of a country travelling to the coast for the first time, who supposes that each river, as it comes into sight, must be the sea itself. In the same way Solon, as he walked through the court and saw many of the king's courtiers richly dressed and swaggering about amid a crowd of guards and attendants, thought that each of them must be Croesus, until he was brought to the king himself, whom he found decked out in jewels, dyed robes, and gold ornaments of the greatest splendour, extravagance, and rarity, so as to present a gorgeous and imposing spectacle. Solon, however, as he stood in his presence, neither showed any surprise at what he saw, nor paid any of the compliments Croesus had expected; indeed, he made it clear to those who had eyes to see that he despised such lack of taste and petty ostentation. The king then commanded that his treasure chambers should be thrown open and his guest conducted on a tour of his magnificent household and his other luxuries. There was no need for this, since the sight of Croesus himself was enough to enable Solon to judge his character. However, when he had seen everything and was again brought before the king, Croesus asked him whether he had ever known anyone more fortunate than he. Solon said that he had, and mentioned the name of Tellus, a fellow Athenian. Tellus, he went on to explain, was an honest man, he had left behind him children who upheld his good name, he had passed his life without ever being in serious want, and he had ended it by dying gloriously in battle for his country. By this time Croesus had already come to regard Solon as an eccentric and uncouth individual, since he evidently did not regard a fortune in gold and silver as the criterion of happiness, but found more to admire in the life and death of an obscure private citizen than in all this parade of power and sovereignty. In spite of this he asked Solon a second time whether, after Tellus, he knew of any man more fortunate than himself. Solon again replied that he did, and named Cleobis and Biton, two men who had no equals in brotherly affection and in their devotion to their mother. Once, he told Croesus, when the carriage in which she was riding was delayed by the oxen, they harnessed themselves to the yoke and pulled her to the temple of Hera. All the citizens congratulated her and she was overjoyed, and then, after they had sacrificed and drunk wine, the two young men lay down and never rose again, but were found to have died a painless and untroubled death with their honours fresh upon them. By this time Croesus had lost his temper and burst out: 'So you do not include me among those who are happy at all?' Solon had no desire to flatter the king, but he did not wish to exasperate him further, and so he replied: 'King of the Lydians, the gods have given us Greeks only a moderate share of their blessings, and in the same way our wisdom is also a moderate affair, a cautious habit of mind, I suppose, which appeals to common people, not a regal or magnificent one. This instinct of ours tells us that human life is subject to innumerable shifts of fortune and forbids us to take pride in the good things of the present, or to admire a man's prosperity while there is still time for it to change. The future bears down upon each one of us with all the hazards of the unknown, and we can only count a man happy when the gods have granted him good fortune to the end. To congratulate a man on his happiness while he is still living and contending with all the perils of the mortal state is like proclaiming an athlete the victor and crowning him before the contest is decided; there is no certainty in the verdict and it may be reversed at any moment.' After delivering this warning, Solon took his leave. He had annoyed Croesus, but left him none the wiser.

28. It so happened that Aesop the writer of fables was in Sardis at that time, as Croesus had invited him and treated him with great honour. He was upset to hear that Solon had been so ungraciously received and offered him some advice. 'I suppose, Solon,' he remarked, 'when we talk to kings, we should tell them either as little as possible, or else what they most want to be told.' 'Not at all,' resorted Solon, 'either as little as possible, or else what they most need to be told.'

At that time, Croesus held an extremely low opinion of Solon. But later there came his struggle with Cyrus, at the end of which he was defeated in battle, his city captured, and he himself taken alive and condemned to be burned. The moment came when he lay in chains on the pyre, with Cyrus and all the Persians looking on, and then he cried out three times at the top of his voice, 'Solon, Solon, Solon!' Cyrus was astonished and sent men to ask him what man or god this Solon could be, that anyone in his hour of trial should call on him alone. Croesus then related the whole story and said: 'This man was one of the sages of Greece, and I sent for him not out of any desire to listen, or to learn the things I most needed to know, but to make him see and afterwards bear witness to the prosperity I enjoyed in those days. I know now that it is a greater calamity to lose that good fortune than it ever was a blessing to possess it. When it was mine, the only profit I had from it was fame and the opinion of others, but to have lost it has brought on me sufferings and afflictions that are only too real. It was Solon who foresaw then the shape of all that has come to pass, and who told me to look to the end of my life and not to put my trust or exult in uncertainties.'

All this was reported to Cyrus, and because he was a wiser man than Croesus, and saw in the example before him the very embodiment of Solon's words, he not only released Croesus but treated him with honour as long as he lived. In this way Solon earned the reputation of rescuing one king and educating another by means of a single speech.

29. While Solon was abroad, however, the people of Athens once more broke up into contending parties. The men of the Plain were led by Lycurgus, those of the Shore by Megacles the son of Alcmaeon, and those of the Hill by Pisistratus. His party included the mass of the Thetes, who held deeply felt grievances against the rich. The consequence of all this was that although Solon's laws were still in force, everybody expected a revolution to break out and wanted a different form of government. None of the parties thought of an equitable settlement, but each counted upon improving its position and overwhelming its opponents. This was the situation when Solon arrived back in Athens. Everyone revered and honoured him, but because of his years he no longer had the strength or the desire to speak and take an active part in public life as before. However, he had private conferences with the opposing party leaders and tried to reconcile them and bring them together, and on these occasions Pisistratus seemed more amenable than the others. He had a smooth and disarming manner of address, he was a great friend to the poor and behaved with reason and moderation even in his quarrels. He was able to simulate those virtues which nature had denied him so impressively that he won more credit than those who actually possessed them. Besides this he had the reputation of being a cautious and law abiding man, who set great store by equality and would not tolerate any attempt to upset the existing order or introduce changes into it. He completely deceived most people on these points, but Solon quickly discerned his true character and was the first man to detect his insidious plans. He did not, however, openly break with him, but tried to soften his disposition and influence him with advice. He went so far as to tell Pisistratus and others that if he could only rid himself of his passion to dominate and be cured of his craving for absolute power, there would be no more excellent citizen, nor one more naturally inclined to virtue in all Athens.

At this time Thespis was beginning to develop performances of tragedy and the novelty of his enterprise attracted most of the city to watch, although it had not yet been made the object of a regular competition. Solon had always been a good listener and ready to learn something new, and now in his old age had become even fonder of leisure and entertainment, and for that matter of wine and song, too, and so he went to watch Thespis act in his own play, as the ancient poets usually did. After the performance was over, he went up to Thespis and asked him whether he was not ashamed to tell such lies in front of so many people. When Thespis replied that there was no harm in speaking or acting in this way in make believe, Solon struck the ground angrily with his staff and exclaimed, 'Yes, but if we allow ourselves to praise and honour make believe like this, the next thing will be to find it creeping into our serious business.'

30. The day came when Pisistratus deliberately wounded himself, drove into the market place in a chariot and tried to rouse the people with the story that his enemies had organized a conspiracy to murder him because of his political programme. A crowd of sympathizers was beginning to utter angry shouts in his favour, when Solon approached them and said to him, 'Son of Hippocrates, this is not the way to play Homer's Odysseus. When he wounded himself, it was to deceive his enemies, the Trojans, but you are doing it to mislead your fellow citizens!' Because of Pisistratus's trick, the people were ready to take up arms for him and they held a general meeting of the Assembly, at which Ariston moved that Pisistratus should be granted a bodyguard of fifty men armed with clubs. Solon formally opposed the motion and used many of the arguments one can find in his poems,

You hang upon the words of a crafty man

and again

When you are managing your own affairs,
Each of you is as clever as a fox on the run,
But as soon as you come together, you lose your wits.

At length, however, Solon saw that the poorer classes were thoroughly roused and were determined to support Pisistratus, while the rich were too frightened to make any kind of stand against him. So he left the Assembly with a parting shot to the effect that he possessed more sense than the one party and more courage than the other; he was wiser than those who could not see through the plot, and braver than those who, although they were not taken in, were afraid to stand up to a tyrant. So the people passed the decree and did not place any strict limit on the size of Pisistratus's bodyguard, but allowed him to keep as many men as he liked and to march them about in public, until finally he seized the Acropolis.

When this had happened and the city was in an uproar, Megacles immediately fled from Attica with the rest of the Alcmaeonidae. Solon, on the other hand, although he was by now a very old man and had no supporters, came to the market place and harangued the citizens. He began by blaming them for their stupidity and cowardice and went on to put heart into them and appeal to them not to surrender their liberty. It was on this occasion, too, that he uttered the famous remark that it would have been easier at an earlier stage to forestall the tyranny while it was still being hatched, but that it was an even greater and nobler task to destroy it now that it was already established and fully grown. However, as no one had the courage to rally behind him, he retired to his own house, took out his arms and pieced them in the street in front of his door, declaring, 'I have done all that was in my power to help my country and uphold its laws.'

Henceforth he lived in retirement, and when his friends begged him to leave Athens, he took no notice of them, but continued to write poems, in which he poured reproaches upon the Athenians:

If you are suffering now through your own cowardice,
You should blame yourselves and not the gods for this.
No one but you has made the tyrant strong
And that is why you are all slaves today.

31. Many people warned him that the tyrant would kill him for these words, and when they asked him what gave him the confidence to throw all caution to the winds in this way, he answered, 'My old age.' But, in fact, once Pisistratus had established his position, he went out of his way to cultivate Solon. He treated him with kindness and respect and invited him to his house, until Solon actually became his adviser and approved many of his measures. He retained most of Solon's laws, observed them himself and obliged his friends to do the same. For example, after he had become tyrant he was summoned to stand trial before the Areopagus on a charge of murder, and duly pre sented himself there to make his defence, but his accuser did not appear. He also added a number of laws of his own, one of which provides that all those who have been disabled in war shall be maintained by the state. However, Heraclides of Pontus tells us that Solon had already passed a decree to this effect for the benefit of a disabled man named Thersippus, and that Pisistratus was merely following his example. But, according to Theophrastus, it was Pisistratus, not Solon, who devised the law against unemployment, which made the city more peaceful and the countryside more productive.

Solon also attempted to write a long poem dealing with the story or legend of the lost Atlantis, because the subject, according to what he had heard from the learned men of Sais in Egypt, had a special connexion with Athens. He finally abandoned it, however, not, as Plato suggests, for lack of time, but rather because of his age and his fear that the task would be too much for him. Certainly, as far as leisure is concerned, his own verses tell us that he had plenty of it:

I never cease to learn as I grow old

and again

But now I love the works of the Cyprian goddess
And the blessings of Dionysus and of the Muses
Which give delight to men.

32. Plato was particularly ambitious to create an elaborate masterpiece out of the subject of Atalntis, as if it were a site on some fine estate, which was still unbuilt on, but to which he had a special claim by virtue of his connexion with Solon, and he began the task by laying out great porches and enclosures and courtyards on a magnificent scale, such as no story or myth or poetic creation had ever received before. But he was late in beginning and the task proved too long for his lifetime, so that the more we enjoy what he actually wrote, the more we must regret what he left undone. Like the greats shrine of Olympian Zeus among the temples of Athens, so many among the many beautiful works which Plato's vision conceived, the tale of the lost Atalntis is the only one to be left unfinished.
According to Heraclides of Pontus, Solon lived on for many years after Pisistratus had made himself tyrant, but Phanisas of Eresus maintains that he did not survive for more than two. Pisistratus first became tyrant during the archonship of Comeas, and Phanias states that Solon died in the archonship of Hegertratus, who succeeded Comeas. The story that his body was burned and the ashes scattered on the island of Salamis seems too strange to be regarded as anything but a legend, but it is recorded by a number of respectable authorities and even by Aristotle the philosopher.


Image and caption credit: Cartledge, ed., Cambridge Illustrated History of Ancient Greece (Cambridge, 1998) page 141.