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The Story of the Greeks by  H. A. Guerber

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THE TYRANT PISISTRATUS

[95] NOT very long after Solon had given the new laws to the Athenians, the two political parties of the city again began to quarrel. One of these parties was composed wholly of rich men and nobles, or aristoi, from which Greek word is formed our English word "aristocrat;" the other party included the farmers and poor people, or demos, the Greek term which has given rise to the word "democrat."

Among the aristocrats, or nobles, there was a nephew of Solon called Pisistratus. He was very rich; but, instead of upholding his own party, he seemed to scorn the rich, and always sided with the poor. To make friends with the democrats, he pretended to obey the laws with the greatest care, and addressed every man with the utmost politeness.

Once, having killed a man by accident, Pisistratus came of his own free will before the judges of the Areopagus, confessed his crime, and was so humble that he quite disarmed the anger of the people.

As soon as he felt quite sure that he had won many friends among the poor, Pisistratus appeared one day in the market place, covered with blood, which flowed from slight wounds which he had made upon his own body.

His polite manners and kindly words had been only a pretense, however; and he was not only a hypocrite, but also a liar. So he now said that the aristocrats had tried to kill him because he was the friend of the people.

In proof of these words, he pointed to his wounds. [96] The poorer Athenians, who believed him, were very indignant, and began to talk angrily about the wicked nobles, who had hurt Pisistratus only because he was ready to help them.

When Pisistratus cried out that his life was no longer safe, all the democrats exclaimed that they would protect him; and, as they had the right of voting, they then and there said that he should have a bodyguard of fifty armed men to protect him.

Pisistratus pretended to be very grateful for this favor, and, under pretext of choosing his bodyguard, engaged a great number of soldiers. When his plans were all ready, he took possession of the Acropolis by force.

The people now found out, but too late, that Pisistratus had deceived them only to get more power; and that, thanks to the guard they had voted him, he had become master of the town, and held the reins of the government.

The Athenians did not long remain angry with their former favorite, however; for he did all he could to make them happy, and ruled them very wisely. He improved the city by building magnificent temples and other public buildings, and made a great aqueduct, so that the people could have plenty of pure water to drink.

Pisistratus also laid out a public park, the Lyceum, just outside the city walls, so that the Athenians could go there, and enjoy the cool shade of the groves he had planted.

Then he began to collect all the poems of Homer, had them carefully written down, and placed them in a [97] public library, so that the Greeks could read them whenever they pleased. Until then these poems had only been recited, and no written copy existed. Pisistratus, therefore, did a very good work in thus keeping for our enjoyment the greatest epic poems ever composed.

As Pisistratus ruled just as he pleased, without consulting the Tribunal or people, he has been called a tyrant. This word in those days meant "supreme ruler;" but as many of those who followed him made a bad use of their power, and were cruel and grasping, its meaning soon changed, and the word now means "a selfish and unkind ruler."


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