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By Plutarch

(legendary, died 539 B.C.E.)

Translated by John Dryden

Didymus, the grammarian, in his answer to Asclepiades concerning
Solon's Tables of Law, mentions a passage of one Philocles, who states
that Solon's father's name was Euphorion, contrary to the opinion
of all others who have written concerning him; for they generally
agree that he was the son of Execestides, a man of moderate wealth
and power in the city, but of a most noble stock, being descended
from Codrus; his mother, as Heraclides Ponticus affirms, was cousin
to Pisistratus's mother, and the two at first were great friends,
partly because they were akin, and partly because of Pisistratus's
noble qualities and beauty. And they say Solon loved him; and that
is the reason, I suppose, that when afterwards they differed about
the government, their enmity never produced any hot and violent passion,
they remembered their old kindnesses, and retained- 

"Still in its embers living the strong fire" of their love and dear
affection. For that Solon was not proof against beauty, nor of courage
to stand up to passion and meet it- 

"Hand to hand as in the ring," we may conjecture by his poems, and
one of his laws, in which there are practices forbidden to slaves,
which he would appear, therefore, to recommend to freemen. Pisistratus,
it is stated, was similarly attached to one Charmus; he it was who
dedicated the future of Love in the Academy, where the runners in
the sacred torch race light their torches. Solon, as Hermippus writes,
when his father had ruined his estate in doing benefits and kindnesses
to other men, though he had friends enough that were willing to contribute
to his relief, yet was ashamed to be beholden to others, since he
was descended from a family who were accustomed to do kindnesses rather
than receive them; and therefore applied himself to merchandise in
his youth; though others assure us that he travelled rather to get
learning and experience than to make money. It is certain that he
was a lover of knowledge, for when he was old he would say, that he-

"Each day grew older, and learnt something new;" and yet no admirer
of riches, esteeming as equally wealthy the man- 

"Who hath both gold and silver in his hand, 
Horses and mules, and acres of wheat-land, 
And him whose all is decent food to eat, 
Clothes to his back and shoes upon his feet, 
And a young wife and child, since so 'twill be, 
And no more years than will with that agree;" and in another place-

"Wealth I would have, but wealth by wrong procure 
I would not; justice, e'en if slow, is sure." And it is perfectly
possible for a good man and a statesman, without being solicitous
for superfluities, to show some concern for competent necessaries.
In his time, as Hesiod says,- "Work was a shame to none," nor was
distinction made with respect to trade, but merchandise was a noble
calling, which brought home the good things which the barbarous nations
enjoyed, was the occasion of friendship with their kings, and a great
source of experience. Some merchants have built great cities, as Protis,
the founder of Massilia, to whom the Gauls, near the Rhone, were much
attached. Some report also, that Thales and Hippocrates the mathematician
traded; and that Plato defrayed the charges of his travels by selling
oil in Egypt. Solon's softness and profuseness, his popular rather
than philosophical tone about pleasure in his poems, have been ascribed
to his trading life; for, having suffered a thousand dangers, it was
natural they should be recompensed with some gratifications and enjoyments;
but that he accounted himself rather poor than rich is evident from
the lines- 

"Some wicked men are rich, some good are poor, 
We will not change our virtue for their store: 
Virtue's a thing that none can take away; 
But money changes owners all the day." 

At first he used his poetry only in trifles, not for any serious purpose,
but simply to pass away his idle hours; but afterwards he introduced
moral sentences and state matters, which he did, not to record them
merely as an historian, but to justify his own actions, and sometimes
to correct, chastise, and stir up the Athenians to noble performances.
Some report that he designed to put his laws into heroic verse, and
that they began thus:- 

"We humbly beg a blessing on our laws 
From mighty jove, and honour, and applause." 

In philosophy, as most of the wise men then, he chiefly esteemed the
political part of morals; in physics, he was very plain and antiquated,
as appears by this:- 

"It is the clouds that make the snow and hail, 
And thunder comes from lightning without fail; 
The sea is stormy when the winds have blown, 
But it deals fairly when 'tis left alone." And, indeed, it is probable
that at that time Thales alone had raised philosophy above mere practice
into speculation; and the rest of the wise men were so called from
prudence in political concerns. It is said, that they had an interview
at Delphi, and another at Corinth, by the procurement of Periander,
who made a meeting for them, and a supper. But their reputation was
chiefly raised by sending the tripod to them all, by their modest
refusal, and complaisant yielding to one another. For, as the story
goes, some of the Coans fishing with a net, some strangers, Milesians,
bought the draught at a venture; the net brought up a golden tripod,
which, they say, Helen, at her return from Troy, upon the remembrance
of an old prophecy, threw in there. Now, the strangers at first contesting
with the fishers about the tripod, and the cities espousing the quarrel
so far as to engage themselves in a war, Apollo decided the controversy
by commanding to present it to the wisest man; and first it was sent
to Miletus to Thales, the Coans freely presenting him with that for
which they fought against the whole body of the Milesians; but Thales
declaring Bias the wiser person, it was sent to him; from him to another;
and so, going round them all, it came to Thales a second time; and,
at last, being carried from Miletus to Thebes, was there dedicated
to Apollo Ismenius. Theophrastus writes that it was first presented
to Bias at Priene; and next to Thales at Miletus, and so through all
it returned to Bias, and was afterwards sent to Delphi. This is the
general report, only some, instead of a tripod, say this present was
a cup sent by Croesus; others, a piece of plate that one Bathycles
had left. It is stated, that Anacharsis and Solon, and Solon and Thales,
were familiarly acquainted and some have delivered parts of their
discourse; for, they say, Anacharsis, coming to Athens, knocked at
Solon's door, and told him, that he, being a stranger, was come to
be his guest, and contract a friendship with him; and Solon replying,
"It is better to make friends at home," Anacharsis replied, "Then
you that are at home make friendship with me." Solon, somewhat surprised
at the readiness of the repartee, received him kindly, and kept him
some time with him, being already engaged in public business and the
compilation of his laws; which, when Anacharsis understood, he laughed
at him for imagining the dishonesty and covetousness of his countrymen
could be restrained by written laws, which were like spiders' webs,
and would catch, it is true, the weak and poor, but easily be broken
by the mighty and rich. To this Solon rejoined that men keep their
promises when neither side can get anything by the breaking of them;
and he would so fit his laws to the citizens, that all should understand
it was more eligible to be just than to break the laws. But the event
rather agreed with the conjecture of Anacharsis than Solon's hope.
Anacharsis, being once at the Assembly, expressed his wonder at the
fact that in Greece wise men spoke and fools decided. 

Solon went, they say, to Thales, at Miletus, and wondered that Thales
took no care to get him a wife and children. To this, Thales made
no answer for the present; but a few days after procured a stranger
to pretend that he had left Athens ten days ago; and Solon inquiring
what news there, the man, according to his instructions, replied,
"None but a young man's funeral, which the whole city attended; for
he was the son, they said, of an honourable man, the most virtuous
of the citizens, who was not then at home, but had been travelling
a long time." Solon replied, "What a miserable man is he! But what
was his name?" "I have heard it," says the man, "but have now forgotten
it, only there was a great talk of his wisdom and his justice." Thus
Solon was drawn on by every answer, and his fears heightened, till
at last, being extremely concerned, he mentioned his own name, and
asked the stranger if that young man was called Solon's son; and the
stranger assenting, he began to beat his head, and to do and say all
that is usual with men in transports of grief. But Thales took his
hand, and, with a smile, said, "These things, Solon, keep me from
marriage and rearing children, which are too great for even your constancy
to support; however, be not concerned at the report, for it is a fiction."
This Hermippus relates, from Pataecus, who boasted that he had Aesop's

However, it is irrational and poor-spirited not to seek conveniences
for fear of losing them, for upon the same account we should not allow
ourselves to like wealth, glory, or wisdom, since we may fear to be
deprived of all these; nay, even virtue itself, than which there is
no greater nor more desirable possession, is often suspended by sickness
or drugs. Now Thales, though unmarried, could not be free from solicitude
unless he likewise felt no care for his friends, his kinsman, or his
country; yet we are told be adopted Cybisthus, his sister's son. For
the soul, having a principle of kindness in itself, and being born
to love, as well as perceive, think, or remember, inclines and fixes
upon some stranger, when a man has none of his own to embrace. And
alien or illegitimate objects insinuate themselves into his affections,
as into some estate that lacks lawful heirs; and with affection come
anxiety and care; insomuch that you may see men that use the strongest
language against the marriage-bed and the fruit of it, when some servant's
or concubine's child is sick or dies, almost killed with grief, and
abjectly lamenting. Some have given way to shameful and desperate
sorrow at the loss of a dog or horse; others have borne the death
of virtuous children without any extravagant or unbecoming grief,
have passed the rest of their lives like men, and according to the
principles of reason. It is not affection, it is weakness that brings
men, unarmed against fortune by reason, into these endless pains and
terrors; and they indeed have not even the present enjoyment of what
they dote upon, the possibility of the future loss causing them continual
pangs, tremors, and distresses. We must not provide against the loss
of wealth by poverty, or of friends by refusing all acquaintance,
or of children by having none, but by morality and reason. But of
this too much. 

Now, when the Athenians were tired with a tedious and difficult war
that they conducted against the Megarians for the island Salamis and
made a law that it should be death for any man, by writing or speaking,
to assert that the city ought to endeavour to recover it, Solon, vexed
at the disgrace, and perceiving thousands of the youth wished for
somebody to begin, but did not dare to stir first for fear of the
law, counterfeited a distraction, and by his own family it was spread
about the city that he was mad. He then secretly composed some elegiac
verses, and getting them by heart, that it might seem extempore, ran
out into the market-place with a cap upon his head, and, the people
gathering about him, got upon the herald's stand, and sang that elegy
which begins thus- 

"I am a herald come from Salamis the fair, 
My news from thence my verses shall declare." The poem is called Salamis;
it contains an hundred verses very elegantly written; when it had
been sung, his friends commended it, and especially Pisistratus exhorted
the citizens to obey his directions; insomuch that they recalled the
law, and renewed the war under Solon's conduct. The popular tale is,
that with Pisistratus he sailed to Colias, and, finding the women,
according to the custom of the country there, sacrificing to Ceres,
he sent a trusty friend to Salamis, who should pretend himself a renegade,
and advise them, if they desired to seize the chief Athenian women,
to come with him at once to Colias; the Megarians presently sent off
men in the vessel with him; and Solon, seeing it put off from the
island, commanded the women to be gone, and some beardless youths,
dressed in their clothes, their shoes and caps, and privately armed
with daggers, to dance and play near the shore till the enemies had
landed and the vessel was in their power. Things being thus ordered,
the Megarians were lured with the appearance, and, coming to the shore,
jumped out, eager who should first seize a prize, so that not one
of them escaped; and the Athenians set sail for the island and took

Others say that it was not taken this way, but that he first received
this oracle from Delphi:- 

"Those heroes that in fair Asopia rest, 
All buried with their faces to the west, 
Go and appease with offerings of the best; and that Solon, sailing
by night to the island, sacrificed to the heroes Periphemus and Cychreus,
and then taking five hundred Athenian volunteers (a law having passed
that those that took the island should be highest in the government),
with a number of fisher-boats and one thirty-oared ship, anchored
in a bay of Salamis that looks towards Nisaea; and the Megarians that
were then in the island, hearing only an uncertain report, hurried
to their arms, and sent a ship to reconnoiter the enemies. This ship
Solon took, and, securing the Megarians, manned it with Athenians,
and gave them orders to sail to the island with as much privacy as
possible; meantime he, with the other soldiers, marched against the
Megarians by land, and whilst they were fighting, those from the ship
took the city. And this narrative is confirmed by the following solemnity,
that was afterwards observed: An Athenian ship used to sail silently
at first to the island, then, with noise and a great shout, one leapt
out armed, and with a loud cry ran to the promontory Sciradium to
meet those that approached upon the land. And just by there stands
a temple which Solon dedicated to Mars. For he beat the Megarians,
and as many as were not killed in the battle he sent away upon conditions.

The Megarians, however, still contending, and both sides having received
considerable losses, they chose the Spartans for arbitrators. Now,
many affirm that Homer's authority did Solon a considerable kindness,
and that, introducing a line into the Catalogue of Ships, when the
matter was to be determined, he read the passage as follows:-

"Twelve ships from Salamis stout Ajax brought, 
And ranked his men where the Athenians fought." The Athenians, however,
call this but an idle story, and report that Solon made it appear
to the judges, that Philaeus and Eurysaces, the sons of Ajax, being
made citizens of Athens, gave them the island, and that one of them
dwelt at Brauron in Attica, the other at Melite; and they have a township
of Philaidae, to which Pisistratus belonged, deriving its name from
this Philaeus. Solon took a farther argument against the Megarians
from the dead bodies, which, he said, were not buried after their
fashion, but according to the Athenian; for the Megarians turn the
corpse to the east, the Athenians to the west. But Hereas the Megarian
denies this, and affirms that they likewise turn the body to the west,
and also that the Athenians have a separate tomb for everybody, but
the Megarians put two or three into one. However, some of Apollo's
oracles, where he calls Salamis Ionian, made much for Solon. This
matter was determined by five Spartans, Critolaidas, Amompharetus,
Hypsechidas, Anaxilas, and Cleomenes. 

For this, Solon grew famed and powerful; but his advice in favour
of defending the oracle at Delphi, to give aid, and not to suffer
the Cirrhaeans to profane it, but to maintain the honour of the god,
got him most repute among the Greeks; for upon his persuasion the
Amphictyons undertook the war, as amongst others, Aristotle affirms,
in his enumeration of the victors at the Pythian games, where he makes
Solon the author of this counsel. Solon, however, was not general
in that expedition, as Hermippus states, out of Evanthes the Samian;
for Aeschines the orator says no such thing, and, in the Delphian
register, Alcmaeon, not Solon, is named as commander of the Athenians.

Now the Cylonian pollution had a long while disturbed the commonwealth,
ever since the time when Megacles the archon persuaded the conspirators
with Cylon that took sanctuary in Minerva's temple to come down and
stand to a fair trial. And they, tying a thread to the image, and
holding one end of it, went down to the tribunal; but when they came
to the temple of the Furies, the thread broke of its own accord, upon
which, as if the goddess had refused them protection, they were seized
by Megacles and the other magistrates as many as were without the
temples were stoned, these that fled for sanctuary were butchered
at the altar, and only those escaped who made supplication to the
wives of the magistrates. But they from that time were considered
under pollution, and regarded with hatred. The remainder of the faction
of Cylon grew strong again, and had continual quarrels with the family
of Megacles; and now the quarrel being at its height, and the people
divided, Solon, being in reputation, interposed with the chiefest
of the Athenians, and by entreaty and admonition persuaded the polluted
to submit to a trial and the decision of three hundred noble citizens.
And Myron of Phlya being their accuser, they were found guilty, and
as many as were then alive were banished, and the bodies of the dead
were dug up, and scattered beyond the confines of the country. In
the midst of these distractions, the Megarians falling upon them,
they lost Nisaea and Salamis again; besides, the city was disturbed
with superstitious fears and strange appearances, and the priests
declared that the sacrifices intimated some villainies and pollutions
that were to be expiated. Upon this, they sent for Epimenides the
Phaestian from Crete, who is counted the seventh wise man by those
that will not admit Periander into the number. He seems to have been
thought a favourite of heaven, possessed of knowledge in all the supernatural
and ritual parts of religion; and, therefore, the men of his age called
him a new Curies, and son of a nymph named Balte. When he came to
Athens, and grew acquainted with Solon, he served him in many instances,
and prepared the way for his legislation. He made them moderate in
their forms of worship, and abated their mourning by ordering some
sacrifices presently after the funeral, and taking off those severe
and barbarous ceremonies which the women usually practised; but the
greatest benefit was his purifying and sanctifying the city, by certain
propitiatory and expiatory lustrations, and foundations of sacred
buildings, by that means making them more submissive to justice, and
more inclined to harmony. It is reported that, looking upon Munychia,
and considering a long while. he said to those that stood by, "How
blind is man in future things! for did the Athenians foresee what
mischief this would do their city, they would even eat it with their
own teeth to be rid of it." A similar anticipation is ascribed to
Thales; they say he commanded his friends to bury him in an obscure
and contemned quarter of the territory of Mileteus, saying that it
should some day be the market-place of the Milesians. Epimenides,
being much honoured, and receiving from the city rich offers of large
gifts and privileges, requested but one branch of the sacred olive,
and, on that being granted, returned. 

The Athenians, now the Cylonian sedition was over and the polluted
gone into banishment fell into their old quarrels about the government,
there being as many different parties as there were diversities in
the country. The Hill quarter favoured democracy, the Plain, oligarchy,
and those that lived by the Seaside stood for a mixed sort of government,
and so hindered either of the other parties from prevailing. And the
disparity of fortune between the rich and the poor, at that time,
also reached its height; so that the city seemed to be in a truly
dangerous condition, and no other means for freeing it from disturbances
and settling it to be possible but a despotic power. All the people
were indebted to the rich; and either they tilled their land for their
creditors, paying them a sixth part of the increase, and were, therefore,
called Hectemorii and Thetes, or else they engaged their body for
the debt, and might be seized, and either sent into slavery at home,
or sold to strangers; some (for no law forbade it) were forced to
sell their children, or fly their country to avoid the cruelty of
their creditors; but the most part and the bravest of them began to
combine together and encourage one another to stand to it, to choose
a leader, to liberate the condemned debtors, divide the land, and
change the government. 

Then the wisest of the Athenians, perceiving Solon was of all men
the only one not implicated in the troubles, that he had not joined
in the exactions of the rich and was not involved in the necessities
of the poor, pressed him to succour the commonwealth and compose the
differences. Though Phanias the Lesbian affirms, that Solon, to save
his country' put a trick upon both parties, and privately promised
the poor a division of the lands, and the rich security for their
debts. Solon, however, himself says, that it was reluctantly at first
that he engaged in state affairs, being afraid of the pride of one
party and the greediness of the other; he was chosen archon, however,
after Philombrotus, and empowered to be an arbitrator and lawgiver;
the rich consenting because he was wealthy, the poor because he was
honest. There was a saying of his current before the election, that
when things are even there never can be war, and this pleased both
parties, the wealthy and the poor; the one conceiving him to mean,
when all have their fair proportion; the others, when all are absolutely
equal. Thus, there being great hopes on both sides, the chief men
pressed Solon to take the government into his own hands, and, when
he was once settled, manage the business freely and according to his
pleasure; and many of the commons, perceiving it would be a difficult
change to be effected by law and reason, were willing to have one
wise and just man set over the affairs; and some say that Solon had
this oracle from Apollo- 

"Take the mid-seat, and be the vessel's guide; 
Many in Athens are upon your side." But chiefly his familiar friends
chid him for disaffecting monarchy only because of the name, as if
the virtue of the ruler could not make it a lawful form; Euboea had
made this experiment when it chose Tynnondas, and Mitylene, which
had made Pittacus its prince; yet this could not shake Solon's resolution;
but, as they say, he replied to his friends, that it was true a tyranny
was a very fair spot, but it had no way down from it; and in a copy
of verses to Phocus he writes"- 

that I spared my land, 
And withheld from usurpation and from violence my hand, 
And forbore to fix a stain and a disgrace on my good name,

I regret not; I believe that it will be my chiefest fame." From which
it is manifest that he was a man of great reputation before he gave
his laws. The several mocks that were put upon him for refusing the
power, he records in these words:- 

"Solon surely was a dreamer, and a man of simple mind; 
When the gods would give him fortune, he of his own will declined;

When the net was full of fishes, over-heavy thinking it,

He declined to haul it up, through want of heart and want of wit.

Had but I that chance of riches and of kingship, for one day,

I would give my skin for flaying, and my house to die away."

Thus he makes the many and the low people speak of him. Yet, though
he refused the government, he was not too mild in the affair; he did
not show himself mean and submissive to the powerful, nor make his
laws to pleasure those that chose him. For where it was well before,
he applied no remedy, nor altered anything, for fear lest-

"Overthrowing altogether and disordering the state," he should be
too weak to new-model and recompose it to a tolerable condition; but
what he thought he could effect by persuasion upon the pliable, and
by force upon the stubborn, this he did, as he himself says-

"With force and justice working both in one." And, therefore, when
he was afterwards asked if he had left the Athenians the best laws
that could be given, he replied, "The best they could receive." The
way which, the moderns say, the Athenians have of softening the badness
of a thing, by ingeniously giving it some pretty and innocent appellation,
calling harlots, for example, mistresses, tributes customs, a garrison
a guard, and the jail the chamber, seem originally to have been Solon's
contrivance, who called cancelling debts Seisacthea, a relief, or
disencumbrance. For the first thing which he settled was, that what
debts remained should be forgiven, and no man, for the future, should
engage the body of his debtor for security. Though some, as Androtion,
affirm that the debts were not cancelled, but the interest only lessened,
which sufficiently pleased the people; so that they named this benefit
the Seisacthea, together with the enlarging their measures and raising
the value of their money; for he made a pound, which before passed
for seventy-three drachmas, go for a hundred; so that, though the
number of pieces in the payment was equal, the value was less; which
proved a considerable benefit to those that were to discharge great
debts, and no loss to the creditors. But most agree that it was the
taking off the debts that was called Seisacthea, which is confirmed
by some places in his poem, where he takes honour to himself, that-

"The mortgage-stones that covered her, by me 
Removed,- the land that was a slave is free: that some who had been
seized for their debts he had brought back from other countries, where-

"-so far their lot to roam, 
They had forgot the language of their home; and some he had set at

"Who here in shameful servitude were held." 

While he was designing this, a most vexatious thing happened; for
when he had resolved to take off the debts, and was considering the
proper form and fit beginning for it, he told some of his friends,
Conon, Clinias, and Hipponicus, in whom he had a great deal of confidence,
that he would not meddle with the lands, but only free the people
from their debts; upon which they, using their advantage, made haste
and borrowed some considerable sums of money, and purchased some large
farms; and when the law was enacted, they kept the possessions, and
would not return the money; which brought Solon into great suspicion
and dislike, as if he himself had not been abused, but was concerned
in the contrivance. But he presently stopped this suspicion, by releasing
his debtors of five talents (for he had lent so much), according to
the law; others, as Polyzelus the Rhodian, say fifteen; his friends,
however, were ever afterward called Chreocopidae, repudiators.

In this he pleased neither party, for the rich were angry for their
money, and the poor that the land was not divided, and, as Lycurgus
ordered in his commonwealth, all men reduced to equality. He, it is
true, being the eleventh from Hercules, and having reigned many years
in Lacedaemon, had got a great reputation and friends and power, which
he could use in modelling his state; and applying force more than
persuasion, insomuch that he lost his eye in the scuffle, was able
to employ the most effectual means for the safety and harmony of a
state, by not permitting any to be poor or rich in his commonwealth.
Solon could not rise to that in his polity, being but a citizen of
the middle classes; yet he acted fully up to the height of his power,
having nothing but the good-will and good opinion of his citizens
to rely on; and that he offended the most part, who looked for another
result, he declares in the words- 

"Formerly they boasted of me vainly; with averted eyes 
Now they look askance upon me; friends no more, but enemies." And
yet had any other man, he says, received the same power-

"He would not have forborne, nor let alone, 
But made the fattest of the milk his own." Soon, however, becoming
sensible of the good that was done, they laid by their grudges, made
a public sacrifice, calling it Seisacthea, and chose Solon to new-model
and make laws for the commonwealth, giving him the entire power over
everything, their magistracies, their assemblies, courts, and councils;
that he should appoint the number, times of meeting, and what estate
they must have that could be capable of these, and dissolve or continue
any of the present constitutions, according to his pleasure.

First, then, he repealed all Draco's laws, except those concerning
homicide, because they were too severe, and the punishment too great;
for death was appointed for almost all offences, insomuch that those
that were convicted of idleness were to die, and those that stole
a cabbage or an apple to suffer even as villains that committed sacrilege
or murder. So that Demades, in after time, was thought to have said
very happily, that Draco's laws were written not with ink but blood;
and he himself, being once asked why be made death the punishment
of most offences, replied, "Small ones deserve that, and I have no
higher for the greater crimes." 

Next, Solon, being willing to continue the magistracies in the hands
of the rich men, and yet receive the people into the other part of
the government, took an account of the citizens' estates, and those
that were worth five hundred measures of fruit, dry and liquid, he
placed in the first rank, calling them Pentacosiomedimni; those that
could keep an horse, or were worth three hundred measures, were named
Hippada Teluntes, and made the second class; the Zeugitae, that had
two hundred measures, were in the third; and all the others were called
Thetes, who were not admitted to any office, but could come to the
assembly, and act as jurors; which at first seemed nothing, but afterwards
was found an enormous privilege, as almost every matter of dispute
came before them in this latter capacity. Even in the cases which
he assigned to the archon's cognisance, he allowed an appeal to the
courts. Besides, it is said that he was obscure and ambiguous in the
wording of his laws, on purpose to increase the honour of his courts;
for since their differences could not be adjusted by the letter, they
would have to bring all their causes to the judges, who thus were
in a manner masters of the laws. Of this equalisation he himself makes
mention in this manner:- 

"Such power I gave the people as might do, 
Abridged not what they had, now lavished new, 
Those that were great in wealth and high in place 
My counsel likewise kept from all disgrace. 
Before them both I held my shield of might, 
And let not either touch the other's right." And for the greater security
of the weak commons, he gave general liberty of indicting for an act
of injury; if any one was beaten, maimed, or suffered any violence,
any man that would and was able might prosecute the wrong-doer; intending
by this to accustom the citizens, like members of the same body, to
resent and be sensible of one another's injuries. And there is a saying
of his agreeable to his law, for, being asked what city was best modelled,
"That," said he, "where those that are not injured try and punish
the unjust as much as those that are." 

When he had constituted the Areopagus of those who had been yearly
archons, of which he himself was a member therefore, observing that
the people, now free from their debts, were unsettled and imperious,
he formed another council of four hundred, a hundred out of each of
the four tribes, which was to inspect all matters before they were
propounded to the people, and to take care that nothing but what had
been first examined should be brought before the general assembly.
The upper council, or Areopagus, he made inspectors and keepers of
the laws, conceiving that the commonwealth, held by these two councils,
like anchors, would be less liable to be tossed by tumults, and the
people be more quiet. Such is the general statement, that Solon instituted
the Areopagus; which seems to be confirmed, because Draco makes no
mention of the Areopagites, but in all causes of blood refers to the
Ephetae; yet Solon's thirteenth table contains the eighth law set
down in these very words: "Whoever before Solon's archonship were
disfranchised, let them be restored, except those that, being condemned
by the Areopagus, Ephetae, or in the Prytaneum by the kings, for homicide,
murder, or designs against the government, were in banishment when
this law was made; and these words seem to show that the Areopagus
existed before Solon's laws, for who could be condemned by that council
before his time, if he was the first that instituted the court? unless,
which is probable, there is some ellipsis, or want of precision in
the language, and it should run thus:- "Those that are convicted of
such offences as belong to the cognisance of the Areopagites, Ephetae,
or the Prytanes, when this law was made," shall remain still in disgrace,
whilst others are restored; of this the reader must judge.

Amongst his other laws, one is very peculiar and surprising, which
disfranchises all who stand neuter in a sedition; for it seems he
would not have any one remain insensible and regardless of the public
good, and securing his private affairs, glory that he has no feeling
of the distempers of his country; but at once join with the good party
and those that have the right upon their side, assist and venture
with them, rather than keep out of harm's way and watch who would
get the better. It seems an absurd and foolish law which permits an
heiress, if her lawful husband fail her, to take his nearest kinsman;
yet some say this law was well contrived against those who, conscious
of their own unfitness, yet, for the sake of the portion, would match
with heiresses, and make use of law to put a violence upon nature;
for now, since she can quit him for whom she pleases, they would either
abstain from such marriages, or continue them with disgrace, and suffer
for their covetousness and designed affront; it is well done, moreover,
to confine her to her husband's nearest kinsman, that the children
may be of the same family. Agreeable to this is the law that the bride
and bridegroom shall be shut into a chamber, and eat a quince together;
and that the husband of an heiress shall consort with her thrice a
month; for though there be no children, yet it is an honour and due
affection which an husband ought to pay to a virtuous, chaste wife;
it takes off all petty differences, and will not permit their little
quarrels to proceed to a rupture. 

In all other marriages he forbade dowries to be given; the wife was
to have three suits of clothes, a little inconsiderable household
stuff, and that was all; for he would not have marriages contracted
for gain or an estate, but for pure love, kind affection, and birth
of children. When the mother of Dionysius desired him to marry her
to one of his citizens, "Indeed," said he, "by my tyranny I have broken
my country's laws, but cannot put a violence upon those of nature
by an unseasonable marriage." Such disorder is never to be suffered
in a commonwealth, nor such unseasonable and unloving and unperforming
marriages, which attain no due end or fruit; any provident governor
or lawgiver might say to an old man that takes a young wife what is
said to Philoctetes in the tragedy- 

"Truly, in a fit state thou to marry! and if he find a young man,
with a rich and elderly wife, growing fat in his place, like the partridges,
remove him to a young woman of proper age. And of this enough.

Another commendable law of Solon's is that which forbids men to speak
evil of the dead; for it is pious to think the deceased sacred, and
just, not to meddle with those that are gone, and politic, to prevent
the perpetuity of discord. He likewise forbade them to speak evil
of the living in the temples, the courts of justice, the public offices,
or at the games, or else to pay three drachmas to the person, and
two to the public. For never to be able to control passion shows a
weak nature and ill-breeding; and always to moderate it is very hard,
and to some impossible. And laws must look to possibilities, if the
maker designs to punish few in order to their amendment, and not many
to no purpose. 

He is likewise much commended for his law concerning wills; before
him none could be made, but all the wealth and estate of the deceased
belonged to his family; but he by permitting them, if they had no
children to bestow it on whom they pleased, showed that he esteemed
friendship a stronger tie than kindred, affection than necessity;
and made every man's estate truly his own. Yet he allowed not all
sorts of legacies, but those only which were not extorted by the frenzy
of a disease, charms, imprisonment, force, or the persuasions of a
wife; with good reason thinking that being seduced into wrong was
as bad as being forced, and that between deceit and necessity, flattery
and compulsion, there was little difference, since both may equally
suspend the exercise of reason. 

He regulated the walks, feasts, and mourning of the women and took
away everything that was either unbecoming or immodest; when they
walked abroad, no more than three articles of dress were allowed them;
an obol's worth of meat and drink; and no basket above a cubit high;
and at night they were not to go about unless in a chariot with a
torch before them. Mourners tearing themselves to raise pity, and
set wailings, and at one man's funeral to lament for another, he forbade.
To offer an ox at the grave was not permitted, nor to bury above three
pieces of dress with the body, or visit the tombs of any besides their
own family, unless at the very funeral; most of which are likewise
forbidden by our laws, but this is further added in ours, that those
that are convicted of extravagance in their mournings are to be punished
as soft and effeminate by the censors of women. 

Observing the city to be filled with persons that flocked from all
parts into Attica for security of living, and that most of the country
was barren and unfruitful, and that traders at sea import nothing
to those that could give them nothing in exchange, he turned his citizens
to trade, and made a law that no son be obliged to relieve a father
who had not bred him up to any calling. It is true, Lycurgus, having
a city free from all strangers, and land, according to Euripides-

"Large for large hosts, for twice their number much," and, above all,
an abundance of labourers about Sparta, who should not be left idle,
but be kept down with continual toil and work, did well to take off
his citizens from laborious and mechanical occupations, and keep them
to their arms, and teach them only the art of war. But Solon, fitting
his laws to the state of things, and not making things to suit his
laws, and finding the ground scarce rich enough to maintain the husbandmen,
and altogether incapable of feeding an unoccupied and leisured multitude,
brought trades into credit, and ordered the Areopagites to examine
how every man got his living, and chastise the idle. But that law
was yet more rigid which, as Heraclides Ponticus delivers, declared
the sons of unmarried mothers not obliged to relieve their fathers;
for he that avoids the honourable form of union shows that he does
not take a woman for children, but for pleasure, and thus gets his
just reward, and has taken away from himself every title to upbraid
his children, to whom he has made their very birth a scandal and reproach.

Solon's laws in general about women are his strangest; for he permitted
any one to kill an adulterer that found him in the act- but if any
one forced a free woman, a hundred drachmas was the fine; if he enticed
her, twenty; except those that sell themselves openly, that is, harlots,
who go openly to those that hire them. He made it unlawful to sell
a daughter or a sister, unless, being yet unmarried, she was found
wanton. Now it is irrational to punish the same crime sometimes very
severely and without remorse, and sometimes very lightly, and as it
were in sport, with a trivial fine; unless there being little money
then in Athens, scarcity made those mulcts the more grievous punishment.
In the valuation for sacrifices, a sheep and a bushel were both estimated
at a drachma; the victor in the Isthmian games was to have for reward
an hundred drachmas; the conqueror in the Olympian, five hundred;
he that brought a wolf, five drachmas; for a whelp, one; the former
sum, as Demetrius the Phalerian asserts, was the value of an ox, the
latter, of a sheep. The prices which Solon, in his sixteenth table,
sets on choice victims, were naturally far greater; yet they, too,
are very low in comparison of the present. The Athenians were, from
the beginning, great enemies to wolves, their fields being better
for pasture than corn. Some affirm their tribes did not take their
names from the sons of Ion, but from the different sorts of occupation
that they followed; the soldiers were called Hoplitae, the craftsmen
Ergades, and, of the remaining two, the farmers Gedeontes, and the
shepherds and graziers Aegicores. 

Since the country has but few rivers, lakes, or large springs, and
many used wells which they had dug, there was a law made, that, where
there was a public well within a hippicon, that is, four furlongs,
all should draw at that; but when it was farther off, they should
try and procure a well of their own; and if they had dug ten fathoms
deep and could find no water, they had liberty to fetch a pitcherful
of four gallons and a half in a day from their neighbours'; for he
thought it prudent to make provision against want, but not to supply
laziness. He showed skill in his orders about planting, for any one
that would plant another tree was not to set it within five feet of
his neighbour's field; but if a fig or an olive not within nine; for
their roots spread farther, nor can they be planted near all sorts
of trees without damage, for they draw away the nourishment, and in
some cases are noxious by their effluvia. He that would dig a pit
or a ditch was to dig it at the distance of its own depth from his
neighbour's ground; and he that would raise stocks of bees was not
to place them within three hundred feet of those which another had
already raised. 

He permitted only oil to be exported, and those that exported any
other fruit, the archon was solemnly to curse, or else pay an hundred
drachmas himself; and this law was written in his first table, and,
therefore, let none think it incredible, as some affirm, that the
exportation of figs was once unlawful, and the informer against the
delinquents called a sycophant. He made a law, also, concerning hurts
and injuries from beasts, in which he commands the master of any dog
that bit a man to deliver him up with a log about his neck, four and
a half feet long; a happy device for men's security. The law concerning
naturalizing strangers is of doubtful character; he permitted only
those to be made free of Athens who were in perpetual exile from their
own country, or came with their whole family to trade there; this
he did, not to discourage strangers, but rather to invite them to
a permanent participation in the privileges of the government; and,
besides, he thought those would prove the more faithful citizens who
had been forced from their own country, or voluntarily forsook it.
The law of public entertainment (parasitein is his name for it) is
also peculiarly Solon's; for if any man came often, or if he that
was invited refused, they were punished, for he concluded that one
was greedy, the other a contemner of the state. 

All his laws he established for an hundred years, and wrote them on
wooden tables or rollers, named axones, which might be turned round
in oblong cases; some of their relics were in my time still to be
seen in the Prytaneum, or common hall at Athens. These, as Aristotle
states, were called cyrbes, and there is a passage of Cratinus the

"By Solon, and by Draco, if you please, 
Whose Cyrbes make the fires that parch our peas." But some say those
are properly cyrbes, which contain laws concerning sacrifices and
the rites of religion, and all the others axones. The council all
jointly swore to confirm the laws, and every one of the Thesmothetae
vowed for himself at the stone in the market-place, that if he broke
any of the statutes, he would dedicate a golden statue, as big as
himself, at Delphi. 

Observing the irregularity of the months, and that the moon does not
always rise and set with the sun, but often in the same day overtakes
and gets before him, he ordered the day should be named the Old and
New, attributing that part of it which was before the conjunction
to the old moon, and the rest to the new, he being the first, it seems,
that understood that verse of Homer- 

"The end and the beginning of the month," and the following day he
called the new moon. After the twentieth he did not count by addition,
but, like the moon itself in its wane, by subtraction; thus up to
the thirtieth. 

Now when these laws were enacted, and some came to Solon every day,
to commend or dispraise them, and to advise, if possible, to leave
out or put in something, and many criticized and desired him to explain,
and tell the meaning of such and such a passage, he, knowing that
to do it was useless, and not to do it would get him ill-will, and
desirous to bring himself out of all straits, and to escape all displeasure
and exceptions, it being a hard thing, as he himself says-

"In great affairs to satisfy all sides," as an excuse for travelling,
bought a trading vessel, and, having leave for ten years' absence,
departed, hoping that by that time his laws would have become familiar.

His first voyage was for Egypt, and he lived, as he himself says-

"Near Nilus' mouth, by fair Canopus' shore," and spent some time in
study with Psenophis of Heliopolis, and Sonchis the Saite, the most
learned of all the priests; from whom, as Plato says, getting knowledge
of the Atlantic story, he put it into a poem, and proposed to bring
it to the knowledge of the Greeks. From thence he sailed to Cyprus,
where he was made much of by Philocyprus, one of the kings there,
who had a small city built by Demophon, Theseus's son, near the river
Clarius, in a strong situation, but incommodious and uneasy of access.
Solon persuaded him, since there lay a fair plain below, to remove,
and build there a pleasanter and more spacious city. And he stayed
himself, and assisted in gathering inhabitants, and in fitting it
both for defence and convenience of living; insomuch that many flocked
to Philocyprus, and the other kings imitated the design; and, therefore,
to honour Solon, he called the city Soli, which was formerly named
Aepea. And Solon himself, in his Elegies, addressing Philocyprus,
mentions this foundation in these words:- 

"Long may you live, and fill the Solian throne, 
Succeeded still by children of your own; 
And from your happy island while I sail, 
Let Cyprus send for me a favouring gale; 
May she advance, and bless your new command, 
Prosper your town, and send me safe to land." 

That Solon should discourse with Croesus, some think not agreeable
with chronology; but I cannot reject so famous and well-attested a
narrative, and, what is more, so agreeable to Solon's temper, and
so worthy his wisdom and greatness of mind, because, forsooth, it
does not agree with some chronological canons, which thousands have
endeavoured to regulate, and yet, to this day, could never bring their
differing opinions to any agreement. They say, therefore, that Solon,
coming to Croesus at his request, was in the same condition as an
inland man when first he goes to see the sea; for as he fancies every
river he meets with to be the ocean, so Solon, as he passed through
the court, and saw a great many nobles richly dressed, and proudly
attended with a multitude of guards and footboys, thought every one
had been the king, till he was brought to Croesus, who was decked
with every possible rarity and curiosity, in ornaments of jewels,
purple, and gold, that could make a grand and gorgeous spectacle of
him. Now when Solon came before him, and seemed not at all surprised,
nor gave Croesus those compliments he expected, but showed himself
to all discerning eyes to be a man that despised the gaudiness and
petty ostentation of it, he commanded them to open all his treasure
houses, and carry him to see his sumptuous furniture and luxuries,
though he did not wish it; Solon could judge of him well enough by
the first sight of him; and, when he returned from viewing all, Croesus
asked him if ever he had known a happier man than he. And when Solon
answered that he had known one Tellus, a fellow-citizen of his own,
and told him that this Tellus had been an honest man, had had good
children, a competent estate, and died bravely in battle for his country,
Croesus took him for an ill-bred fellow and a fool, for not measuring
happiness by the abundance of gold and silver, and preferring the
life and death of a private and mean man before so much power and
empire. He asked him, however, again, if, besides Tellus, he knew
any other man more happy. And Solon replying, Yes, Cleobis and Biton,
who were loving brothers, and extremely dutiful sons to their mother,
and, when the oxen delayed her, harnessed themselves to the wagon,
and drew her to Juno's temple, her neighbours all calling her happy,
and she herself rejoicing; then, after sacrificing and feasting, they
went to rest, and never rose again, but died in the midst of their
honour a painless and tranquil death. "What," said Croesus, angrily,
"and dost not thou reckon us amongst the happy men at all?" Solon,
unwilling either to flatter or exasperate him more, replied, "The
gods, O king, have given the Greeks all other gifts in moderate degree;
and so our wisdom, too, is a cheerful and a homely, not a noble and
kingly wisdom; and this, observing the numerous misfortunes that attend
all conditions, forbids us to grow insolent upon our present enjoyments,
or to admire any man's happiness that may yet, in course of time,
suffer change. For the uncertain future has yet to come, with every
possible variety of fortune; and him only to whom the divinity has
continued happiness unto the end we call happy; to salute as happy
one that is still in the midst of life and hazard, we think as little
safe and conclusive as to crown and proclaim as victorious the wrestler
that is yet in the ring." After this, he was dismissed, having given
Croesus some pain, but no instruction. 

Aesop, who wrote the fables, being then at Sardis upon Croesus's invitation,
and very much esteemed, was concerned that Solon was so ill received,
and gave him this advice: "Solon, let your converse with kings be
either short or seasonable." "Nay, rather," replied Solon, "either
short or reasonable." So at this time Croesus despised Solon; but
when he was overcome by Cyrus, had lost his city, was taken alive,
condemned to be burnt, and laid bound upon the pile before all the
Persians and Cyrus himself, he cried out as loud as possibly he could
three times, "O Solon!" and Cyrus being surprised, and sending some
to inquire what man or god this Solon was, who alone he invoked in
this extremity, Croesus told him the whole story, saying, "He was
one of the wise men of Greece, whom I sent for, not to be instructed,
or to learn anything that I wanted, but that he should see and be
a witness of my happiness; the loss of which was, it seems, to be
a greater evil than the enjoyment was a good; for when I had them
they were goods only in opinion, but now the loss of them has brought
upon me intolerable and real evils. And he, conjecturing from what
then was, this that now is, bade look to the end of my life, and not
rely and grow proud upon uncertainties." When this was told Cyrus,
who was a wiser man than Croesus, and saw in the present example Solon's
maxim confirmed, he not only freed Croesus from punishment, but honoured
him as long as he lived; and Solon had the glory, by the same saying,
to save one king and instruct another. 

When Solon was gone, the citizens began to quarrel; Lycurgus headed
the Plain; Megacles, the son of Alcmaeon, those to the Seaside; and
Pisistratus the Hill-party, in which were the poorest people, the
Thetes, and greatest enemies to the rich; insomuch that, though the
city still used the new laws, yet all looked for and desired a change
of government, hoping severally that the change would be better for
them, and put them above the contrary faction. Affairs standing thus,
Solon returned, and was reverenced by all, and honoured; but his old
age would not permit him to be as active, and to speak in public,
as formerly; yet, by privately conferring with the heads of the factions,
he endeavoured to compose the differences, Pisistratus appearing the
most tractable; for he was extremely smooth and engaging in his language,
a great friend to the poor, and moderate in his resentments; and what
nature had not given him, he had the skill to imitate; so that he
was trusted more than the others, being accounted a prudent and orderly
man, one that loved equality, and would be an enemy to any that moved
against the present settlement. Thus he deceived the majority of people;
but Solon quickly discovered his character, and found out his design
before any one else; yet did not hate him upon this, but endeavoured
to humble him, and bring him off from his ambition, and often told
him and others, that if any one could banish the passion for pre-eminence
from his mind, and cure him of his desire of absolute power, none
would make a more virtuous man or a more excellent citizen. Thespis,
at this time, beginning to act tragedies, and the thing, because it
was new, taking very much with the multitude, though it was not yet
made a matter of competition, Solon, being by nature fond of hearing
and learning something new, and now, in his old age, living idly,
and enjoying himself, indeed, with music and with wine, went to see
Thespis himself, as the ancient custom was, act: and after the play
was done, he addressed him, and asked him if he was not ashamed to
tell so many lies before such a number of people; and Thespis replying
that it was no harm to say or do so in play, Solon vehemently struck
his staff against the ground: "Ah," said he, "if we honour and commend
such play as this, we shall find it some day in our business."

Now when Pisistratus, having wounded himself, was brought into the
market-place in a chariot, and stirred up the people, as if he had
been thus treated by his opponents because of his political conduct,
and a great many were enraged and cried out, Solon, coming close to
him, said, "This, O son of Hippocrates, is a bad copy of Homer's Ulysses;
you do, to trick your countrymen, what he did to deceive his enemies."
After this, the people were eager to protect Pisistratus, and met
in an assembly, where one Ariston making a motion that they should
allow Pisistratus fifty clubmen for a guard to his person, Solon opposed
it, and said much to the same purport as what he has left us in his

"You dote upon his words and taking phrase;" and again- 

"True, you are singly each a crafty soul, 
But all together make one empty fool." But observing the poor men
bent to gratify Pisistratus, and tumultuous, and the rich fearful
and getting out of harm's way, he departed, saying he was wiser than
some and stouter than others; wiser than those that did not understand
the design, stouter than those that, though they understood it, were
afraid to oppose the tyranny. Now, the people, having passed the law,
were not nice with Pisistratus about the number of his clubmen, but
took no notice of it, though he enlisted and kept as many as he would,
until he seized the Acropolis. When that was done, and the city in
an uproar, Megacles, with all his family, at once fled; but Solon,
though he was now very old, and had none to back him, yet came into
the marketplace and made a speech to the citizens, partly blaming
their inadvertency and meanness of spirit, and in part urging and
exhorting them not thus tamely to lose their liberty; and likewise
then spoke that memorable saying, that, before, it was an easier task
to stop the rising tyranny, but now the great and more glorious action
to destroy it, when it was begun already, and had gathered strength.
But all being afraid to side with him, he returned home, and, taking
his arms, he brought them out and laid them in the porch before his
door, with these words: "I have done my part to maintain my country
and my laws," and then he busied himself no more. His friends advising
him to fly, he refused, but wrote poems, and thus reproached the Athenians
in them:- 

"If now you suffer, do not blame the Powers, 
For they are good, and all the fault was ours, 
All the strongholds you put into his hands, 
And now his slaves must do what he commands." And many telling him
that the tyrant would take his life for this, and asking what he trusted
to, that he ventured to speak so boldly, he replied, "To my old age."
But Pisistratus, having got the command, so extremely courted Solon,
so honoured him, obliged him, and sent to see him, that Solon gave
him his advice, and approved many of his actions; for he retained
most of Solon's laws, observed them himself, and compelled his friends
to obey. And he himself, though already absolute ruler, being accused
of murder before the Areopagus, came quietly to clear himself; but
his accuser did not appear. And he added other laws, one of which
is that the maimed in the wars should be maintained at the public
charge; this Heraclides Ponticus records, and that Pisistratus followed
Solon's example in this, who had decreed it in the case of one Thersippus,
that was maimed; and Theophrastus asserts that it was Pisistratus,
not Solon, that made that law against laziness, which was the reason
that the country was more productive, and the city tranquiller.

Now Solon, having begun the great work in verse, the history or fable
of the Atlantic Island, which he had learned from the wise men in
Sais, and thought convenient for the Athenians to know, abandoned
it; not, as Plato says, by reason of want of time, but because of
his age, and being discouraged at the greatness of the task; for that
he had leisure enough, such verses testify, as- 

"Each day grow older, and learn something new;" and again-

"But now the Powers, of Beauty, Song, and Wine, 
Which are most men's delights, are also mine." Plato, willing to improve
the story of the Atlantic Island, as if it were a fair estate that
wanted an heir and came with some title to him, formed, indeed, stately
entrances, noble enclosures, large courts, such as never yet introduced
any story, fable, or poetic fiction; but, beginning it late, ended
his life before his work; and the reader's regret for the unfinished
part is the greater, as the satisfaction he takes in that which is
complete is extraordinary. For as the city of Athens left only the
temple of Jupiter Olympius unfinished, so Plato, amongst all his excellent
works, left this only piece about the Atlantic Island imperfect. Solon
lived after Pisistratus seized the government, as Heraclides Ponticus
asserts, a long time; but Phanias the Eresian says not two full years;
for Pisistratus began his tyranny when Comias was archon, and Phanias
says Solon died under Hegestratus, who succeeded Comias. The story
that his ashes were scattered about the island Salamis is too strange
to be easily believed, or be thought anything but a mere fable; and
yet it is given, amongst other good authors, by Aristotle, the philosopher.



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