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- Athens: Its Rise and Fall, Book IV. - 10/19 -


manners as an example to the admiration of his countrymen. It was a favourite mode of reproof with him--"The Spartans would not have done this." It was even remembered against him that he had called his son Lacedaemonius. These predilections had of late rankled in the popular mind; and now, when the Athenian force had been contumeliously dismissed, it was impossible to forget that Cimon had obtained the decree of the relief, and that the mortification which resulted from it was the effect of his counsels.

Public spirit ran high against the Spartans, and at the head of the Spartan faction in Athens stood Cimon.

XVI. But at this time, other events, still more intimately connected with the Athenian politics, conspired to weaken the authority of this able general. Those constitutional reforms, which are in reality revolutions under a milder name, were now sweeping away the last wrecks of whatever of the old aristocratic system was still left to the Athenian commonwealth.

We have seen that the democratic party had increased in power by the decree of Aristides, which opened all offices to all ranks. This, as yet, was productive less of actual than of moral effects. The liberal opinions possessed by a part of the aristocracy, and the legitimate influence which in all countries belongs to property and high descent (greatest, indeed, where the countries are most free)--secured, as a general rule, the principal situations in the state to rank and wealth. But the moral effect of the decree was to elevate the lower classes with a sense of their own power and dignity, and every victory achieved over a foreign foe gave new authority to the people whose voices elected the leader--whose right arms won the battle.

The constitution previous to Solon was an oligarchy of birth. Solon rendered it an aristocracy of property. Clisthenes widened its basis from property to population; as we have already seen, it was, in all probability, Clisthenes also who weakened the more illicit and oppressive influences of wealth, by establishing the ballot or secret suffrage instead of the open voting, which was common in the time of Solon. It is the necessary constitution of society, that when one class obtains power, the ancient checks to that power require remodelling. The Areopagus was designed by Solon as the aristocratic balance to the popular assembly. But in all states in which the people and the aristocracy are represented, the great blow to the aristocratic senate is given, less by altering its own constitution than by infusing new elements of democracy into the popular assembly. The old boundaries are swept away, not by the levelling of the bank, but by the swelling of the torrent. The checks upon democracy ought to be so far concealed as to be placed in the representation of the democracy itself; for checks upon its progress from without are but as fortresses to be stormed; and what, when latent, was the influence of a friend, when apparent, is the resistance of a foe.

The Areopagus, the constitutional bulwark of the aristocratic party of Athens, became more and more invidious to the people. And now, when Cimon resisted every innovation on that assembly, he only ensured his own destruction, while he expedited the policy he denounced. Ephialtes directed all the force of the popular opinion against this venerable senate; and at length, though not openly assisted by Pericles [182], who took no prominent part in the contention, that influential statesman succeeded in crippling its functions and limiting its authority.

XVII. I do not propose to plunge the reader into the voluminous and unprofitable controversy on the exact nature of the innovations of Ephialtes which has agitated the students of Germany. It appears to me most probable that the Areopagus retained the right of adjudging cases of homicide [183], and little besides of its ancient constitutional authority, that it lost altogether its most dangerous power in the indefinite police it had formerly exercised over the habits and morals of the people, that any control of the finances was wisely transferred to the popular senate [184], that its irresponsible character was abolished, and it was henceforth rendered accountable to the people. Such alterations were not made without exciting the deep indignation of the aristocratic faction.

In all state reforms a great and comprehensive mind does not so much consider whether each reform is just, as what will be the ultimate ascendency given to particular principles. Cimon preferred to all constitutions a limited aristocracy, and his practical experience regarded every measure in its general tendency towards or against the system which he honestly advocated.

XVIII. The struggle between the contending parties and principles had commenced before Cimon's expedition to Ithome; the mortification connected with that event, in weakening Cimon, weakened the aristocracy itself. Still his fall was not immediate [185], nor did it take place as a single and isolated event, but as one of the necessary consequences of the great political change effected by Ephialtes. All circumstances, however, conspired to place the son of Miltiades in a situation which justified the suspicion and jealousy of the Athenians. Of all the enemies, how powerful soever, that Athens could provoke, none were so dangerous as Lacedaemon.

Dark, wily, and implacable, the rugged queen of the Peloponnesus reared her youth in no other accomplishments than those of stratagem and slaughter. Her enmity against Athens was no longer smothered. Athens had everything to fear, not less from her influence than her armies. It was not, indeed, so much from the unsheathed sword as from the secret councils of Sparta that danger was to be apprehended. It cannot be too often remembered, that among a great portion of the Athenian aristocracy, the Spartan government maintained a considerable and sympathetic intelligence. That government ever sought to adapt and mould all popular constitutions to her own oligarchic model; and where she could not openly invade, she secretly sought to undermine, the liberties of her neighbours. Thus, in addition to all fear from an enemy in the field, the Athenian democracy were constantly excited to suspicion against a spy within the city: always struggling with an aristocratic party, which aimed at regaining the power it had lost, there was just reason to apprehend that that party would seize any occasion to encroach upon the popular institutions; every feud with Sparta consequently seemed to the Athenian people, nor without cause, to subject to intrigue and conspiracy their civil freedom; and (as always happens with foreign interference, whether latent or avowed) exasperated whatever jealousies already existed against those for whose political interests the interference was exerted. Bearing this in mind, we shall see no cause to wonder at the vehement opposition to which Cimon was now subjected. We are driven ourselves to search deeply into the causes which led to his prosecution, as to that of other eminent men in Athens, from want of clear and precise historical details. Plutarch, to whom, in this instance, we are compelled chiefly to resort, is a most equivocal authority. Like most biographers, his care is to exalt his hero, though at the expense of that hero's countrymen; and though an amiable writer, nor without some semi-philosophical views in morals, his mind was singularly deficient in grasp and in comprehension. He never penetrates the subtle causes of effects. He surveys the past, sometimes as a scholar, sometimes as a taleteller, sometimes even as a poet, but never as a statesman. Thus, we learn from him little of the true reasons for the ostracism, either of Aristides, of Themistocles, or of Cimon--points now intricate, but which might then, alas! have been easily cleared up by a profound inquirer, to the acquittal alike of themselves and of their judges. To the natural deficiencies of Plutarch we must add his party predilections. He was opposed to democratic opinions--and that objection, slight in itself, or it might be urged against many of the best historians and the wisest thinkers, is rendered weighty in that he was unable to see, that in all human constitutions perfection is impossible, that we must take the evil with the good, and that what he imputes to one form of government is equally attributable to another. For in what monarchy, what oligarchy, have not great men been misunderstood, and great merits exposed to envy!

Thus, in the life of Cimon, Plutarch says that it was "on a slight pretext" [186] that that leader of the Spartan party in Athens was subjected to the ostracism. We have seen enough to convince us that, whatever the pretext, the reasons, at least, were grave and solid-- that they were nothing short of Cimon's unvarying ardour for, and constant association with, the principles and the government of that state most inimical to Athens, and the suspicious policy of which was, in all times--at that time especially--fraught with danger to her power, her peace, and her institutions. Could we penetrate farther into the politics of the period, we might justify the Athenians yet more. Without calling into question the integrity and the patriotism of Cimon, without supposing that he would have entered into any intrigue against the Athenian independence of foreign powers--a supposition his subsequent conduct effectually refutes--he might, as a sincere and warm partisan of the nobles, and a resolute opposer of the popular party, have sought to restore at home the aristocratic balance of power, by whatever means his great rank, and influence, and connexion with the Lacedaemonian party could afford him. We are told, at least, that he not only opposed all the advances of the more liberal party--that he not only stood resolutely by the interests and dignities of the Areopagus, which had ceased to harmonize with the more modern institutions, but that he expressly sought to restore certain prerogatives which that assembly had formally lost during his foreign expeditions, and that he earnestly endeavoured to bring back the whole constitution to the more aristocratic government established by Clisthenes. It is one thing to preserve, it is another to restore. A people may be deluded under popular pretexts out of the rights they have newly acquired, but they never submit to be openly despoiled of them. Nor can we call that ingratitude which is but the refusal to surrender to the merits of an individual the acquisitions of a nation.

All things considered, then, I believe, that if ever ostracism was justifiable, it was so in the case of Cimon--nay, it was perhaps absolutely essential to the preservation of the constitution. His very honesty made him resolute in his attempts against that constitution. His talents, his rank, his fame, his services, only rendered those attempts more dangerous.

XIX. Could the reader be induced to view, with an examination equally dispassionate, the several ostracisms of Aristides and Themistocles, he might see equal causes of justification, both in the motives and in the results. The first was absolutely necessary for the defeat of the aristocratic party, and the removal of restrictions on those energies which instantly found the most glorious vents for action; the second was justified by a similar necessity that produced similar effects. To impartial eyes a people may be vindicated without traducing those whom a people are driven to oppose. In such august and complicated trials the accuser and defendant may be both innocent.

CHAPTER IV.

War between Megara and Corinth.--Megara and Pegae garrisoned by Athenians.--Review of Affairs at the Persian Court.--Accession of Artaxerxes.--Revolt of Egypt under Inarus.--Athenian Expedition to assist Inarus.--Aegina besieged.--The Corinthians defeated.--Spartan Conspiracy with the Athenian Oligarchy.--Battle of Tanagra.--Campaign and Successes of Myronides.--Plot of the Oligarchy against the


Athens: Its Rise and Fall, Book IV. - 10/19

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