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- Athens: Its Rise and Fall, Book II. - 6/26 -


affable, eloquent, endowed with every gift of nature and fortune-- kinsman to Solon, but of greater wealth and more dazzling qualities-- the young Pisistratus, son of Hippocrates, early connected himself with the democratic or highland party. The Megarians, who had never relinquished their designs on Salamis, had taken an opportunity, apparently before the travels, and, according to Plutarch, even before the legislation of Solon, to repossess themselves of the island. When the Athenians were enabled to extend their energies beyond their own great domestic revolution, Pisistratus obtained the command of an expedition against these dangerous neighbours, which was attended with the most signal success. A stratagem referred to Solon by Plutarch, who has with so contagious an inaccuracy blended into one the two several and distinct expeditions of Pisistratus and Solon, ought rather to be placed to the doubtful glory of the son of Hippocrates [225]. A number of young men sailed with Pisistratus to Colias, and taking the dress of women, whom they there seized while sacrificing to Ceres, a spy was despatched to Salamis, to inform the Megarian guard that many of the principal Athenian matrons were at Colias, and might be easily captured. The Megarians were decoyed, despatched a body of men to the opposite shore, and beholding a group in women's attire dancing by the strand, landed confusedly to seize the prize. The pretended females drew forth their concealed weapons, and the Megarians, surprised and dismayed, were cut off to a man. The victors lost no time in setting sail for Salamis, and easily regained the isle. Pisistratus carried the war into Megara itself, and captured the port of Nisaea. These exploits were the foundation of his after greatness; and yet young, at the return of Solon, he was already at the head of the democratic party. But neither his rank, his genius, nor his popular influence sufficed to give to his faction a decided eminence over those of his rivals. The wealthy nobles of the lowlands were led by Lycurgus--the moderate party of the coastmen by Megacles, the head of the Alcmaeonidae. And it was in the midst, of the strife and agitation produced by these great sections of the people that Solon returned to Athens.

III. The venerable legislator was received with all the grateful respect he deserved; but age had dimmed the brilliancy of his powers. His voice could no longer penetrate the mighty crowds of the market- place. New idols had sprung up--new passions were loosed--new interests formed, and amid the roar and stir of the eternal movement, it was in vain for the high-hearted old man to recall those rushing on the future to the boundaries of the past. If unsuccessful in public, he was not discouraged from applying in private to the leaders of the several parties. Of all those rival nobles, none deferred to his advice with so marked a respect as the smooth and plausible Pisistratus. Perhaps, indeed, that remarkable man contemplated the same objects as Solon himself,--although the one desired to effect by the authority of the chief, the order and the energy which the other would have trusted to the development of the people. But, masking his more interested designs, Pisistratus outbid all competition in his seeming zeal for the public welfare. The softness of his manners--his profuse liberality--his generosity even to his foes--the splendid qualities which induced Cicero to compare him to Julius Cesar [226], charmed the imagination of the multitude, and concealed the selfishness of his views. He was not a hypocrite, indeed, as to his virtues--a dissembler only in his ambition. Even Solon, in endeavouring to inspire him with a true patriotism, acknowledged his talents and his excellences. "But for ambition," said he, "Athens possesses no citizen worthier than Pisistratus." The time became ripe for the aspiring projects of the chief of the democracy.

IV. The customary crowd was swarming in the market-place, when suddenly in the midst of the assembly appeared the chariot of Pisistratus. The mules were bleeding--Pisistratus himself was wounded. In this condition the demagogue harangued the people. He declared that he had just escaped from the enemies of himself and the popular party, who (under the auspices of the Alcmaeonidae) had attacked him in a country excursion. He reminded the crowd of his services in war--his valour against the Megarians--his conquest of Nisaea. He implored their protection. Indignant and inflamed, the favouring audience shouted their sympathy with his wrongs. "Son of Hippocrates," said Solon, advancing to the spot, and with bitter wit, "you are but a bad imitator of Ulysses. He wounded himself to delude his enemies--you to deceive your countrymen." [227] The sagacity of the reproach was unheeded by the crowd. A special assembly of the people was convened, and a partisan of the demagogue moved that a body-guard of fifty men, armed but with clubs, should be assigned to his protection. Despite the infirmities of his age, and the decrease of his popular authority, Solon had the energy to oppose the motion, and predict its results. The credulous love of the people swept away all precaution--the guard was granted. Its number did not long continue stationary; Pisistratus artfully increased the amount, till it swelled to the force required by his designs. He then seized the citadel--the antagonist faction of Megacles fled--and Pisistratus was master of Athens. Amid the confusion and tumult of the city, Solon retained his native courage. He appeared in public--harangued the citizens--upbraided their blindness--invoked their courage. In his speeches he bade them remember that if it be the more easy task to prevent tyranny, it is the more glorious achievement to destroy it. In his verses [228] he poured forth the indignant sentiment which a thousand later bards have borrowed and enlarged; "Blame not Heaven for your tyrants, blame yourselves." The fears of some, the indifference of others, rendered his exhortations fruitless! The brave old man sorrowfully retreated to his house, hung up his weapons without his door, and consoled himself with the melancholy boast that "he had done all to save his country, and its laws." This was his last public effort against the usurper. He disdained flight; and, asked by his friends to what he trusted for safety from the wrath of the victor, replied, "To old age,"--a sad reflection, that so great a man should find in infirmity that shelter which he claimed from glory.

V. The remaining days and the latter conduct of Solon are involved in obscurity. According to Plutarch, he continued at Athens, Pisistratus showing him the utmost respect, and listening to the counsel which Solon condescended to bestow upon him: according to Diogenes Laertius, he departed again from his native city [229], indignant at its submission, and hopeless of its freedom, refusing all overtures from Pisistratus, and alleging that, having established a free government, he would not appear to sanction the success of a tyrant. Either account is sufficiently probable. The wisdom of Solon might consent to mitigate what he could not cure, or his patriotism might urge him to avoid witnessing the changes he had no power to prevent. The dispute is of little importance. At his advanced age he could not have long survived the usurpation of Pisistratus, nor can we find any authority for the date of his death so entitled to credit as that of Phanias, who assigns it to the year following the usurpation of Pisistratus. The bright race was already run. According to the grave authority of Aristotle, the ashes of Solon were scattered over the Isle of Salamis, which had been the scene of his earlier triumphs; and Athens, retaining his immortal, boasted not his perishable remains.

VI. Pisistratus directed with admirable moderation the courses of the revolution he had produced. Many causes of success were combined in his favour. His enemies had been the supposed enemies of the people, and the multitude doubtless beheld the flight of the Alcmaeonidae (still odious in their eyes by the massacre of Cylon) as the defeat of a foe, while the triumph of the popular chief was recognised as the victory of the people. In all revolutions the man who has sided with the people is permitted by the people the greatest extent of license. It is easy to perceive, by the general desire which the Athenians had expressed for the elevation of Solon to the supreme authority that the notion of regal authority was not yet hateful to them, and that they were scarcely prepared for the liberties with which they were intrusted. But although they submitted thus patiently to the ascendency of Pisistratus, it is evident that a less benevolent or less artful tyrant would not have been equally successful. Raised above the law, that subtle genius governed only by the law; nay, he affected to consider its authority greater than his own. He assumed no title--no attribute of sovereignty. He was accused of murder, and he humbly appeared before the tribunal of the Areopagus--a proof not more of the moderation of the usurper than of the influence of public opinion. He enforced the laws of Solon, and compelled the unruly tempers of his faction to subscribe to their wholesome rigour. The one revolution did not, therefore, supplant, it confirmed, the other. "By these means," says Herodotus, "Pisistratus mastered Athens, and yet his situation was far from secure." [230]

VII. Although the heads of the more moderate party, under Megacles, had been expelled from Athens, yet the faction, equally powerful and equally hostile, headed by Lycurgus, and embraced by the bulk of the nobles, still remained. For a time, extending perhaps to five or six years, Pisistratus retained his power; but at length, Lycurgus, uniting with the exiled Alcmaeonidae, succeeded in expelling him from the city. But the union that had led to his expulsion ceased with that event. The contests between the lowlanders and the coastmen were only more inflamed by the defeat of the third party, which had operated as a balance of power, and the broils of their several leaders were fed by personal ambition as by hereditary animosities. Megacles, therefore, unable to maintain equal ground with Lycurgus, turned his thoughts towards the enemy he had subdued, and sent proposals to Pisistratus, offering to unite their forces, and to support him in his pretensions to the tyranny, upon condition that the exiled chief should marry his daughter Coesyra. Pisistratus readily acceded to the terms, and it was resolved by a theatrical pageant to reconcile his return to the people. In one of the boroughs of the city there was a woman named Phya, of singular beauty and lofty stature. Clad in complete armour, and drawn in a chariot, this woman was conducted with splendour and triumph towards the city. By her side rode Pisistratus--heralds preceded their march, and proclaimed her approach, crying aloud to the Athenians "to admit Pisistratus, the favourite of Minerva, for that the goddess herself had come to earth on his behalf."

The sagacity of the Athenians was already so acute, and the artifice appeared to Herodotus so gross, that the simple Halicarnassean could scarcely credit the authenticity of this tale. But it is possible that the people viewed the procession as an ingenious allegory, to the adaptation of which they were already disposed; and that, like the populace of a later and yet more civilized people, they hailed the goddess while they recognised the prostitute [231]. Be that as it may, the son of Hippocrates recovered his authority, and fulfilled his treaty with Megacles by a marriage with his daughter. Between the commencement of his first tyranny and the date of his second return, there was probably an interval of twelve years. His sons were already adults. Partly from a desire not to increase his family, partly from some superstitious disinclination to the blood of the Alcmaeonidae, which the massacre of Cylon still stigmatized with contamination, Pisistratus conducted himself towards the fair Coesyra with a chastity either unwelcome to her affection, or afflicting to her pride. The unwedded wife communicated the mortifying secret to her mother, from whose lips it soon travelled to the father. He did not view the purity of Pisistratus with charitable eyes. He thought it an affront to his own person that that of his daughter should be so tranquilly regarded. He entered into a league with his former opponents against the usurper, and so great was the danger, that Pisistratus (despite his habitual courage) betook himself hastily to flight:--a strange instance of the caprice of human events, that a man could with a greater impunity subdue the freedom of his country, than affront the vanity of his wife! [232]


Athens: Its Rise and Fall, Book II. - 6/26

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