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Solon   


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

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