| Stories of the Ancient Greeks|
|by Charles D. Shaw|
|Delightful collection of both mythological and historical stories of the ancient Greeks, in language simple enough for younger listeners, yet appealing to all ages. Provides an excellent introduction to ancient Greece, beginning with 32 of the best-known myths, and then continuing with 32 short stories of the historical era, arranged in chronological order. An extensive pronunciation guide is included. Ages 8-11 |
TWO GREAT LAWGIVERS
IFE in Greece grew busy and earnest. Changes of every kind took place. The
people were not satisfied to be governed by a few men; they themselves
wished to share in the government. There were no written laws, but
everything was done according to old custom.
About six hundred years before Christ, Draco, the greatest man of the
nobility, was chosen to write down a system of laws by which all people were
to be ruled. In those laws nearly every crime was punished with death. There
was no difference between the punishment of a man who stole a loaf of bread
and that of a murderer. It was a common saying that Draco wrote his laws,
not in ink, but in blood. The people were not satisfied with these laws, and
a greater and wiser lawgiver was found.
This was Solon, who belonged to a rich family in Athens. He received all the
education of the time at the gymnasium and in the schools. His one great
desire was to learn; and after leaving school he traveled as a merchant on
his own ship, that he might see the world and find out all he could about
its people. He loved his country, and all his studies were intended to help
him give to his native land more freedom and greater power.
 Some years before Solon's time the island of Salamis had rebelled against
Athens and put itself under the protection of Megara. Several times the
Athenians had sent ships and men to conquer the island, but they had always
been defeated. The people were so ashamed of this that they passed a law
that any man who proposed an expedition against Salamis should be put to
Solon was angry. He was a poet, and he wrote a poem of a hundred lines upon
the loss of the island. To escape death he pretended to be crazy and rushed
into the market place with wild looks and disordered garments. A crowd
gathered around him, and he began to recite his poem. His voice, his looks,
his manner, and his words aroused the Athenians to fury. These were the
closing lines of the poem:—
"Up! and to Salamis on! Let us fight for the beautiful island,
Angrily down to the dust casting the yoke of our shame."
When he had finished the men of Athens rushed from the Market place, crowded
on board the ships, sailed to Salamis, and conquered it again for Athens.
Solon was then the popular hero and favorite. His word was law. To bring the
people into closer friendship he ordered a change in worship. Until then
Apollo been the god of the nobility, and they alone had the right to worship
him. Solon consecrated to him the city and the state. Every house was made
sacred to that god, and a statue of him was set up in every street. New
prayers and hymns were written to be used in the religious services. Fires
were lighted upon the altars, and the citizens,
 putting laurel wreaths upon their heads, marched in procession to the
temples. They said to one another, "We are all brothers; let us live like
brothers in friendship and love."
Solon might now have made himself the only ruler of Attica and Athens, but
that was not his wish. He drew up a system of laws which he thought would
help the state to be happy, peaceful, and successful.
Times had been hard in Athens. Many people had fallen into debt, and some
had become so poor that they had been sold as slaves. Solon made a law that
no citizen should own another, and that no one should be sold into slavery
because he was poor. Thus thousands were set free, and thousands more were
saved from misery.
He lowered the rate of interest and altered the value of the currency, so
that if a man owed a hundred dollars he could pay his debt with
seventy-three dollars. The state was to forgive all who owed it money and to
free them from the burden of such debts.
He set aside all the laws of Draco, except those which punished murder. He
divided the citizens into four classes, according to the land they owned.
Only the first class, who were richest in land, could hold high office in
the state or in the army. The second and third classes might have some of
the lower offices, and their taxes were made very light. In war, men of the
second class must serve as cavalry, of the third class as heavy-armed foot
soldiers. Men of the fourth class could not hold office, but they paid no
taxes. They had a right to vote at the public meetings where officers were
 new laws were passed. In war they were sailors, or light-armed foot
soldiers. In that way every freeman helped to govern and to defend the
Solon also changed the laws of the family. No man had a right to sell his
child, or to drive him away from home while under age. If the father would
not educate the child, he was not allowed to receive any help from him when
his son had grown to be a man.
He did not permit any Athenian to make or sell ointment, for he said that
such a business was unmanly. Very expensive dress was forbidden, and only a
certain sum of money could be spent for a wedding or a funeral, or for a
monument over the dead. Wild crying for those who died came into fashion,
but Solon said it was useless and foolish and could no longer be allowed.
All these laws were put into writing and placed on pillars upon the citadel,
or highest point of the city, that everybody might read them. These pillars
were of wood, as tall as a man, and shaped like a pyramid.
Then Solon ordered a general peace. Those who had been banished from the
city were invited to return; no man was to be called a rebel or a traitor;
the past was to be forgotten; kindness and helpfulness were to be the rule
When his year of office was over, Solon went away for ten years and traveled
into Egypt and Asia. Kings and princes were glad to see him and talk with
him, for all said that he was the greatest lawmaker in the world.
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics