Solon Says: Sue Bad Leaders of State

Aeschines, Against Timarchus

“[Solon] believed that someone who managed their own personal affairs badly would manage matters of state similarly. It did not seem likely to the lawgiver that that the same person who was a scoundrel in private would be a useful citizen in public. He also did not think right that a person should come to speak in public before being prepared for it, not just for words but in life.

And he also thought that advice from a good and noble person, however poorly and simply it was framed, is beneficial to those who hear it, while the words of a person who has no shame, who has made a mockery of his own body and who has shamefully managed his inheritance—well, these words he believed would never help the people who heard them, not even if they were delivered well.

This is why he keeps these kinds of people from the platform, why he forbids them from addressing the public. If someone speaks, then, not merely against these precepts but also for the sack of bribery and criminality, and if the state can no longer endure such a person, he adds “Let any citizens who desires it, and who is able, sue him…”

τὸν γὰρ τὴν ἰδίαν οἰκίαν κακῶς οἰκήσαντα, καὶ τὰ κοινὰ τῆς πόλεως παραπλησίως ἡγήσατο διαθήσειν, καὶ οὐκ ἐδόκει οἷόν τ᾿ εἶναι τῷ νομοθέτῃ τὸν αὐτὸν ἄνθρωπον ἰδίᾳ μὲν εἶναι πονηρόν, δημοσίᾳ δὲ χρηστόν, οὐδ᾿ ᾤετο δεῖν τὸν ῥήτορα ἥκειν ἐπὶ τὸ βῆμα τῶν λόγων ἐπιμεληθέντα πρότερον, ἀλλ᾿ οὐ τοῦ βίου. καὶ παρὰ μὲν ἀνδρὸς καλοῦ καὶ ἀγαθοῦ, κἂν πάνυ κακῶς καὶ ἁπλῶς ῥηθῇ, χρήσιμα τὰ λεγόμενα ἡγήσατο εἶναι τοῖς ἀκούουσι· παρὰ δὲ ἀνθρώπου βδελυροῦ, καὶ καταγελάστως μὲν κεχρημένου τῷ ἑαυτοῦ σώματι, αἰσχρῶς δὲ τὴν πατρῴαν οὐσίαν κατεδηδοκότος, οὐδ᾿ ἂν εὖ πάνυ λεχθῇ συνοίσειν ἡγήσατο τοῖς ἀκούουσι. τούτους οὖν ἐξείργει ἀπὸ τοῦ βήματος, τούτους ἀπαγορεύει μὴ δημηγορεῖν. ἐὰν δέ τις παρὰ ταῦτα μὴ μόνον λέγῃ, ἀλλὰ καὶ συκοφαντῇ καὶ ἀσελγαίνῃ, καὶ μηκέτι τὸν τοιοῦτον ἄνθρωπον δύνηται φέρειν ἡ πόλις, “Δοκιμασίαν μέν,” φησίν, “ἐπαγγειλάτω Ἀθηναίων ὁ βουλόμενος, οἷς ἔξεστιν,” ὑμᾶς δ᾿ ἤδη κελεύει

File:Portrait bust of Sophocles on Herm (known as Solon)-Uffizi.jpg
Bust Labeled “Solon” but Probably actually Sophocles. Sue Me.

Suda, Sigma 289

“Seisakhtheia: Shaking off burdens. The abolition of public and private debts which Solon introduced. Its name comes from the Athenian habit of having the poor work with their bodies for their creditors. When they finished the debt it was like “shaking [aposeisasthai] off the burden” [akhthos]. For this situation, as Philokhoros sees it, the burden was really “voted off”.

Σεισάχθεια: χρεωκοπία δημοσίων καὶ ἰδιωτικῶν, ἣν εἰσηγήσατο Σόλων. εἴρηται δέ, παρ’ ὅσον ἔθος ἦν ᾿Αθήνησι τοὺς ὀφείλοντας τῶν πενήτων σώματι ἐργάζεσθαι τοῖς χρήσταις· ἀποδόντας δὲ οἱονεὶ τὸ ἄχθος ἀποσείσασθαι· ὡς Φιλοχόρῳ δὲ δοκεῖ, ἀποψηφισθῆναι τὸ ἄχθος.

Suda, Sigma 779

“Solon the law-giver of the Athenians, persuaded by friends who were in debt, introduced the cancellation of debts.”

Σόλων: ὅτι Σόλων ὁ νομοθέτης Ἀθηναίων, φίλων ἡττώμενος ὀφειλόντων, χρεῶν εἰσηγήσατο ἀποκοπάς.

Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers 1.2. 45

“Solon the son of Exekestides, born at Salamis, was the first to introduce the Abolition of Debts for the Athenians. This was a release of bodies and property. For people used to borrow money with their bodies as collateral and many were compelled to work as servants because of poverty. Indeed, he rejected a debt of seven talents due to him because of his father and advised the rest to do what he did. The law is called shaking-off-the-burden for obvious reasons.

Σόλων Ἐξηκεστίδου Σαλαμίνιος πρῶτον μὲν τὴν σεισάχθειαν εἰσηγήσατο Ἀθηναίοις· τὸ δὲ ἦν λύτρωσις σωμάτων τε καὶ κτημάτων. καὶ γὰρ ἐπὶ σώμασιν ἐδανείζοντο καὶ πολλοὶ δι᾿ ἀπορίαν ἐθήτευον. ἑπτὰ δὴ ταλάντων ὀφειλομένων αὐτῷ πατρῴων συνεχώρησε πρῶτος καὶ τοὺς λοιποὺς τὸ ὅμοιον προὔτρεψε πρᾶξαι. καὶ οὗτος ὁ νόμος ἐκλήθη σεισάχθεια· φανερὸν δὲ διὰ τί.

Solon, Fr. 13. 1–8

“Glorious children of Olympian Zeus and Memory
Pierian Muses, hear me as I pray.
Grant me happiness from the blessed gods and possession
Of a good reputation among all people forever.
In this may I be sweet to my friends and bitter to my enemies,
Revered by the former and terrible for the latter to see.
I long to have money, but I do not want to obtain it
Unjustly—punishment inevitably comes later.

Μνημοσύνης καὶ Ζηνὸς ᾿Ολυμπίου ἀγλαὰ τέκνα,
Μοῦσαι Πιερίδες, κλῦτέ μοι εὐχομένωι·
ὄλβον μοι πρὸς θεῶν μακάρων δότε, καὶ πρὸς ἁπάντων
ἀνθρώπων αἰεὶ δόξαν ἔχειν ἀγαθήν·
εἶναι δὲ γλυκὺν ὧδε φίλοις, ἐχθροῖσι δὲ πικρόν,
τοῖσι μὲν αἰδοῖον, τοῖσι δὲ δεινὸν ἰδεῖν.
χρήματα δ’ ἱμείρω μὲν ἔχειν, ἀδίκως δὲ πεπᾶσθαι
οὐκ ἐθέλω· πάντως ὕστερον ἦλθε δίκη.

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