| Famous Men of Greece|
|by John H. Haaren|
|Attractive biographical sketches of thirty-five of the most prominent characters in the history of ancient Greece, from legendary times to its fall in 146 B.C. Each story is told in a clear, simple manner, and is well calculated to awaken and stimulate the youthful imagination. Ages 9-12 |
DRACO AND SOLON
 ONE of the first Athenians whose doings belong to history is
Draco, who lived about 600 years before Christ.
At that time the working people of Athens were very unhappy.
One reason of this was that the laws were not written and the
judges were very unfair. They almost always decided in
favor of their rich friends. At last everybody in Athens
agreed that the laws ought to be written out and Draco was
asked to write them.
Some old laws were so severe that often people had been put
to death for very slight offences. Draco changed these
severe laws and made new ones a great deal more merciful,
and this made the people very fond of him. A story is told
about his death which shows that other people besides the
Athenians thought a great deal of him. He went to a theater
on an island not far from Athens, and when the audience in
the theater saw him they threw to him their cloaks and caps
to do him honor. Unfortunately, such a pile of cloaks fell
on him that he was smothered to death.
 Even after the laws had been written the people were not
happy, because Draco had not changed some laws that bore
very hard upon the poor. These were the laws about debts.
If a man borrowed money and could not pay it back at the
right time, the man who lent the money might take the
borrower's house and farm and might even sell him and his
wife and children as slaves. On most of the farms near
Athens stone pillars were set up, each of which told that
the land on which it stood was mortgaged, or pledged, for a
debt. Many of the farmers and their families had been sold
as slaves. In time it came to be said that Draco's laws
were written in blood.
HAPPILY, a very wise and good man called Solon was then living in
Athens, and the Athenians asked him to make a new set of
SOLON DEFENDS HIS LAWS
Rich and poor were surprised when they read Solon's new
laws. The poor who had lost their farms and houses were to
have everything given back to them. Solon thought they had
paid so much interest for so many years that their debts
should be forgiven. All who had been sold as slaves were to
have their freedom and no one was
 ever again to be sold for debt. Those debtors who had not
lost everything were to be forgiven about a quarter of what
All this Solon called a "shaking-off of burdens," and
thousands of people felt that heavy burdens had indeed been
taken from their shoulders.
Solon did another good thing for the people. He gave every
citizen a vote and all could attend the Assembly of the
people, which was like a New England town-meeting.
AN ATHENIAN OF OLDEN TIMES
There was a Senate of Four Hundred, which proposed laws, but
the people themselves met and passed them. So the people of
Athens really made their own laws.
Besides this, the Assembly chose every year nine
archons, as the rulers of Athens were called. The chief archon was
like the mayor of one of our cities and the others like the
aldermen. Under Solon's new laws Athens soon came to stand
in Greece for government by all the people, just as Sparta
stood for government by the few.
 WHEN Solon saw that his laws were making the Athenians contented
and prosperous, he made them promise not to change them for
ten years. He then went on a long journey.
One of the countries which he visited was Lydia in Asia
Minor. Crœsus, the king of Lydia, was called the
richest man in the world. He was so famed for his wealth
that even now you often hear people say that a man is "as
rich as Crœsus."
Crœsus was very proud of being so rich and wished
Solon to flatter him. So he asked Solon, "Who is the
happiest man you have ever known?" He expected the Athenian
of course to say, "Yourself, your Majesty."
Solon however replied, "An Athenian peasant who never
suffered want, who had a good wife and children, and who
died on the battlefield for his country."
"Who is the next happiest?" asked Crœsus.
"The two next happiest persons whom I have known," said
Solon, "were the sons of a certain priestess of Juno. It
was her duty to offer a sacrifice in the temple. When the
time came for her to go the oxen to draw the cart could not
be found. So her sons yoked themselves to the ox-cart and
 drew her all the way to the temple. She was so much pleased
at them that she prayed to Juno to grant her sons the
greatest blessing that they could have. The mother's prayer
was answered, for the sons lay down to sleep in the temple and
never waked. They had done their parts well in the world
and they left it without pain or sorrow, beloved and admired
by all who knew them."
"But," cried Crœsus, "do you not think a rich and
powerful king like me is happy?"
"Ah, Crœsus," said Solon, "I call no man happy until he
is dead. You are rich; you are king of thousands of people;
you live a life of luxury; but none of these things proves
you happy. When I hear whether or not your life has ended
nobly, then I shall know whether or not you were really
Years afterward when Crœsus had lost his kingdom and
his wealth, he saw how wise this speech of Solon was.
After ten years of travel Solon returned to Athens where he
lived in honor until his death.
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