Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics
THE SUITORS OF AGARISTÉ
 SICYON, the smallest country of the Peloponnesus, lay on the Gulf of Corinth, adjoining the isthmus which connects the
peninsula with the rest of Greece. In this small country—as in many larger ones—the nobles held rule, the
people were subjects. The rich and proud rulers dwelt on the hill slopes, the poor and humble people lived on
the sea-shore and along the river Asopus. But in course of time many of the people became well off, through
success in fisheries and commerce, to which their country was well adapted. Weary of the oppression of the
nobles, they finally rose in rebellion and overthrew the government. Orthagoras, once a cook, but now leader of
the rebels, became master of the state, and he and his descendants ruled it for a hundred years. The last of
this dynasty was Cleisthenes, a just and moderate ruler, concerning whom we have a story to tell.
These lords of the state were called tyrants; but this word did not mean in Greece what it means to us. The
tyrants of Greece were popular leaders who had overthrown the old governments and laws, and ruled largely
through force and under laws of their own making. But they were not necessarily
tyran-  nical. The tyrants of Athens were mild and just in their dealings with the people, and so proved to be those of
GRECIAN LADIES AT HOME.
Cleisthenes, who became the most eminent of the tyrants of Sicyon, had a beautiful daughter, named Agaristé,
whom he thought worthy of the noblest of husbands, and decided that she should be married to the worthiest
youth who could be found in all the land of Greece. To select such a husband he took unusual steps.
When the fair Agaristé had reached marriageable age, her father attended the Olympic games, at which there were
used to gather men of wealth and eminence from all the Grecian states. Here he won the prize in the chariot
race, and then bade the heralds to make the following proclamation:
"Whoever among the Greeks deems himself worthy to be the son-in-law of Cleisthenes, let him come, within sixty
days, to Sicyon. Within a year from that time Cleisthenes will decide, from among those who present themselves,
on the one whom he deems fitting to possess the hand of his daughter."
This proclamation, as was natural, roused warm hopes in many youthful breasts, and within the sixty days there
had gathered at Sicyon thirteen noble claimants for the charming prize. From the city of Sybaris in Italy came
Smindyrides, and from Siris came Damasus. Amphimnestus and Males made their way to Sicyon from the cities of
the Ionian Gulf. The Peloponnesus sent Leocedes from Argos, Amiantus from Arcadia, Laphanes from Pæus, and
Onomastus from Elis. From Euba came Lysanias;
 from Thessaly, Diactorides; from Molossia, Alcon; and from Attica, Megacles and Hippoclides. Of the last two,
Megacles was the son of the renowned Alcmæon, while Hippoclides was accounted the handsomest and wealthiest of
At the end of the sixty days, when all the suitors had arrived, Cleisthenes asked each of them whence he came
and to what family he belonged. Then, during the succeeding year, he put them to every test that could prove
their powers. He had had a foot-course and a wrestling-ground made ready to test their comparative strength and
agility, and took every available means to discover their courage, vigor, and skill.
But this was not all that the sensible monarch demanded in his desired son-in-law. He wished to ascertain their
mental and moral as well as their physical powers, and for this purpose kept them under close observation for a
year, carefully noting their manliness, their temper and disposition, their accomplishments and powers of
intellect. Now he conversed with each separately; now he brought them together and considered their comparative
powers. At the gymnasium, in the council chamber, in all the situations of thought and activity, he tested
their abilities. But he particularly considered their behavior at the banquet-table. From first to last they
were sumptuously entertained, and their demeanor over the trencher-board and the wine-cup was closely observed.
In this story, as told us by garrulous old Herodotus, nothing is said of Agaristé herself. In a modern
 romance of this sort the lady would have had a voice in the decision and a place in the narrative. There would
have been episodes of love, jealousy, and malice, and the one whom the lady blessed with her love would in some
way—in the eternal fitness of things—have become victor in the contest and carried off the prize. But they did
things differently in Greece. The preference of the maiden had little to do with the matter; the suitor exerted
himself to please the father, not the daughter; maiden hands were given rather in barter and sale than in trust
and affection; in truth, almost the only lovers we meet with in Grecian history are Hæmon and Antigone, of whom
we have spoken in the tale of the "Seven against Thebes."
And thus it was in the present instance. It was the father the suitors courted, not the daughter. They proved
their love over the banquet-table, not at the trysting-place. It was by speed of foot and skill in council, not
by whispered words of devotion, that they contended for the maidenly prize. Or, if lovers' meetings took place
and lovers' vows were passed, they were matters of the strictest secrecy, and not for Greek historians to put
on paper or Greek ears to hear.
But the year of probation came in due time to its end, and among all the suitors the two from Athens most won
the favor of Cleisthenes. And of the two he preferred Hippoclides. It was not alone for his handsome face and
person and manly bearing that this favored youth was chosen, but also because he was descended from a noble
family of Corinth which
 Cleisthenes esteemed. Yet "there is many a slip between the cup and the lip," an adage whose truth Hippoclides
was to learn.
When the day came on which the choice of the father was to be made, and the wedding take place, Cleisthenes
held a great festival in honor of the occasion. First, to gain the favor of the gods, he offered a hundred
oxen in sacrifice. Then, not only the suitors, but all the people of the city were invited to a grand banquet
and festival, at the end of which the choice of Cleisthenes was to be declared. What torments of love and fear
Agaristé suffered during this slow-moving feast the historian does not say. Yet it may be that she was the
power behind the throne, and that the proposed choice of the handsome Hippoclides was due as much to her secret
influence as to her father's judgment.
However this be, the feast went on to its end, and was followed by a contest between the suitors in music and
oratory, with all the people to decide. As the drinking which followed went on, Hippoclides, who had surpassed
all the others as yet, shouted to the flute-player, bidding him to play a dancing air, as he proposed to show
his powers in the dance.
The wine was in his weak head, and what he considered marvellously fine dancing did not appear so to
Cleisthenes, who was closely watching his proposed son-in-law. Hippoclides, however, in a mood to show all his
accomplishments, now bade an attendant to bring in a table. This being brought, he leaped upon it, and danced
some Laconian steps,
 which he followed by certain Attic ones. Finally, to show his utmost powers of performance, he stood on his
head on the table, and began to dance with his legs in empty air.
This was too much for Cleisthenes. He had changed his opinion of Hippoclides during his light and undignified
exhibition, but restrained himself from speaking to avoid any outbreak or ill feeling. But on seeing him
tossing his legs in this shameless manner in the air, the indignant monarch cried out,
"Son of Tisander, you have danced your wife away."
"What does Hippoclides care?" was the reply of the tipsy youth.
And for centuries afterwards "What does Hippoclides care?" was a common saying in Greece, to indicate reckless
folly and lightness of mind.
Cleisthenes now commanded silence, and spoke as follows to the assembly:
"Suitors of my daughter, well pleased am I with you all, and right willingly, if it were possible, would I
content you all, and not, by making choice of one, appear to put a slight upon the rest. But as it is out of my
power, seeing that I have only one daughter, to grant to all their wishes, I will present to each of you whom I
must needs dismiss a talent of silver
for the honor that you have done in seeking to ally yourselves with my house, and for your long absence from
your homes. But my daughter Agaristé I betroth to Megacles, the son of Alcmæon,
 to be his wife, according to the usage and wont of Athens."
Megacles gladly accepted the honor thus offered him, the marriage was solemnized with all possible state, and
the suitors dispersed,—twelve of them happy with their silver talents, one of them happier with his charming
We have but further to say that Cleisthenes of Athens—a great leader and law-giver, whose laws gave origin to
the democratic government of that city—was the son of Megacles and Agaristé, and that his grandson was the
famous Pericles, the foremost name in Athenian history.