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Pittăcus

Πιττακός). A native of Mitylené in Lesbos, and one of the so-called Seven Sages of Greece, was born about B.C. 650. Having obtained popularity among his countrymen by successfully opposing the tyrant Melanchrus, he was intrusted with the command of a fleet in a war with the Athenians concerning some territory which they had seized in the island. In the course of this war the Athenian commander Phryno, a man of uncommon size and strength, challenged him to single combat. Providing himself with a net, which he concealed under his buckler, he took the first opportunity to throw it over the head of his antagonist, and by this means gained an easy victory. According to Strabo's account, Pittacus came into the field armed with a castingnet, a trident, and a dagger; and it is said that from this stratagem of the Mitylenean was borrowed the mode of fighting practised by the Roman gladiators called retiarii. From this time Pittacus was held in high esteem among the Mityleneans, and was intrusted with the supreme power in the State (Aristot. Polit. iii. 15). Among other valuable presents, his countrymen offered him as much of the lands which had been recovered from the Athenians as he chose; but he only accepted of so much as he could measure by a single cast of a javelin; and one half of this small portion he afterward dedicated to Apollo, saying, concerning the remainder, that “the half is better than the whole.” Cornelius Nepos says that the Mityleneans offered him many thousand acres, but that he took only a hundred. Pittacus displayed great moderation in his treatment of his enemies, among whom one of the most violent was the poet Alcaeus, who frequently made him the object of his satire. Finding it necessary to lay severe restrictions upon drunkenness, to which the Lesbians were particularly addicted, Pittacus passed a law which subjected offenders of this class to double punishment for any crime committed in a state of intoxication. When he had established such regulations as seemed to him satisfactory, he resigned his power, which he had held for ten years, and retired to private life.

Some of his famous sayings are as follows: “Power reveals the man;” “Whatever you do, do well;” “Watch for opportunities;” “Never talk of your plans before they are carried out.” The life of Pittacus is given by Diogenes Laertius. See Seven Sages.

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