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Solon   


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

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