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Athens: Its Rise and Fall, Complete
by Edward Bulwer-Lytton
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XIII. This spirit of innovation and discussion, which made the characteristic of the Greeks, is noted by Diodorus. "Unlike the Chaldaeans," he observes, "with whom philosophy is delivered from sire to son, and all other employment rejected by its cultivators, the Greeks come late to the science—take it up for a short time—desert it for a more active means of subsistence—and the few who surrender themselves wholly to it practise for gain, innovate the most important doctrines, pay no reverence to those that went before, create new sects, establish new theorems, and, by perpetual contradictions, entail perpetual doubts." Those contradictions and those doubts made precisely the reason why the Greeks became the tutors of the world!

There is another characteristic of the Greeks indicated by this remark of Diodorus. Their early philosophers, not being exempted from other employments, were not the mere dreamers of the closet and the cell. They were active, practical, stirring men of the world. They were politicians and moralists as well as philosophers. The practical pervaded the ideal, and was, in fact, the salt that preserved it from decay. Thus legislation and science sprung simultaneously into life, and the age of Solon is the age of Thales.

XIV. Of the seven wise men (if we accept that number) who flourished about the same period, six were rulers and statesmen. They were eminent, not as physical, but as moral, philosophers; and their wisdom was in their maxims and apothegms. They resembled in much the wary and sagacious tyrants of Italy in the middle ages—masters of men's actions by becoming readers of their minds. Of these seven, Periander of Corinth (began to reign B. C. 625, died B. C. 585) and Cleobulus of Lindus (fl. B. C. 586), tyrants in their lives, and cruel in their actions, were, it is said, disowned by the remaining five [188]. But goodness is not the necessary consequence of intellect, and, despite their vices, these princes deserved the epithet of wise. Of Cleobulus we know less than of Periander; but both governed with prosperity, and died in old age. If we except Pisistratus, Periander was the greatest artist of all that able and profound fraternity, who, under the name of tyrants, concentred the energies of their several states, and prepared the democracies by which they were succeeded. Periander's reputed maxims are at variance with his practice; they breathe a spirit of freedom and a love of virtue which may render us suspicious of their authenticity—the more so as they are also attributed to others. Nevertheless, the inconsistency would be natural, for reason makes our opinions, and circumstance shapes our actions. "A democracy is better than a tyranny," is an aphorism imputed to Periander: but when asked why he continued tyrant, he answered, "Because it is dangerous willingly to resist, or unwillingly to be deposed." His principles were republican, his position made him a tyrant. He is said to have fallen into extreme dejection in his old age; perhaps because his tastes and his intellect were at war with his life. Chilo, the Lacedaemonian ephor, is placed also among the seven. His maxims are singularly Dorian—they breathe reverence of the dead and suspicion of the living. "Love," he said (if we may take the authority of Aulus Gellius, fl. B. C. 586), "as if you might hereafter hate, and hate as if you might hereafter love." Another favourite sentence of his was, "to a surety loss is at hand." [189] A third, "we try gold by the touchstone. Gold is the touchstone of the mind." Bias, of Priene in Ionia, is quoted, in Herodotus, as the author of an advice to the Ionians to quit their country, and found a common city in Sardinia (B. C. 586). He seems to have taken an active part in all civil affairs. His reputed maxims are plain and homely—the elementary principles of morals. Mitylene in Lesbos boasted the celebrated Pittacus (began to govern B. C. 589, resigned 579, died 569). He rose to the tyranny of the government by the free voice of the people; enjoyed it ten years, and voluntarily resigned it, as having only borne the dignity while the state required the direction of a single leader. It was a maxim with him, for which he is reproved by Plato, "That to be good is hard." His favourite precept was, "Know occasion:" and this he amplified in another (if rightly attributed to him), "To foresee and prevent dangers is the province of the wise—to direct them when they come, of the brave."

XV. Of Solon, the greatest of the seven, I shall hereafter speak at length. I pass now to Thales (born B. C. 639);—the founder of philosophy, in its scientific sense—the speculative in contradistinction to the moral: Although an ardent republican, Thales alone, of the seven sages, appears to have led a private and studious life. He travelled, into Crete, Asia, and at a later period into Egypt. According to Laertius, Egypt taught him geometry. He is supposed to have derived his astrological notions from Phoenicia. But this he might easily have done without visiting the Phoenician states. Returning to Miletus, he obtained his title of Wise [190]. Much learning has been exhausted upon his doctrines to very little purpose. They were of small value, save as they led to the most valuable of all philosophies—that of experiment. They were not new probably even in Greece [191], and of their utility the following brief sketch will enable the reader to judge for himself.

He maintained that water, or rather humidity, was the origin of all things, though he allowed mind or intellect (nous) to be the impelling principle. And one of his arguments in favour of humidity, as rendered to us by Plutarch and Stobaeus, is pretty nearly as follows: —"Because fire, even in the sun and the stars, is nourished by vapours proceeding from humidity,—and therefore the whole world consists of the same." Of the world, he supposed the whole to be animated by, and full of, the Divinity—its Creator—that in it was no vacuum—that matter was fluid and variable. [192]

He maintained the stars and sun to be earthly, and the moon of the same nature as the sun, but illumined by it. Somewhat more valuable would appear to have been his geometrical science, could we with accuracy attribute to Thales many problems claimed also, and more probably, by Pythagoras and later reasoners. He is asserted to have measured the pyramids by their shadows. He cultivated astronomy and astrology; and Laertius declares him to have been the first Greek that foretold eclipses. The yet higher distinction has been claimed for Thales of having introduced among his countrymen the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. But this sublime truth, though connected with no theory of future rewards and punishments, was received in Greece long before his time. Perhaps, however, as the expressions of Cicero indicate, Thales might be the first who attempted to give reasons for what was believed. His reasons were, nevertheless, sufficiently crude and puerile; and having declared it the property of the soul to move itself, and other things, he was forced to give a soul to the loadstone, because it moved iron!

These fantastic doctrines examined, and his geometrical or astronomical discoveries dubious, it may be asked, what did Thales effect for philosophy? Chiefly this: he gave reasons for opinions—he aroused the dormant spirit of inquiry—he did for truths what the legislators of his age did for the people—left them active and stirring to free and vigorous competition. He took Wisdom out of despotism, and placed her in a republic—he was in harmony with the great principle of his age, which was investigation, and not tradition; and thus he became the first example of that great truth— that to think freely is the first step to thinking well. It fortunately happened, too, that his moral theories, however inadequately argued upon, were noble and exalting. He contended for the providence of a God, as well as for the immortality of man. He asserted vice to be the most hateful, virtue the most profitable of all things [193]. He waged war on that vulgar tenacity of life which is the enemy to all that is most spiritual and most enterprising in our natures, and maintained that between life and death there is no difference—the fitting deduction from a belief in the continuous existence of the soul [194]. His especial maxim was the celebrated precept, "Know thyself." His influence was vigorous and immediate. How far he created philosophy may be doubtful, but he created philosophers. From the prolific intelligence which his fame and researches called into being, sprang a new race of thoughts, which continued in unbroken succession until they begat descendants illustrious and immortal. Without the hardy errors of Thales, Socrates might have spent his life in spoiling marble, Plato might have been only a tenth-rate poet, and Aristotle an intriguing pedagogue.

XVI. With this I close my introductory chapters, and proceed from dissertation into history;—pleased that our general survey of Greece should conclude with an acknowledgment of our obligations to the Ionian colonies. Soon, from the contemplation of those enchanting climes; of the extended commerce and the brilliant genius of the people—the birthplace of the epic and the lyric muse, the first home of history, of philosophy, of art;—soon, from our survey of the rise and splendour of the Asiatic Ionians, we turn to the agony of their struggles—the catastrophe of their fall. Those wonderful children of Greece had something kindred with the precocious intellect that is often the hectic symptom of premature decline. Originating, advancing nearly all which the imagination or the reason can produce, while yet in that social youth which promised a long and a yet more glorious existence—while even their great parent herself had scarcely emerged from the long pupilage of nations, they fell into the feebleness of age! Amid the vital struggles, followed by the palsied and prostrate exhaustion of her Ionian children, the majestic Athens suddenly arose from the obscurity of the past to an empire that can never perish, until heroism shall cease to warm, poetry to delight, and wisdom to instruct the future.



BOOK II.

FROM THE LEGISLATION OF SOLON TO THE BATTLE OF MARATHON, B. C. 594-490.



CHAPTER I.

The Conspiracy of Cylon.—Loss of Salamis.—First Appearance of Solon.—Success against the Megarians in the Struggle for Salamis.— Cirrhaean War.—Epimenides.—Political State of Athens.—Character of Solon.—His Legislation.—General View of the Athenian Constitution.

I. The first symptom in Athens of the political crisis (B. C. 621) which, as in other of the Grecian states, marked the transition of power from the oligarchic to the popular party, may be detected in the laws of Draco. Undue severity in the legislature is the ordinary proof of a general discontent: its success is rarely lasting enough to confirm a government—its failure, when confessed, invariably strengthens a people. Scarcely had these laws been enacted (B. C. 620) when a formidable conspiracy broke out against the reigning oligarchy [195]. It was during the archonship of Megacles (a scion of the great Alcmaeonic family, which boasted its descent from Nestor) that the aristocracy was menaced by the ambition of an aristocrat.

Born of an ancient and powerful house, and possessed of considerable wealth, Cylon, the Athenian, conceived the design of seizing the citadel, and rendering himself master of the state. He had wedded the daughter of Theagenes, tyrant of Megara, and had raised himself into popular reputation several years before, by a victory in the Olympic games (B. C. 640). The Delphic oracle was supposed to have inspired him with the design; but it is at least equally probable that the oracle was consulted after the design had been conceived. The divine voice declared that Cylon should occupy the citadel on the greatest festival of Jupiter. By the event it does not appear, however, that he selected the proper occasion. Taking advantage of an Olympic year, when many of the citizens were gone to the games, and assisted with troops by his father-in-law, he seized the citadel. Whatever might have been his hopes of popular support—and there is reason to believe that he in some measure calculated upon it—the time was evidently unripe for the convulsion, and the attempt was unskilfully planned. The Athenians, under Megacles and the other archons, took the alarm, and in a general body blockaded the citadel. But they grew weary of the length of the siege; many of them fell away, and the contest was abandoned to the archons, with full power to act according to their judgment. So supine in defence of the liberties of the state are a people who have not yet obtained liberty for themselves!

II. The conspirators were reduced by the failure of food and water. Cylon and his brother privately escaped. Of his adherents, some perished by famine, others betook themselves to the altars in the citadel, claiming, as suppliants, the right of sanctuary. The guards of the magistrates, seeing the suppliants about to expire from exhaustion, led them from the altar and put them to death. But some of the number were not so scrupulously slaughtered—massacred around the altars of the furies. The horror excited by a sacrilege so atrocious, may easily be conceived by those remembering the humane and reverent superstition of the Greeks:—the indifference of the people to the contest was changed at once into detestation of the victors. A conspiracy, hitherto impotent, rose at once into power by the circumstances of its defeat. Megacles—his whole house—all who had assisted in the impiety, were stigmatized with the epithet of "execrable." The faction, or friends of Cylon, became popular from the odium of their enemies—the city was distracted by civil commotion—by superstitious apprehensions of the divine anger—and, as the excesses of one party are the aliment of the other, so the abhorrence of sacrilege effaced the remembrance of a treason.

III. The petty state of Megara, which, since the earlier ages, had, from the dependant of Athens, grown up to the dignity of her rival, taking advantage of the internal dissensions in the latter city, succeeded in wresting from the Athenian government the Isle of Salamis. It was not, however, without bitter and repeated struggles that Athens at last submitted to the surrender of the isle. But, after signal losses and defeats, as nothing is ever more odious to the multitude than unsuccessful war, so the popular feeling was such as to induce the government to enact a decree, by which it was forbidden, upon pain of death, to propose reasserting the Athenian claims. But a law, evidently the offspring of a momentary passion of disgust or despair, and which could not but have been wrung with reluctance from a government, whose conduct it tacitly arraigned, and whose military pride it must have mortified, was not likely to bind, for any length of time, a gallant aristocracy and a susceptible people. Many of the younger portion of the community, pining at the dishonour of their country, and eager for enterprise, were secretly inclined to countenance any stratagem that might induce the reversal of the decree.

At this time there went a report through the city, that a man of distinguished birth, indirectly descended from the last of the Athenian kings, had incurred the consecrating misfortune of insanity. Suddenly this person appeared in the market-place, wearing the peculiar badge that distinguished the sick [196]. His friends were, doubtless, well prepared for his appearance—a crowd, some predisposed to favour, others attracted by curiosity, were collected round him— and, ascending to the stone from which the heralds made their proclamations, he began to recite aloud a poem upon the loss of Salamis, boldly reproving the cowardice of the people, and inciting them again to war. His supposed insanity protected him from the law— his rank, reputation, and the circumstance of his being himself a native of Salamis, conspired to give his exhortations a powerful effect, and the friends he had secured to back his attempt loudly proclaimed their applauding sympathy with the spirit of the address. The name of the pretended madman was Solon, son of Execestides, the descendant of Codrus.

Plutarch (followed by Mr. Milford, Mr. Thirlwall, and other modern historians) informs us that the celebrated Pisistratus then proceeded to exhort the assembly, and to advocate the renewal of the war—an account that is liable to this slight objection, that Pisistratus at that time was not born! [197]

IV. The stratagem and the eloquence of Solon produced its natural effect upon his spirited and excitable audience, and the public enthusiasm permitted the oligarchical government to propose and effect the repeal of the law [198]. An expedition was decreed and planned, and Solon was invested with its command. It was but a brief struggle to recover the little island of Salamis: with one galley of thirty oars and a number of fishing-craft, Solon made for Salamis, took a vessel sent to reconnoitre by the Megarians, manned it with his own soldiers, who were ordered to return to the city with such caution as might prevent the Megarians discovering the exchange, on board, of foes for friends; and then with the rest of his force he engaged the enemy by land, while those in the ship captured the city. In conformity with this version of the campaign (which I have selected in preference to another recorded by Plutarch), an Athenian ship once a year passed silently to Salamis—the inhabitants rushed clamouring down to meet it—an armed man leaped ashore, and ran shouting to the Promontory of Sciradium, near which was long existent a temple erected and dedicated to Mars by Solon.

But the brave and resolute Megarians were not men to be disheartened by a single reverse; they persisted in the contest—losses were sustained on either side, and at length both states agreed to refer their several claims on the sovereignty of the island to the decision of Spartan arbiters. And this appeal from arms to arbitration is a proof how much throughout Greece had extended that spirit of civilization which is but an extension of the sense of justice. Both parties sought to ground their claims upon ancient and traditional rights. Solon is said to have assisted the demand of his countrymen by a quotation, asserted to have been spuriously interpolated from Homer's catalogue of the ships, which appeared to imply the ancient connexion of Salamis and Athens (199); and whether or not this was actually done, the very tradition that it was done, nearly half a century before the first usurpation of Pisistratus, is a proof of the great authority of Homer in that age, and how largely the services rendered by Pisistratus, many years afterward, to the Homeric poems, have been exaggerated and misconstrued. The mode of burial in Salamis, agreeable to the custom of the Athenians and contrary to that of the Megarians, and reference to certain Delphic oracles, in which the island was called "Ionian," were also adduced in support of the Athenian claims. The arbitration of the umpires in favour of Athens only suspended hostilities; and the Megarians did not cease to watch (and shortly afterward they found) a fitting occasion to regain a settlement so tempting to their ambition.

V. The credit acquired by Solon in this expedition was shortly afterward greatly increased in the estimation of Greece. In the Bay of Corinth was situated a town called Cirrha, inhabited by a fierce and lawless race, who, after devastating the sacred territories of Delphi, sacrilegiously besieged the city itself, in the desire to possess themselves of the treasures which the piety of Greece had accumulated in the temple of Apollo. Solon appeared at the Amphictyonic council, represented the sacrilege of the Cirrhaeans, and persuaded the Greeks to arm in defence of the altars of their tutelary god. Clisthenes, the tyrant of Sicyon, was sent as commander-in-chief against the Cirrhaeans (B. C. 595); and (according to Plutarch) the records of Delphi inform us that Alcmaeon was the leader of the Athenians. The war was not very successful at the onset; the oracle of Apollo was consulted, and the answer makes one of the most amusing anecdotes of priestcraft. The besiegers were informed by the god that the place would not be reduced until the waves of the Cirrhaean Sea washed the territories of Delphi. The reply perplexed the army; but the superior sagacity of Solon was not slow in discovering that the holy intention of the oracle was to appropriate the land of the Cirrhaeans to the profit of the temple. He therefore advised the besiegers to attack and to conquer Cirrha, and to dedicate its whole territory to the service of the god. The advice was adopted—Cirrha was taken (B. C. 586); it became thenceforth the arsenal of Delphi, and the insulted deity had the satisfaction of seeing the sacred lands washed by the waves of the Cirrhaean Sea. An oracle of this nature was perhaps more effectual than the sword of Clisthenes in preventing future assaults on the divine city! The Pythian games commenced, or were revived, in celebration of this victory of the Pythian god.

VI. Meanwhile at Athens—the tranquillity of the state was still disturbed by the mortal feud between the party of Cylon and the adherents of the Alcmaeonidae—time only served to exasperate the desire of vengeance in the one, and increase the indisposition to justice in the other. Fortunately, however, the affairs of the state were in that crisis which is ever favourable to the authority of an individual. There are periods in all constitutions when, amid the excesses of factions, every one submits willingly to an arbiter. With the genius that might have made him the destroyer of the liberties of his country, Solon had the virtue to constitute himself their saviour. He persuaded the families stigmatized with the crime of sacrilege, and the epithet of "execrable," to submit to the forms of trial; they were impeached, judged, and condemned to exile; the bodies of those whom death had already summoned to a sterner tribunal were disinterred, and removed beyond the borders of Attica. Nevertheless, the superstitions of the people were unappeased. Strange appearances were beheld in the air, and the augurs declared that the entrails of the victims denoted that the gods yet demanded a fuller expiation of the national crime.

At this time there lived in Crete one of those remarkable men common to the early ages of the world, who sought to unite with the honours of the sage the mysterious reputation of the magician. Epimenides, numbered by some among the seven wise men, was revered throughout Greece as one whom a heavenlier genius animated and inspired. Devoted to poetry, this crafty impostor carried its prerogatives of fiction into actual life; and when he declared—in one of his verses, quoted by St. Paul in his Epistle to Titus—that "the Cretans were great liars," we have no reason to exempt the venerable accuser from his own unpatriotic reproach. Among the various legends which attach to his memory is a tradition that has many a likeness both in northern and eastern fable:—he is said to have slept forty-seven [200] years in a cave, and on his waking from that moderate repose, to have been not unreasonably surprised to discover the features of the country perfectly changed. Returning to Cnossus, of which he was a citizen, strange faces everywhere present themselves. At his father's door he is asked his business, and at length, with considerable difficulty. he succeeds in making himself known to his younger brother, whom he had left a boy, and now recognised in an old decrepit man. "This story," says a philosophical biographer, very gravely, "made a considerable sensation"—an assertion not to be doubted; but those who were of a more skeptical disposition, imagined that Epimenides had spent the years of his reputed sleep in travelling over foreign countries, and thus acquiring from men those intellectual acquisitions which he more piously referred to the special inspiration of the gods. Epimenides did not scruple to preserve the mysterious reputation he obtained from this tale by fables equally audacious. He endeavoured to persuade the people that he was Aeacus, and that he frequently visited the earth: he was supposed to be fed by the nymphs—was never seen to eat in public—he assumed the attributes of prophecy—and dying in extreme old age: was honoured by the Cretans as a god.

In addition to his other spiritual prerogatives, this reviler of "liars" boasted the power of exorcism; was the first to introduce into Greece the custom of purifying public places and private abodes, and was deemed peculiarly successful in banishing those ominous phantoms which were so injurious to the tranquillity of the inhabitants of Athens. Such a man was exactly the person born to relieve the fears of the Athenians, and accomplish the things dictated by the panting entrails of the sacred victims. Accordingly (just prior to the Cirrhaean war, B. C. 596), a ship was fitted out, in which an Athenian named Nicias was sent to Crete, enjoined to bring back the purifying philosopher, with all that respectful state which his celebrity demanded. Epimenides complied with the prayer of the Athenians he arrived at Athens, and completed the necessary expiation in a manner somewhat simple for so notable an exorcist. He ordered several sheep, some black and some white, to be turned loose in the Areopagus, directed them to be followed, and wherever they lay down, a sacrifice was ordained in honour of some one of the gods. "Hence," says the historian of the philosophers, "you may still see throughout Athens anonymous altars (i. e. altars uninscribed to a particular god), the memorials of that propitiation."

The order was obeyed—the sacrifice performed—and the phantoms were seen no more. Although an impostor, Epimenides was a man of sagacity and genius. He restrained the excess of funeral lamentation, which often led to unseasonable interruptions of business, and conduced to fallacious impressions of morality; and in return he accustomed the Athenians to those regular habits of prayer and divine worship, which ever tend to regulate and systematize the character of a people. He formed the closest intimacy with Solon, and many of the subsequent laws of the Athenian are said by Plutarch to have been suggested by the wisdom of the Cnossian sage. When the time arrived for the departure of Epimenides, the Athenians would have presented him with a talent in reward of his services, but the philosopher refused the offer; he besought the Athenians to a firm alliance with his countrymen; accepted of no other remuneration than a branch of the sacred olive which adorned the citadel, and was supposed the primeval gift of Minerva, and returned to his native city,—proving that a man in those days might be an impostor without seeking any other reward than the gratuitous honour of the profession.

VII. With the departure of Epimenides, his spells appear to have ceased; new disputes and new factions arose; and, having no other crimes to expiate, the Athenians fell with one accord upon those of the government. Three parties—the Mountaineers, the Lowlanders, and the Coastmen—each advocating a different form of constitution, distracted the state by a common discontent with the constitution that existed, the three parties, which, if we glance to the experience of modern times, we might almost believe that no free state can ever be without—viz., the respective advocates of the oligarchic, the mixed, and the democratic government. The habits of life ever produce among classes the political principles by which they are severally regulated. The inhabitants of the mountainous district, free, rude, and hardy, were attached to a democracy; the possessors of the plains were the powerful families who inclined to an oligarchy, although, as in all aristocracies, many of them united, but with more moderate views, in the measures of the democratic party; and they who, living by the coast, were engaged in those commercial pursuits which at once produce an inclination to liberty, yet a fear of its excess, a jealousy of the insolence of the nobles, yet an apprehension of the licentiousness of the mob, arrayed themselves in favour of that mixed form of government—half oligarchic and half popular—which is usually the most acceptable to the middle classes of an enterprising people. But there was a still more fearful division than these, the three legitimate parties, now existing in Athens: a division, not of principle, but of feeling—that menacing division which, like the cracks in the soil, portending earthquake, as it gradually widens, is the symptom of convulsions that level and destroy,—the division, in one word, of the rich and the poor—the Havenots and the Haves. Under an oligarchy, that most griping and covetous of all forms of government, the inequality of fortunes had become intolerably grievous; so greatly were the poor in debt to the rich, that [201] they were obliged to pay the latter a sixth of the produce of the land, or else to engage their personal labour to their creditors, who might seize their persons in default of payment. Some were thus reduced to slavery, others sold to foreigners. Parents disposed of their children to clear their debts, and many, to avoid servitude, in stealth deserted the land. But a large body of the distressed, men more sturdy and united, resolved to resist the iron pressure of the law: they formed the design of abolishing debts—dividing the land— remodelling the commonwealth: they looked around for a leader, and fixed their hopes on Solon. In the impatience of the poor, in the terror of the rich, liberty had lost its charms, and it was no uncommon nor partial hope that a monarchy might be founded on the ruins of an oligarchy already menaced with dissolution.

VIII. Solon acted during these disturbances with more than his usual sagacity, and therefore, perhaps, with less than his usual energy. He held himself backward and aloof, allowing either party to interpret, as it best pleased, ambiguous and oracular phrases, obnoxious to none, for he had the advantage of being rich without the odium of extortion, and popular without the degradation of poverty. "Phanias the Lesbian" (so states the biographer of Solon) "asserts, that to save the state he intrigued with both parties, promising to the poor a division of the lands, to the rich a confirmation of their claims;" an assertion highly agreeable to the finesse and subtlety of his character. Appearing loath to take upon himself the administration of affairs, it was pressed upon him the more eagerly; and at length he was elected to the triple office of archon, arbitrator, and lawgiver; the destinies of Athens were unhesitatingly placed within his hands; all men hoped from him all things; opposing parties concurred in urging him to assume the supreme authority of king; oracles were quoted in his favour, and his friends asserted, that to want the ambition of a monarch was to fail in the proper courage of a man. Thus supported, thus encouraged, Solon proceeded to his august and immortal task of legislation.

IX. Let us here pause to examine, by such light as is bequeathed us, the character of Solon. Agreeably to the theory of his favourite maxim, which made moderation the essence of wisdom, he seems to have generally favoured, in politics, the middle party, and, in his own actions, to have been singular for that energy which is the equilibrium of indifference and of rashness. Elevated into supreme and unquestioned power—urged on all sides to pass from the office of the legislator to the dignity of the prince—his ambition never passed the line which his virtue dictated to his genius. "Tyranny," said Solon, "is a fair field, but it has no outlet." A subtle, as well as a noble saying; it implies that he who has once made himself the master of the state has no option as to the means by which he must continue his power. Possessed of that fearful authority, his first object is to rule, and it becomes a secondary object to rule well. "Tyranny has, indeed, no outlet!" The few, whom in modern times we have seen endowed with a similar spirit of self-control, have attracted our admiration by their honesty rather than their intellect; and the skeptic in human virtue has ascribed the purity of Washington as much to the mediocrity of his genius as to the sincerity of his patriotism:—the coarseness of vulgar ambition can sympathize but little with those who refuse a throne. But in Solon there is no disparity between the mental and the moral, nor can we account for the moderation of his views by affecting doubt of the extent of his powers. His natural genius was versatile and luxuriant. As an orator, he was the first, according to Cicero, who originated the logical and brilliant rhetoric which afterward distinguished the Athenians. As a poet, we have the assurance of Plato that, could he have devoted himself solely to the art, even Homer would not have excelled him. And though these panegyrics of later writers are to be received with considerable qualification—though we may feel assured that Solon could never have been either a Demosthenes or a Homer, yet we have sufficient evidence in his history to prove him to have been eloquent—sufficient in the few remains of his verses to attest poetical talent of no ordinary standard. As a soldier, he seems to have been a dexterous master of the tactics of that primitive day in which military science consisted chiefly in the stratagems of a ready wit and a bold invention. As a negotiator, the success with which, out of elements so jarring and distracted, he created an harmonious system of society and law, is an unanswerable evidence not more of the soundness of his theories than of his practical knowledge of mankind. The sayings imputed to him which can be most reasonably considered authentic evince much delicacy of observation. Whatever his ideal of good government, he knew well that great secret of statesmanship, never to carry speculative doctrines too far beyond the reach of the age to which they are to be applied. Asked if he had given the Athenians the best of laws, his answer was, "The best laws they are capable of receiving." His legislation, therefore, was no vague collection of inapplicable principles. While it has been the origin of all subsequent law,—while, adopted by the Romans, it makes at this day the universal spirit which animates the codes and constitutions of Europe—it was moulded to the habits, the manners, and the condition of the people whom it was intended to enlighten, to harmonize, and to guide. He was no gloomy ascetic, such as a false philosophy produces, affecting the barren sublimity of an indolent seclusion; open of access to all, free and frank of demeanour, he found wisdom as much in the market-place as the cell. He aped no coxcombical contempt of pleasure, no fanatical disdain of wealth; hospitable, and even sumptuous, in his habits of life, he seemed desirous of proving that truly to be wise is honestly to enjoy. The fragments of his verses which have come down to us are chiefly egotistical: they refer to his own private sentiments, or public views, and inform us with a noble pride, "that, if reproached with his lack of ambition, he finds a kingdom in the consciousness of his unsullied name." With all these qualities, he apparently united much of that craft and spirit of artifice which, according to all history, sacred as well as profane, it was not deemed sinful in patriarch or philosopher to indulge. Where he could not win his object by reason, he could stoop to attain it by the affectation of madness. And this quality of craft was necessary perhaps, in that age, to accomplish the full utilities of his career. However he might feign or dissimulate, the end before him was invariably excellent and patriotic; and the purity of his private morals harmonized with that of his political ambition. What Socrates was to the philosophy of reflection, Solon was to the philosophy of action.

X. The first law that Solon enacted in his new capacity was bold and decisive. No revolution can ever satisfy a people if it does not lessen their burdens. Poverty disposes men to innovation only because innovation promises relief. Solon therefore applied himself resolutely, and at once, to the great source of dissension between the rich and the poor—namely, the enormous accumulation of debt which had been incurred by the latter, with slavery, the penalty of default. He induced the creditors to accept the compromise of their debts: whether absolutely cancelling the amount, or merely reducing the interest and debasing the coin, is a matter of some dispute; the greater number of authorities incline to the former supposition, and Plutarch quotes the words of Solon himself in proof of the bolder hypothesis, although they by no means warrant such an interpretation. And to remove for ever the renewal of the greatest grievance in connexion with the past distresses, he enacted a law that no man hereafter could sell himself in slavery for the discharge of a debt. Even such as were already enslaved were emancipated, and those sold by their creditors into foreign countries were ransomed, and restored to their native land, But, though (from the necessity of the times) Solon went to this desperate extent of remedy, comparable in our age only to the formal sanction of a national bankruptcy, he rejected with firmness the wild desire of a division of lands. There may be abuses in the contraction of debts which require far sterner alternatives than the inequalities of property. He contented himself in respect to the latter with a law which set a limit to the purchase of land—a theory of legislation not sufficiently to be praised, if it were possible to enforce it [202]. At first, these measures fell short of the popular expectation, excited by the example of Sparta into the hope of an equality of fortunes: but the reaction soon came. A public sacrifice was offered in honour of the discharge of debt, and the authority of the lawgiver was corroborated and enlarged. Solon was not one of those politicians who vibrate alternately between the popular and the aristocratic principles, imagining that the concession of to-day ought necessarily to father the denial of to-morrow. He knew mankind too deeply not to be aware that there is no statesman whom the populace suspect like the one who commences authority with a bold reform, only to continue it with hesitating expedients. His very next measure was more vigorous and more unexceptionable than the first. The evil of the laws of Draco was not that they were severe, but that they were inefficient. In legislation, characters of blood are always traced upon tablets of sand. With one stroke Solon annihilated the whole of these laws, with the exception of that (an ancient and acknowledged ordinance) which related to homicide; he affixed, in exchange, to various crimes—to theft, to rape, to slander, to adultery—punishments proportioned to the offence. It is remarkable that in the spirit of his laws he appealed greatly to the sense of honour and the fear of shame, and made it one of his severest penalties to be styled atimos or unhonoured—a theory that, while it suited the existent, went far to ennoble the future, character of the Athenians. In the same spirit the children of those who perished in war were educated at the public charge—arriving at maturity, they were presented with a suit of armour, settled in their respective callings, and honoured with principal seats in all public assemblies. That is a wise principle of a state which makes us grateful to its pensioners, and bids us regard in those supported at the public charge the reverent memorials of the public service [203]. Solon had the magnanimity to preclude, by his own hand, a dangerous temptation to his own ambition, and assigned death to the man who aspired to the sole dominion of the commonwealth. He put a check to the jobbing interests and importunate canvass of individuals, by allowing no one to propose a law in favour of a single person, unless he had obtained the votes of six thousand citizens; and he secured the quiet of a city exposed to the license of powerful factions, by forbidding men to appear armed in the streets, unless in cases of imminent exigence.

XI. The most memorable of Solon's sayings illustrates the theory of the social fabric he erected. When asked how injustice should be banished from a commonwealth, he answered, "by making all men interested in the injustice done to each;" an answer imbodying the whole soul of liberty. His innovations in the mere forms of the ancient constitution do not appear to have been considerable; he rather added than destroyed. Thus he maintained or revived the senate of the aristocracy; but to check its authority he created a people. The four ancient tribes [204], long subdivided into minor sections, were retained. Foreigners, who had transported for a permanence their property and families to Athens, and abandoned all connexion with their own countries, were admitted to swell the numbers of the free population. This made the constituent body. At the age of eighteen, each citizen was liable to military duties within the limits of Attica; at the age of twenty he attained his majority, and became entitled to a vote in the popular assembly, and to all the other rights of citizenship. Every free Athenian of the age of twenty was thus admitted to a vote in the legislature. But the possession of a very considerable estate was necessary to the attainment of the higher offices. Thus, while the people exercised universal suffrage in voting, the choice of candidates was still confined to an oligarchy. Four distinct ranks were acknowledged; not according, as hitherto, to hereditary descent, but the possession of property. They whose income yielded five hundred measures in any commodity, dry or liquid, were placed in the first rank, under the title of Pentacosiomedimnians. The second class, termed Hippeis, knights or horsemen, was composed of those whose estates yielded three hundred measures. Each man belonging to it was obliged to keep a horse for the public service, and to enlist himself, if called upon, in the cavalry of the military forces (the members of either of these higher classes were exempt, however, from serving on board ship, or in the infantry, unless intrusted with some command.) The third class was composed of those possessing two hundred [205] measures, and called Zeugitae; and the fourth and most numerous class comprehended, under the name of Thetes, the bulk of the non-enslaved working population, whose property fell short of the qualification required for the Zeugitae. Glancing over these divisions, we are struck by their similarity to the ranks among our own northern and feudal ancestry, corresponding to the nobles, the knights, the burgesses, and the labouring classes, which have so long made, and still constitute, the demarcations of society in modern Europe. The members of the first class were alone eligible to the highest offices as archons, those of the three first classes to the political assembly of the four hundred (which I shall presently describe), and to some minor magistracies; the members of the fourth class were excluded from all office, unless, as they voted in the popular assembly, they may be said to have had a share in the legislature, and to exercise, in extraordinary causes, judicial authority. At the same time no hereditary barrier excluded them from the hopes so dear to human aspirations. They had only to acquire the necessary fortune in order to enjoy the privileges of their superiors. And, accordingly, we find, by an inscription on the Acropolis, recorded in Pollux, that Anthemion, of the lowest class, was suddenly raised to the rank of knight. [206]

XII. We perceive, from these divisions of rank, that the main principle of Solon's constitution was founded, not upon birth, but wealth. He instituted what was called a timocracy, viz., an aristocracy of property; based upon democratic institutions of popular jurisdiction, election, and appeal. Conformably to the principle which pervades all states, that make property the qualification for office, to property the general taxation was apportioned. And this, upon a graduated scale, severe to the first class, and completely exonerating the lowest. The ranks of the citizens thus established, the constitution acknowledged three great councils or branches of legislature. The first was that of the venerable Areopagus. We have already seen that this institution had long existed among the Athenians; but of late it had fallen into some obscurity or neglect, and was not even referred to in the laws of Draco. Solon continued the name of the assembly, but remodelled its constitution. Anciently it had probably embraced all the Eupatrids. Solon defined the claims of the aspirants to that official dignity, and ordained that no one should be admitted to the areopagus who had not filled the situation of archon—an ordeal which implied not only the necessity of the highest rank, but, as I shall presently note, of sober character and unblemished integrity.

The remotest traditions clothed the very name of this assembly with majesty and awe. Holding their council on the sacred hill consecrated to Mars, fable asserted that the god of battle had himself been arraigned before its tribunal. Solon exerted his imagination to sustain the grandeur of its associations. Every distinction was lavished upon senators, who, in the spirit of his laws, could only pass from the temple of virtue to that of honour. Before their jurisdiction all species of crime might be arraigned—they had equal power to reward and to punish. From the guilt of murder to the negative offence of idleness [207], their control extended—the consecration of altars to new deities, the penalties affixed to impiety, were at their decision, and in their charge. Theirs was the illimitable authority to scrutinize the lives of men—they attended public meetings and solemn sacrifices, to preserve order by the majesty of their presence. The custody of the laws and the management of the public funds, the superintendence of the education of youth, were committed to their care. Despite their power, they interfered but little in the management of political affairs, save in cases of imminent danger. Their duties, grave, tranquil, and solemn, held them aloof from the stir of temporary agitation. They were the last great refuge of the state, to which, on common occasions, it was almost profanity to appeal. Their very demeanour was modelled to harmonize with the reputation of their virtues and the dignity of their office. It was forbidden to laugh in their assembly—no archon who had been seen in a public tavern could be admitted to their order [208], and for an areopagite to compose a comedy was a matter of special prohibition [209]. They sat in the open air, in common with all courts having cognizance of murder. If the business before them was great and various, they were wont to divide themselves into committees, to each of which the several causes were assigned by lot, so that no man knowing the cause he was to adjudge could be assailed with the imputation of dishonest or partial prepossession. After duly hearing both parties, they gave their judgment with proverbial gravity and silence. The institution of the ballot (a subsequent custom) afforded secrecy to their award—a proceeding necessary amid the jealousy and power of factions, to preserve their judgment unbiased by personal fear, and the abolition of which, we shall see hereafter, was among the causes that crushed for a while the liberties of Athens. A brazen urn received the suffrages of condemnation—one of wood those of acquittal. Such was the character and constitution of the AREOPAGUS. [210]

XIII. The second legislative council ordained or revived by Solon, consisted of a senate, composed, first of four hundred, and many years afterward of five hundred members. To this council all, save the lowest and most numerous class, were eligible, provided they had passed or attained the age of thirty. It was rather a chance assembly than a representative one. The manner of its election appears not more elaborate than clumsy. To every ward there was a president, called phylarchus. This magistrate, on a certain day in the year, gave in the names of all the persons within his district entitled to the honour of serving in the council, and desirous of enjoying it. These names were inscribed on brazen tablets, and cast into a certain vessel. In another vessel was placed an equal number of beans; supposing the number of candidates to be returned by each tribe to be (as it at first was) a hundred, there were one hundred white beans put into the vessel—the rest were black. Then the names of the candidates and the beans were drawn out one by one; and each candidate who had the good fortune to have his name drawn out together with a white bean, became a member of the senate. Thus the constitution of each succeeding senate might differ from the last—might, so far from representing the people, contradict their wishes—was utterly a matter of hazard and chance; and when Mr. Mitford informs us that the assembly of the people was the great foundation of evil in the Athenian constitution, it appears that to the capricious and unsatisfactory election of this council we may safely impute many of the inconsistencies and changes which that historian attributes entirely to the more popular assembly [211]. To this council were intrusted powers less extensive in theory than those of the Areopagus, but far more actively exerted. Its members inspected the fleet (when a fleet was afterward established)—they appointed jailers of prisons —they examined the accounts of magistrates at the termination of their office; these were minor duties; to them was allotted also an authority in other departments of a much higher and more complicated nature. To them was given the dark and fearful extent of power which enabled them to examine and to punish persons accused of offences unspecified by any peculiar law [212]—an ordinance than which, had less attention been paid to popular control, the wildest ambition of despotism would have required no broader base for its designs. A power to punish crimes unspecified by law is a power above law, and ignorance or corruption may easily distort innocence itself into crime. But the main duty of the Four Hundred was to prepare the laws to be submitted to the assembly of the people—the great popular tribunal which we are about presently to consider. Nor could any law, according to Solon, be introduced into that assembly until it had undergone the deliberation, and received the sanction, of this preliminary council. With them, therefore, was THE ORIGIN OF ALL LEGISLATION. In proportion to these discretionary powers was the examination the members of the council underwent. Previous to the admission of any candidate, his life, his character, and his actions were submitted to a vigorous scrutiny [213]. The senators then took a solemn oath that they would endeavour to promote the public good, and the highest punishment they were allowed to inflict was a penalty of five hundred drachma. If that punishment were deemed by them insufficient, the criminal was referred to the regular courts of law. At the expiration of their trust, which expired with each year, the senators gave an account of their conduct, and the senate itself punished any offence of its members; so severe were its inflictions, that a man expelled from the senate was eligible as a judge—a proof that expulsion was a punishment awarded to no heinous offence. [214]

The members of each tribe presided in turn over the rest [215] under the name of prytanes. It was the duty of the prytanes to assemble the senate, which was usually every day, and to keep order in the great assembly of the people. These were again subdivided into the proedri, who presided weekly over the rest, while one of this number, appointed by lot, was the chief president (or Epistates) of the whole council; to him were intrusted the keys of the citadel and the treasury, and a wholesome jealousy of this twofold trust limited its exercise to a single day. Each member gave notice in writing of any motion he intended to make—the prytanes had the prior right to propound the question, and afterward it became matter of open discussion—they decided by ballot whether to reject or adopt it; if accepted, it was then submitted to the assembly of the people, who ratified or refused the law which they might not originate.

Such was the constitution of the Athenian council, one resembling in many points to the common features of all modern legislative assemblies.

XIV. At the great assembly of the people, to which we now arrive, all freemen of the age of discretion, save only those branded by law with the opprobrium of atimos (unhonoured) [216], were admissible. At the time of Solon, this assembly was by no means of the importance to which it afterward arose. Its meetings were comparatively rare, and no doubt it seldom rejected the propositions of the Four Hundred. But whenever different legislative assemblies exist, and popular control is once constitutionally acknowledged, it is in the nature of things that the more democratic assembly should absorb the main business of the more aristocratic. A people are often enslaved by the accident of a despot, but almost ever gain upon the checks which the constitution is intended habitually to oppose. In the later time, the assembly met four times in five weeks (at least, during the period in which the tribes were ten in number), that is, during the presidence of each prytanea. The first time of their meeting they heard matters of general import, approved or rejected magistrates, listened to accusations of grave political offences [217], as well as the particulars of any confiscation of goods. The second time was appropriated to affairs relative as well to individuals as the community; and it was lawful for every man either to present a petition or share in a debate. The third time of meeting was devoted to the state audience of ambassadors. The fourth, to matters of religious worship or priestly ceremonial. These four periodical meetings, under the name of Curia, made the common assembly, requiring no special summons, and betokening no extraordinary emergency. But besides these regular meetings, upon occasions of unusual danger, or in cases requiring immediate discussion, the assembly of the people might also be convened by formal proclamation; and in this case it was termed "Sugkletos," which we may render by the word convocation. The prytanes, previous to the meeting of the assembly, always placarded in some public place a programme of the matters on which the people were to consult. The persons presiding over the meeting were proedri, chosen by lot from the nine tribes, excluded at the time being from the office of prytanes; out of their number a chief president (or epistates) was elected also by lot. Every effort was made to compel a numerous attendance, and each man attending received a small coin for his trouble [218], a practice fruitful in jests to the comedians. The prytanes might forbid a man of notoriously bad character to speak. The chief president gave the signal for their decision. In ordinary cases they held up their hands, voting openly; but at a later period, in cases where intimidation was possible, such as in the offences of men of power and authority, they voted in secret. They met usually in the vast arena of their market-place. [219]

XV. Recapitulating the heads of that complex constitution I have thus detailed, the reader will perceive that the legislative power rested in three assemblies—the Areopagus, the Council, and the Assembly of the People—that the first, notwithstanding its solemn dignity and vast authority, seldom interfered in the active, popular, and daily politics of the state—that the second originated laws, which the third was the great Court of Appeal to sanction or reject. The great improvement of modern times has been to consolidate the two latter courts in one, and to unite in a representative senate the sagacity of a deliberative council with the interests of a popular assembly;—the more closely we blend these objects, the more perfectly, perhaps, we attain, by the means of wisdom, the ends of liberty.

XVI. But although in a senate composed by the determinations of chance, and an assembly which from its numbers must ever have been exposed to the agitation of eloquence and the caprices of passion, there was inevitably a crude and imperfect principle,—although two courts containing in themselves the soul and element of contradiction necessarily wanted that concentrated oneness of purpose propitious to the regular and majestic calmness of legislation, we cannot but allow the main theory of the system to have been precisely that most favourable to the prodigal exuberance of energy, of intellect, and of genius. Summoned to consultation upon all matters, from the greatest to the least, the most venerable to the most trite—to-day deciding on the number of their war-ships, to-morrow on that of a tragic chorus; now examining with jealous forethought the new harriers to oligarchical ambition;—now appointing, with nice distinction, to various service the various combinations of music [220];—now welcoming in their forum-senate the sober ambassadors of Lacedaemon or the jewelled heralds of Persia, now voting their sanction to new temples or the reverent reforms of worship; compelled to a lively and unceasing interest in all that arouses the mind, or elevates the passions, or refines the taste;—supreme arbiters of the art of the sculptor, as the science of the lawgiver,—judges and rewarders of the limner and the poet, as of the successful negotiator or the prosperous soldier; we see at once the all-accomplished, all-versatile genius of the nation, and we behold in the same glance the effect and the cause:—every thing being referred to the people, the people learned of every thing to judge. Their genius was artificially forced, and in each of its capacities. They had no need of formal education. Their whole life was one school. The very faults of their assembly, in its proneness to be seduced by extraordinary eloquence, aroused the emulation of the orator, and kept constantly awake the imagination of the audience. An Athenian was, by the necessity of birth, what Milton dreamed that man could only become by the labours of completest education: in peace a legislator, in war a soldier,—in all times, on all occasions, acute to judge and resolute to act. All that can inspire the thought or delight the leisure were for the people. Theirs were the portico and the school—theirs the theatre, the gardens, and the baths; they were not, as in Sparta, the tools of the state—they were the state! Lycurgus made machines and Solon men. In Sparta the machine was to be wound up by the tyranny of a fixed principle; it could not dine as it pleased—it could not walk as it pleased—it was not permitted to seek its she machine save by stealth and in the dark; its children were not its own—even itself had no property in self. Sparta incorporated, under the name of freedom, the worst complexities, the most grievous and the most frivolous vexations, of slavery. And therefore was it that Lacedaemon flourished and decayed, bequeathing to fame men only noted for hardy valour, fanatical patriotism, and profound but dishonourable craft— attracting, indeed, the wonder of the world, but advancing no claim to its gratitude, and contributing no single addition to its intellectual stores. But in Athens the true blessing of freedom was rightly placed—in the opinions and the soul. Thought was the common heritage which every man might cultivate at his will. This unshackled liberty had its convulsions and its excesses, but producing unceasing emulation and unbounded competition, an incentive to every effort, a tribunal to every claim, it broke into philosophy with the one—into poetry with the other—into the energy and splendour of unexampled intelligence with all. Looking round us at this hour, more than four-and-twenty centuries after the establishment of the constitution we have just surveyed,—in the labours of the student—in the dreams of the poet—in the aspirations of the artist—in the philosophy of the legislator—we yet behold the imperishable blessings we derive from the liberties of Athens and the institutions of Solon. The life of Athens became extinct, but her soul transfused itself, immortal and immortalizing, through the world.

XVII. The penal code of Solon was founded on principles wholly opposite to those of Draco. The scale of punishment was moderate, though sufficiently severe. One distinction will suffice to give us an adequate notion of its gradations. Theft by day was not a capital offence, but if perpetrated by night the felon might lawfully be slain by the owner. The tendency to lean to the side of mercy in all cases may be perceived from this—that if the suffrages of the judges were evenly divided, it was the custom in all the courts of Athens to acquit the accused. The punishment of death was rare; that of atimia supplied its place. Of the different degrees of atimia it is not my purpose to speak at present. By one degree, however, the offender was merely suspended from some privilege of freedom enjoyed by the citizens generally, or condemned to a pecuniary fine; the second degree allowed the confiscation of goods; the third for ever deprived the criminal and his posterity of the rights of a citizen: this last was the award only of aggravated offences. Perpetual exile was a sentence never passed but upon state criminals. The infliction of fines, which became productive of great abuse in later times, was moderately apportioned to offences in the time of Solon, partly from the high price of money, but partly, also, from the wise moderation of the lawgiver. The last grave penalty of death was of various kinds, as the cross, the gibbet, the precipice, the bowl—afflictions seldom in reserve for the freemen.

As the principle of shame was a main instrument of the penal code of the Athenians, so they endeavoured to attain the same object by the sublimer motive of honour. Upon the even balance of rewards that stimulate, and penalties that deter, Solon and his earlier successors conceived the virtue of the commonwealth to rest. A crown presented by the senate or the people—a public banquet in the hall of state— the erection of a statue in the thoroughfares (long a most rare distinction)—the privilege of precedence in the theatre or assembly— were honours constantly before the eyes of the young and the hopes of the ambitious. The sentiment of honour thus became a guiding principle of the legislation, and a large component of the character of the Athenians.

XVIII. Judicial proceedings, whether as instituted by Solon or as corrupted by his successors, were exposed to some grave and vital evils hereafter to be noticed. At present I content myself with observing, that Solon carried into the judicial the principles, of his legislative courts. It was his theory, that all the citizens should be trained to take an interest in state. Every year a body of six thousand citizens was chosen by lot; no qualification save that of being thirty years of age was demanded in this election. The body thus chosen, called Heliaea, was subdivided into smaller courts, before which all offences, but especially political ones, might be tried. Ordinary cases were probably left by Solon to the ordinary magistrates; but it was not long before the popular jurors drew to themselves the final trial and judgment of all causes. This judicial power was even greater than the legislative; for if an act had passed through all the legislative forms, and was, within a year of the date, found inconsistent with the constitution or public interests, the popular courts could repeal the act and punish its author. In Athens there were no professional lawyers; the law being supposed the common interest of citizens, every encouragement was given to the prosecutor —every facility to the obtaining of justice.

Solon appears to have recognised the sound principle, that the strength of law is in the public disposition to cherish and revere it,—and that nothing is more calculated to make permanent the general spirit of a constitution than to render its details flexile and open to reform. Accordingly, he subjected his laws to the vigilance of regular and constant revision. Once a year, proposals for altering any existent law might be made by any citizen—were debated—and, if approved, referred to a legislative committee, drawn by lot from the jurors. The committee then sat in judgment on the law; five advocates were appointed to plead for the old law; if unsuccessful, the new law came at once into operation. In addition to this precaution, six of the nine archons (called Thesmothetae), whose office rendered them experienced in the defects of the law, were authorized to review the whole code, and to refer to the legislative committee the consideration of any errors or inconsistencies that might require amendment. [221]

XIX. With respect to the education of youth, the wise Athenian did not proceed upon the principles which in Sparta attempted to transfer to the state the dearest privileges of a parent. From the age of sixteen to eighteen (and earlier in the case of orphans) the law, indeed, seems to have considered that the state had a right to prepare its citizens for its service; and the youth was obliged to attend public gymnastic schools, in which, to much physical, some intellectual, discipline was added, under masters publicly nominated. But from the very circumstance of compulsory education at that age, and the absence of it in childhood, we may suppose that there had already grown up in Athens a moral obligation and a general custom, to prepare the youth of the state for the national schools.

Besides the free citizens, there were two subordinate classes—the aliens and the slaves. By the first are meant those composed of settlers, who had not relinquished connexion with their native countries. These, as universally in Greece, were widely distinguished from the citizens; they paid a small annual sum for the protection of the state, and each became a kind of client to some individual citizen, who appeared for him in the courts of justice. They were also forbidden to purchase land; but for the rest, Solon, himself a merchant, appears to have given to such aliens encouragements in trade and manufacture not usual in that age; and most of their disabilities were probably rather moral or imaginary than real and daily causes of grievance. The great and paramount distinction was between the freeman and the slave. No slave could be admitted as a witness, except by torture; as for him there was no voice in the state, so for him there was no tenderness in the law. But though the slave might not avenge himself on the master, the system of slavery avenged itself on the state. The advantages to the intellect of the free citizens resulting from the existence of a class maintained to relieve them from the drudgeries of life, were dearly purchased by the constant insecurity of their political repose. The capital of the rich could never be directed to the most productive of all channels—the labour of free competition. The noble did not employ citizens—he purchased slaves. Thus the commonwealth derived the least possible advantage from his wealth; it did not flow through the heart of the republic, employing the idle and feeding the poor. As a necessary consequence, the inequalities of fortune were sternly visible and deeply felt. The rich man had no connexion with the poor man—the poor man hated him for a wealth of which he did not (as in states where slavery does not exist) share the blessings—purchasing by labour the advantages of fortune. Hence the distinction of classes defied the harmonizing effects of popular legislation. The rich were exposed to unjust and constant exactions; and society was ever liable to be disorganized by attacks upon property. There was an eternal struggle between the jealousies of the populace and the fears of the wealthy; and many of the disorders which modern historians inconsiderately ascribe to the institutions of freedom were in reality the growth of the existence of slavery.



CHAPTER II.

The Departure of Solon from Athens.—The Rise of Pisistratus.—Return of Solon.—His Conduct and Death.—The Second and Third Tyranny of Pisistratus.—Capture of Sigeum.—Colony in the Chersonesus founded by the first Miltiades.—Death of Pisistratus.

I. Although the great constitutional reforms of Solon were no doubt carried into effect during his archonship, yet several of his legislative and judicial enactments were probably the work of years. When we consider the many interests to conciliate, the many prejudices to overcome, which in all popular states cripple and delay the progress of change in its several details, we find little difficulty in supposing, with one of the most luminous of modern scholars [222], that Solon had ample occupation for twenty years after the date of his archonship. During this period little occurred in the foreign affairs of Athens save the prosperous termination of the Cirrhaean war, as before recorded. At home the new constitution gradually took root, although often menaced and sometimes shaken by the storms of party and the general desire for further innovation.

The eternal consequence of popular change is, that while it irritates the party that loses power, it cannot content the party that gains. It is obvious that each concession to the people but renders them better able to demand concessions more important. The theories of some—the demands of others—harassed the lawgiver, and threatened the safety of the laws. Solon, at length, was induced to believe that his ordinances required the sanction and repose of time, and that absence —that moral death—would not only free himself from importunity, but his infant institutions from the frivolous disposition of change. In his earlier years he had repaired, by commercial pursuits, estates that had been empoverished by the munificence of his father; and, still cultivating the same resources, he made pretence of his vocation to solicit permission for an absence of ten years. He is said to have obtained a solemn promise from the people to alter none of his institutions during that period [223]; and thus he departed from the city (probably B. C. 575), of whose future glories he had laid the solid foundation. Attracted by his philosophical habits to that solemn land, beneath whose mysteries the credulous Greeks revered the secrets of existent wisdom, the still adventurous Athenian repaired to the cities of the Nile, and fed the passion of speculative inquiry from the learning of the Egyptian priests. Departing thence to Cyprus, he assisted, as his own verses assure us, in the planning of a new city, founded by one of the kings of that beautiful island, and afterward invited to the court of Croesus (associated with his father Alyattes, then living), he imparted to the Lydian, amid the splendours of state and the adulation of slaves, that well-known lesson on the uncertainty of human grandeur, which, according to Herodotus, Croesus so seasonably remembered at the funeral pile. [224]

II. However prudent had appeared to Solon his absence from Athens, it is to be lamented that he did not rather brave the hazards from which his genius might have saved the state, than incur those which the very removal of a master-spirit was certain to occasion. We may bind men not to change laws, but we cannot bind the spirit and the opinion, from which laws alone derive cogency or value. We may guard against the innovations of a multitude, which a wise statesman sees afar off, and may direct to great ends; but we cannot guard against that dangerous accident—not to be foreseen, not to be directed—the ambition of a man of genius! During the absence of Solon there rose into eminence one of those remarkable persons who give to vicious designs all the attraction of individual virtues. Bold, generous, affable, eloquent, endowed with every gift of nature and fortune— kinsman to Solon, but of greater wealth and more dazzling qualities— the young Pisistratus, son of Hippocrates, early connected himself with the democratic or highland party. The Megarians, who had never relinquished their designs on Salamis, had taken an opportunity, apparently before the travels, and, according to Plutarch, even before the legislation of Solon, to repossess themselves of the island. When the Athenians were enabled to extend their energies beyond their own great domestic revolution, Pisistratus obtained the command of an expedition against these dangerous neighbours, which was attended with the most signal success. A stratagem referred to Solon by Plutarch, who has with so contagious an inaccuracy blended into one the two several and distinct expeditions of Pisistratus and Solon, ought rather to be placed to the doubtful glory of the son of Hippocrates [225]. A number of young men sailed with Pisistratus to Colias, and taking the dress of women, whom they there seized while sacrificing to Ceres, a spy was despatched to Salamis, to inform the Megarian guard that many of the principal Athenian matrons were at Colias, and might be easily captured. The Megarians were decoyed, despatched a body of men to the opposite shore, and beholding a group in women's attire dancing by the strand, landed confusedly to seize the prize. The pretended females drew forth their concealed weapons, and the Megarians, surprised and dismayed, were cut off to a man. The victors lost no time in setting sail for Salamis, and easily regained the isle. Pisistratus carried the war into Megara itself, and captured the port of Nisaea. These exploits were the foundation of his after greatness; and yet young, at the return of Solon, he was already at the head of the democratic party. But neither his rank, his genius, nor his popular influence sufficed to give to his faction a decided eminence over those of his rivals. The wealthy nobles of the lowlands were led by Lycurgus—the moderate party of the coastmen by Megacles, the head of the Alcmaeonidae. And it was in the midst, of the strife and agitation produced by these great sections of the people that Solon returned to Athens.

III. The venerable legislator was received with all the grateful respect he deserved; but age had dimmed the brilliancy of his powers. His voice could no longer penetrate the mighty crowds of the market-place. New idols had sprung up—new passions were loosed—new interests formed, and amid the roar and stir of the eternal movement, it was in vain for the high-hearted old man to recall those rushing on the future to the boundaries of the past. If unsuccessful in public, he was not discouraged from applying in private to the leaders of the several parties. Of all those rival nobles, none deferred to his advice with so marked a respect as the smooth and plausible Pisistratus. Perhaps, indeed, that remarkable man contemplated the same objects as Solon himself,—although the one desired to effect by the authority of the chief, the order and the energy which the other would have trusted to the development of the people. But, masking his more interested designs, Pisistratus outbid all competition in his seeming zeal for the public welfare. The softness of his manners—his profuse liberality—his generosity even to his foes—the splendid qualities which induced Cicero to compare him to Julius Cesar [226], charmed the imagination of the multitude, and concealed the selfishness of his views. He was not a hypocrite, indeed, as to his virtues—a dissembler only in his ambition. Even Solon, in endeavouring to inspire him with a true patriotism, acknowledged his talents and his excellences. "But for ambition," said he, "Athens possesses no citizen worthier than Pisistratus." The time became ripe for the aspiring projects of the chief of the democracy.

IV. The customary crowd was swarming in the market-place, when suddenly in the midst of the assembly appeared the chariot of Pisistratus. The mules were bleeding—Pisistratus himself was wounded. In this condition the demagogue harangued the people. He declared that he had just escaped from the enemies of himself and the popular party, who (under the auspices of the Alcmaeonidae) had attacked him in a country excursion. He reminded the crowd of his services in war—his valour against the Megarians—his conquest of Nisaea. He implored their protection. Indignant and inflamed, the favouring audience shouted their sympathy with his wrongs. "Son of Hippocrates," said Solon, advancing to the spot, and with bitter wit, "you are but a bad imitator of Ulysses. He wounded himself to delude his enemies—you to deceive your countrymen." [227] The sagacity of the reproach was unheeded by the crowd. A special assembly of the people was convened, and a partisan of the demagogue moved that a body-guard of fifty men, armed but with clubs, should be assigned to his protection. Despite the infirmities of his age, and the decrease of his popular authority, Solon had the energy to oppose the motion, and predict its results. The credulous love of the people swept away all precaution—the guard was granted. Its number did not long continue stationary; Pisistratus artfully increased the amount, till it swelled to the force required by his designs. He then seized the citadel—the antagonist faction of Megacles fled—and Pisistratus was master of Athens. Amid the confusion and tumult of the city, Solon retained his native courage. He appeared in public—harangued the citizens—upbraided their blindness—invoked their courage. In his speeches he bade them remember that if it be the more easy task to prevent tyranny, it is the more glorious achievement to destroy it. In his verses [228] he poured forth the indignant sentiment which a thousand later bards have borrowed and enlarged; "Blame not Heaven for your tyrants, blame yourselves." The fears of some, the indifference of others, rendered his exhortations fruitless! The brave old man sorrowfully retreated to his house, hung up his weapons without his door, and consoled himself with the melancholy boast that "he had done all to save his country, and its laws." This was his last public effort against the usurper. He disdained flight; and, asked by his friends to what he trusted for safety from the wrath of the victor, replied, "To old age,"—a sad reflection, that so great a man should find in infirmity that shelter which he claimed from glory.

V. The remaining days and the latter conduct of Solon are involved in obscurity. According to Plutarch, he continued at Athens, Pisistratus showing him the utmost respect, and listening to the counsel which Solon condescended to bestow upon him: according to Diogenes Laertius, he departed again from his native city [229], indignant at its submission, and hopeless of its freedom, refusing all overtures from Pisistratus, and alleging that, having established a free government, he would not appear to sanction the success of a tyrant. Either account is sufficiently probable. The wisdom of Solon might consent to mitigate what he could not cure, or his patriotism might urge him to avoid witnessing the changes he had no power to prevent. The dispute is of little importance. At his advanced age he could not have long survived the usurpation of Pisistratus, nor can we find any authority for the date of his death so entitled to credit as that of Phanias, who assigns it to the year following the usurpation of Pisistratus. The bright race was already run. According to the grave authority of Aristotle, the ashes of Solon were scattered over the Isle of Salamis, which had been the scene of his earlier triumphs; and Athens, retaining his immortal, boasted not his perishable remains.

VI. Pisistratus directed with admirable moderation the courses of the revolution he had produced. Many causes of success were combined in his favour. His enemies had been the supposed enemies of the people, and the multitude doubtless beheld the flight of the Alcmaeonidae (still odious in their eyes by the massacre of Cylon) as the defeat of a foe, while the triumph of the popular chief was recognised as the victory of the people. In all revolutions the man who has sided with the people is permitted by the people the greatest extent of license. It is easy to perceive, by the general desire which the Athenians had expressed for the elevation of Solon to the supreme authority that the notion of regal authority was not yet hateful to them, and that they were scarcely prepared for the liberties with which they were intrusted. But although they submitted thus patiently to the ascendency of Pisistratus, it is evident that a less benevolent or less artful tyrant would not have been equally successful. Raised above the law, that subtle genius governed only by the law; nay, he affected to consider its authority greater than his own. He assumed no title—no attribute of sovereignty. He was accused of murder, and he humbly appeared before the tribunal of the Areopagus—a proof not more of the moderation of the usurper than of the influence of public opinion. He enforced the laws of Solon, and compelled the unruly tempers of his faction to subscribe to their wholesome rigour. The one revolution did not, therefore, supplant, it confirmed, the other. "By these means," says Herodotus, "Pisistratus mastered Athens, and yet his situation was far from secure." [230]

VII. Although the heads of the more moderate party, under Megacles, had been expelled from Athens, yet the faction, equally powerful and equally hostile, headed by Lycurgus, and embraced by the bulk of the nobles, still remained. For a time, extending perhaps to five or six years, Pisistratus retained his power; but at length, Lycurgus, uniting with the exiled Alcmaeonidae, succeeded in expelling him from the city. But the union that had led to his expulsion ceased with that event. The contests between the lowlanders and the coastmen were only more inflamed by the defeat of the third party, which had operated as a balance of power, and the broils of their several leaders were fed by personal ambition as by hereditary animosities. Megacles, therefore, unable to maintain equal ground with Lycurgus, turned his thoughts towards the enemy he had subdued, and sent proposals to Pisistratus, offering to unite their forces, and to support him in his pretensions to the tyranny, upon condition that the exiled chief should marry his daughter Coesyra. Pisistratus readily acceded to the terms, and it was resolved by a theatrical pageant to reconcile his return to the people. In one of the boroughs of the city there was a woman named Phya, of singular beauty and lofty stature. Clad in complete armour, and drawn in a chariot, this woman was conducted with splendour and triumph towards the city. By her side rode Pisistratus—heralds preceded their march, and proclaimed her approach, crying aloud to the Athenians "to admit Pisistratus, the favourite of Minerva, for that the goddess herself had come to earth on his behalf."

The sagacity of the Athenians was already so acute, and the artifice appeared to Herodotus so gross, that the simple Halicarnassean could scarcely credit the authenticity of this tale. But it is possible that the people viewed the procession as an ingenious allegory, to the adaptation of which they were already disposed; and that, like the populace of a later and yet more civilized people, they hailed the goddess while they recognised the prostitute [231]. Be that as it may, the son of Hippocrates recovered his authority, and fulfilled his treaty with Megacles by a marriage with his daughter. Between the commencement of his first tyranny and the date of his second return, there was probably an interval of twelve years. His sons were already adults. Partly from a desire not to increase his family, partly from some superstitious disinclination to the blood of the Alcmaeonidae, which the massacre of Cylon still stigmatized with contamination, Pisistratus conducted himself towards the fair Coesyra with a chastity either unwelcome to her affection, or afflicting to her pride. The unwedded wife communicated the mortifying secret to her mother, from whose lips it soon travelled to the father. He did not view the purity of Pisistratus with charitable eyes. He thought it an affront to his own person that that of his daughter should be so tranquilly regarded. He entered into a league with his former opponents against the usurper, and so great was the danger, that Pisistratus (despite his habitual courage) betook himself hastily to flight:—a strange instance of the caprice of human events, that a man could with a greater impunity subdue the freedom of his country, than affront the vanity of his wife! [232]

VIII. Pisistratus, his sons and partisans, retired to Eretria in Euboea: there they deliberated as to their future proceedings—should they submit to their exile, or attempt to retrieve, their power? The councils of his son Hippias prevailed with Pisistratus; it was resolved once more to attempt the sovereignty of Athens. The neighbouring tribes assisted the exiles with forage and shelter. Many cities accorded the celebrated noble large sums of money, and the Thebans outdid the rest in pernicious liberality. A troop of Argive adventurers came from the Peloponnesus to tender to the baffled usurper the assistance of their swords, and Lygdamis, an individual of Naxos, himself ambitious of the government of his native state, increased his resources both by money and military force. At length, though after a long and tedious period of no less than eleven years, Pisistratus resolved to hazard the issue of open war. At the head of a foreign force he advanced to Marathon, and pitched his tents upon its immortal plain. Troops of the factious or discontented thronged from Athens to his camp, while the bulk of the citizens, unaffected ay such desertions, viewed his preparations with indifference. At length, when they heard that Pisistratus had broken up his encampment, and was on his march to the city, the Athenians awoke from their apathy, and collected their forces to oppose him. He continued to advance his troops, halted at the temple of Minerva, whose earthly representative had once so benignly assisted him, and pitched his tents opposite the fane. He took advantage of that time in which the Athenians, during the heats of the day, were at their entertainments, or indulging the noontide repose, still so grateful to the inhabitants of a warmer climate, to commence his attack. He soon scattered the foe, and ordered his sons to overtake them in their flight, to bid them return peacefully to their employments, and fear nothing from his vengeance. His clemency assisted the effect of his valour, and once more the son of Hippocrates became the master of the Athenian commonwealth.

IX. Pisistratus lost no time in strengthening himself by formidable alliances. He retained many auxiliary troops, and provided large pecuniary resources [233]. He spared the persons of his opponents, but sent their children as hostages to Naxos, which he first reduced and consigned to the tyranny of his auxiliary, Lygdamis. Many of his inveterate enemies had perished on the field—many fled from the fear of his revenge. He was undisturbed in the renewal of his sway, and having no motive for violence, pursued the natural bent of a mild and generous disposition, ruling as one who wishes men to forget the means by which his power has been attained. Pisistratus had that passion for letters which distinguished most of the more brilliant Athenians. Although the poems of Homer were widely known and deeply venerated long before his time, yet he appears, by a more accurate collection and arrangement of them, and probably by bringing them into a more general and active circulation in Athens, to have largely added to the wonderful impetus to poetical emulation, which those immortal writings were calculated to give.

When we consider how much, even in our own times, and with all the advantages of the press, the diffused fame and intellectual influence of Shakspeare and Milton have owed to the praise and criticism of individuals, we may readily understand the kind of service rendered by Pisistratus to Homer. The very example of so eminent a man would have drawn upon the poet a less vague and more inquiring species of admiration; the increased circulation of copies—the more frequent public recitals—were advantages timed at that happy season when the people who enjoyed them had grown up from wondering childhood to imitative and studious youth. And certain it is, that from this period we must date the marked and pervading influence of Homer upon Athenian poetry; for the renown of a poet often precedes by many generations the visible influence of his peculiar genius. It is chiefly within the last seventy years that we may date the wonderful effect that Shakspeare was destined to produce upon the universal intellect of Europe. The literary obligations of Athens to Pisistratus were not limited to his exertions on behalf of Homer: he is said to have been the first in Greece who founded a public library, rendering its treasures accessible to all. And these two benefits united, justly entitle the fortunate usurper to the praise of first calling into active existence that intellectual and literary spirit which became diffused among the Athenian people, and originated the models and masterpieces of the world. It was in harmony with this part of his character that Pisistratus refitted the taste and socialized the habits of the citizens, by the erection of buildings dedicated to the public worship, or the public uses, and laid out the stately gardens of the Lyceum—(in after-times the favourite haunt of philosophy), by the banks of the river dedicated to song. Pisistratus did thus more than continue the laws of Solon—he inculcated the intellectual habits which the laws were designed to create. And as in the circle of human events the faults of one man often confirm what was begun by the virtues of another, so perhaps the usurpation of Pisistratus was necessary to establish the institutions of Solon. It is clear that the great lawgiver was not appreciated at the close of his life; as his personal authority had ceased to have influence, so possibly might have soon ceased the authority of his code. The citizens required repose to examine, to feel, to estimate the blessings of his laws—that repose they possessed under Pisistratus. Amid the tumult of fierce and equipoised factions it might be fortunate that a single individual was raised above the rest, who, having the wisdom to appreciate the institutions of Solon, had the authority to enforce them. Silently they grew up under his usurped but benignant sway, pervading, penetrating, exalting the people, and fitting them by degrees to the liberty those institutions were intended to confer. If the disorders of the republic led to the ascendency of Pisistratus, so the ascendency of Pisistratus paved the way for the renewal of the republic. As Cromwell was the representative of the very sentiments he appeared to subvert—as Napoleon in his own person incorporated the principles of the revolution of France, so the tyranny of Pisistratus concentrated and imbodied the elements of that democracy he rather wielded than overthrew.

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