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Famous Men of Greece by  John H. Haaren and A. B. Poland

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PISISTRATUS THE TYRANT

[123] WHEN Solon came back from his travels he found that a young kinsman of his, named Pisistratus, was trying to make himself master of Athens. Pisistratus was rich and gave away a great deal of money, and in every possible way showed himself friendly to the people. His large and beautiful garden was thrown open to them, as if it were a park. Men and women of the working-classes were allowed to sit under his shade trees and their children played among his flowers. When the poor were ill he had [124] nice things cooked for them in his own kitchen, and often in the heat of summer he sent to the sick a present of snow, which was a rare luxury. If a poor man died Pisistratus often paid the expense of burying him. Poor people in Athens were very much pleased by this, because they believed that if a person were not properly buried his soul would have to wander a hundred years up and down the bank of the river Styx.


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IN A GREEK HOME

One day, after the kindness of Pisistratus had made him the idol of the Athenians, he drove his chariot rapidly into the market-place. A crowd immediately gathered about him, for they saw that something was the matter. In a state of great excitement he showed some wounds,—which he had really made upon himself, but which he pretended he had received while he was driving along the high road.

"Men of Athens!" he cried, "See what my enemies have done to me because I am a friend of the people." All saw the blood on his face and of course believed what he said. They were very angry, and one of them proposed in the public Assembly that in future fifty men, armed with clubs, should be paid by the State to guard Pisistratus.

Solon begged the people to vote against this. But they had made up their minds and Solon could not dissuade them. The guard was ordered, and [125] Pisistratus took good care that there should be in it a great many more than fifty men. Very soon he had a company of soldiers who were ready to do whatever he ordered. So, just as Solon had feared, he seized the Acropolis, a high, rocky hill which was the citadel of Athens, and made himself master of the city.

After a while the people grew tired of him and he had to leave Athens. However, he came back and regained his power by playing a trick on the people. A very tall and beautiful girl, in full armor, rode into the city standing at his side in a chariot. Minerva herself was said to be bringing Pisistratus back. When the chariot came into view the people shouted with joy and welcomed their old friend.

Soon he was banished a second time, but again recovered his power, and from that day to the time of his death he had full sway over the city.

II

ALL the states of Greece had in time become republics, except Sparta, and when anyone took the power of a king in any of these states he was called a tyrant. Thus Pisistratus was called the Tyrant of Athens, and yet he was by no means so harsh a ruler as the world might lead us to think. But he [126] was strict. When he got control of Athens it was full of lazy people who lounged all day about the market-place. Pisistratus put all such people to work upon the roads or public buildings.

There were no public schools or libraries in Athens, but Pisistratus did his best to give the people a chance to read and to educate themselves. Books in his days were not printed, but written, and they were so expensive that few people could buy them. Pisistratus had a large collection and he invited all persons, rich or poor, to go to his library and read.

He did another thing for which the Greeks were grateful. For more than two hundred years before his time the poems of Homer had been recited all over Greece. Traveling minstrels sang them before guests in banquet halls, or before public gatherings. Every one loved these poems, and many people knew parts of them by heart. Pisistratus employed learned men to help him write them and put them in proper order. The verses about the Trojan War were arranged to make up the poem called the Iliad, and those about the wanderings of Ulysses to make up the poem called the Odyssey.


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A READING FROM HOMER

Athens never had a wiser or better ruler than Pisistratus. He died 527 B.C.


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