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The Ostracism of Aristides

The threat ostracism was meant to combat could also come from a man's great personal prominence, if he became so prominent that he could appear to overshadow all others on the political scene and thus threaten the egalitarian principles of Athenian democracy, in which no one man was supposed to dominate the making of policy. This point is illustrated by a famous anecdote concerning Aristides,1 who set the dues for the Delian League. This Aristides had the nickname “The Just" because he was reputed to be so fair-minded. On the balloting day for an ostracism, an illiterate man from the countryside handed Aristides a potsherd, asking him to scratch on it the name of the man's choice for ostracism. “Certainly,” said Aristides; “Which name shall I write?” “Aristides,” replied the countryman. “Very well,” remarked Aristides as he proceeded to inscribe his own name. “But tell me, why do you want to ostracize Aristides? What has he done to you?” “Oh, nothing; I don't even know him,” sputtered the man. “I'm just sick and tired of hearing everybody refer to him as ‘The Just.’”

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