War is not the best way of settling differences; it is the only way of preventing their being settled for you. — G. K. Chesterton

Story of the Greeks - Helene Guerber




The Laws of Solon

Shortly after the death of Cylon and the murder of his followers, a great many troubles came upon the city of Athens. The people were frightened, and soon the friends of Cylon began to whisper that the gods were surely punishing the Athenians, and especially Megacles, for breaking his promise.

This report spread throughout the city. The terrified people assembled, and voted to exile Megacles and all his family, the Alcmæonidæ. Such was the fury of the Athenians against the archon whose crime had brought misfortunes upon them, that they even dug up the bones of his ancestors, and had them carried beyond the boundary of Attica.

The city had been defiled by the crime which Megacles had committed, and the people felt that they would never be prosperous again until Athens had been purified; but the great question was to find a man holy enough to perform the ceremony.

After much talking, they decided to send for Epimenides, and to ask him to purify the city. This man, when a mere lad, once went into a cave near his native town, and there laid himself down to sleep. Instead of taking an ordinary nap, however, he slept fifty-eight years, without awakening or undergoing any change. When he came out of the cave, where he fancied he had spent only a few hours, he was surprised to find everything new and strange to him.

His relatives had all died, no one knew him, and it was only after some time had passed that he found out that he had slept fifty-eight years at a stretch. This man was a poet of note, and, as he had enjoyed so long a sleep, the people thought that he was a favorite of the gods.

When the Athenians asked him to purify the town, he came to do so; but when the ceremonies were ended, he refused to accept any of the rich gifts which the people offered him as reward. Instead, he humbly begged them to give him a twig of the sacred olive tree which they said Athene herself had planted on the Acropolis.

Their troubles having now ceased, the Athenians began to think of making another and less severe code of laws. This time they chose as lawmaker a wise man called Solon, a descendant of the noble Codrus; and he soon consented to tell them what to do.

Solon was a studious and thoughtful man, and had acquired much of his wisdom by traveling, and by learning all he could from the people he visited. He knew so much that he was called a sage, and he loved to meet and talk with wise people.

Solon changed many of Draco's severe laws, arranged that the farmers and poor people should no longer be treated badly by the rich, and even took care of the slaves. He also gave the Athenians a court of law called Areopagus. Here there were jurymen to judge all criminals; and here, for the first time, an accused person was allowed to speak in his own defense.

When a man was accused of any wrongdoing, he was brought before this jury, who sat under the open sky at night. No light was provided, and the whole trial was carried on in the dark, so that the jury should not be influenced by the good or bad looks of the prisoner, but should judge merely from what was proved about him.

If the accused person was found guilty, he was also sentenced and executed in the dark, so that the bright sun god, riding across the sky in his golden chariot, should not be offended by the sad sight of a man dying for his misdeeds.

Every citizen of Athens, whether rich or poor, was allowed to vote; and as a salary was now paid to the men who helped govern the city, even a man of small means, if elected to the Tribunal, could afford to give his time to public duties.

By Solon's order the people were encouraged to talk matters over in public in the market place; and, as the Athenians were fond of making speeches, many of them became very eloquent.

Solon saw that his reforms were likely to work all the better if they were fairly tried, and if he were not there to see how the people did. He therefore made the Athenians promise to obey his laws for ten years, and again set out on his travels.



Contents

Front Matter
Review

Early Inhabitants of Greece
The Deluge of Ogyges
Founding of Important Cities
Story of Deucalion
Daedalus and Icarus
The Adventures of Jason
Theseus Visits the Labyrinth
The Terrible Prophecy
The Sphinx's Riddle
Death of Oedipus
The Brothers' Quarrel
The Taking of Thebes
The Childhood of Paris
Muster of the Troops
Sacrifice of Iphigenia
The Wrath of Achilles
Death of Hector and Achilles
The Burning of Troy
Heroic Death of Codrus
The Blind Poet
The Rise of Sparta
The Spartan Training
The Brave Spartan Boy
Public Tables in Sparta
Laws of Lycurgus
The Messenian War
The Music of Tyrtaeus
Aristomenes' Escape
The Olympic Games
Milo of Croton
The Jealous Athlete
The Girls' Games
The Bloody Laws of Draco
The Laws of Solon
The First Plays
The Tyrant Pisistratus
The Tyrant's Insult
Death of the Conspirators
Hippias Driven out of Athens
The Great King
Hippias Visits Darius
Destruction of the Persian Host
Advance of the Second Host
The Battle of Marathon
Miltiades' Disgrace
Aristides the Just
Two Noble Spartan Youths
The Great Army
Preparations for Defense
Leonidas at Thermopylae
Death of Leonidas
The Burning of Athens
Battles of Salamis and Plataea
The Rebuilding of Athens
Death of Pausanias
Cimon Improves Athens
The Earthquake
The Age of Pericles
Teachings of Anaxagoras
Peloponnesian War Begins
Death of Pericles
The Philosopher Socrates
Socrates' Favorite Pupil
Youth of Alcibiades
Greek Colonies in Italy
Alcibiades in Disgrace
Death of Alcibiades
Overthrow of Thirty Tyrants
Accusation of Socrates
Death of Socrates
The Defeat of Cyrus
Retreat of the Ten Thousand
Agesilaus in Asia
A Strange Interview
The Peace of Antalcidas
The Theban Friends
Thebes Free Once More
The Battle of Leuctra
Death of Pelopidas
The Battle of Mantinea
The Tyrant of Syracuse
Damon and Pythias
The Sword of Damocles
Dion and Dionysius
Civil War in Syracuse
Death of Dion
Philip of Macedon
Philip Begins His Conquests
The Orator Demosthenes
Philip Masters Greece
Birth of Alexander
The Steed Bucephalus
Alexander as King
Alexander and Diogenes
Alexander's Beginning
The Gordian Knot
Alexander's Royal Captives
Alexander at Jerusalem
The African Desert
Death of Darius
Defeat of Porus
Return to Babylon
Death of Alexander
Division of the Realm
Death of Demosthenes
Last of the Athenians
The Colossus of Rhodes
The Battle of Ipsus
Demetrius and the Athenians
The Achaean League
Division in Sparta
Death of Agis
War of the Two Leagues
The Last of the Greeks
Greece a Roman Province