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The Comparison of Poplicola with Solon
By Plutarch

Translated by John Dryden

There is something singular in the present parallel which has not
occurred in any other of the lives; that the one should be the imitator
of the other, and the other his best evidence. Upon the survey of
Solon's sentence to Croesus in favour of Tellus's happiness, it seems
more applicable to Poplicola; for Tellus, whose virtuous life and
dying well had gained him the name of the happiest man, yet was never
celebrated in Solon's poems for a good man, nor have his children
or any magistracy of his deserved a memorial; but Poplicola's life
was the most eminent amongst the Romans, as well for the greatness
of his virtue as his power, and also since his death many amongst
the distinguished families, even in our days, the Poplicolae, Messalae,
and Valerii, after a lapse of six hundred years, acknowledge him as
the fountain of their honour. Besides, Tellus, though keeping his
post and fighting like a valiant soldier, was yet slain by his enemies;
but Poplicola, the better fortune, slew his, and saw his country victorious
under his command. And his honours and triumphs brought him, which
was Solon's ambition, to a happy end; the ejaculation which, in his
verses against Mimnermus about the continuance of man's life, he himself

"Mourned let me die; and may I, when life ends, 
Occasion sighs and sorrows to my friends," is evidence to Poplicola's
happiness; his death did not only draw tears from his friends and
acquaintance, but was the object of universal regret and sorrow through
the whole city, the women deplored his loss as that of a son, brother,
or common father. "Wealth I would have," said Solon, "but wealth by
wrong procure would not," because punishment would follow. But Poplicola's
riches were not only justly his, but he spent them nobly in doing
good to the distressed. So that if Solon was reputed the wisest man,
we must allow Poplicola to be the happiest; for what Solon wished
for as the greatest and most perfect good, this Poplicola had, and
used and enjoyed to his death. 

And as Solon may thus be said to have contributed to Poplicola's glory,
so did also Poplicola to his, by his choice of him as his model in
the formation of republican institutions; in reducing, for example,
the excessive powers and assumption of the consulship. Several of
his laws, indeed, he actually transferred to Rome, as his empowering
the people to elect their officers, and allowing offenders the liberty
of appealing to the people, as Solon did to the jurors. He did not,
indeed, create a new senate, as Solon did, but augmented the old to
almost double its number. The appointment of treasurers again, the
quaestors, has a like origin; with the intent that the chief magistrate
should not, if of good character, be withdrawn from greater matters;
or, if bad, have the greater temptation to injustice, by holding both
the government and treasury in his hands. The aversion to tyranny
was stronger in Poplicola; any one who attempted usurpation could,
by Solon's law, only be punished upon conviction; but Poplicola made
it death before a trial. And though Solon justly gloried, that, when
arbitrary power was absolutely offered to him by circumstances, and
when his countrymen would have willingly seen him accept it, he yet
declined it; still Poplicola merited no less, who, receiving a despotic
command, converted it to a popular office, and did not employ the
whole legal power which he held. We must allow, indeed, that Solon
was before Poplicola in observing that- 

"A people always minds its rulers best 
When it is neither humoured nor oppressed." 

The remission of debts was peculiar to Solon; it was his great means
for confirming the citizens' liberty; for a mere law to give all men
equal rights is but useless, if the poor must sacrifice those rights
to their debts, and, in the very seats and sanctuaries of equality,
the courts of justice, the offices of state, and the public discussions,
be more than anywhere at the beck and bidding of the rich. A yet more
extraordinary success was, that, although usually civil violence is
caused by any remission of debts, upon this one occasion this dangerous
but powerful remedy actually put an end to the civil violence already
existing, Solon's own private worth and reputation overbalancing all
the ordinary ill-repute and discredit of the change. The beginning
of his government was more glorious, for he was entirely original,
and followed no man's example, and, without the aid of any ally, achieved
his most important measures by his own conduct; yet the close of Poplicola's
life was more happy and desirable, for Solon saw the dissolution of
his own commonwealth, Poplicola maintained the state in good order
to the civil wars. Solon, leaving his laws, as soon as he had made
them, engraved in wood, but destitute of a defender, departed from
Athens; whilst Poplicola, remaining both in and out of office, laboured
to establish the government. Solon, though he actually knew of Pisistratus's
ambition, yet was not able to suppress it, but had to yield to usurpation
in its infancy; whereas Poplicola utterly subverted and dissolved
a potent monarchy, strongly settled by long continuance; uniting thus
to virtues equal to those, and purposes identical with those of Solon,
the good fortune and the power that alone could make them effective.

In military exploits, Daimachus of Plataea will not even allow Solon
the conduct of the war against the Megarians, as was before intimated;
but Poplicola was victorious in the most important conflicts, both
as a private soldier and commander. In domestic politics, also, Solon,
in play, as it were, and by counterfeiting madness induced the enterprise
against Salamis; whereas Poplicola, in the very beginning, exposed
himself to the greatest risk, took arms against Tarquin, detected
the conspiracy, and, being principally concerned both in preventing
the escape of and afterwards punishing the traitors, not only expelled
the tyrants from the city, but extirpated their very hopes. And as,
in cases calling for contest and resistance and manful opposition,
he behaved with courage and resolution, so, in instances where peaceable
language, persuasion, and concession were requisite, he was yet more
to be commended; and succeeded in gaining happily to reconciliation
and friendship, Porsenna, a terrible and invincible enemy. Some may,
perhaps, object that Solon recovered Salamis, which they had lost,
for the Athenians; whereas Poplicola receded from part of what the
Romans were at that time possessed of; but judgment is to be made
of actions according to the times in which they were performed. The
conduct of a wise politician is ever suited to the present posture
of affairs; often by foregoing a part he saves the whole, and by yielding
in a small matter secures a greater; and so Poplicola, by restoring
what the Romans had lately usurped, saved their undoubted patrimony,
and procured, moreover, the stores of the enemy for those who were
only too thankful to secure their city. Permitting the decision of
the controversy to his adversary, he not only got the victory, but
likewise what he himself would willingly have given to purchase the
victory, Porsenna putting an end to the war, and leaving them all
the provision of his camp, from the sense of the virtue and gallant
disposition of the Romans which their consul had impressed upon him.



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