Aristides did, indeed, bind the Hellenes by an oath, and took oath himself for the Athenians, to mark his imprecations casting iron ingots into the sea; but afterwards, when circumstances, forsooth, compelled a more strenuous sway, he bade the Athenians lay the perjury to his own charge, and turn events to their own advantage.
And in general, as Theophrastus tells us, while the man was strictly just in his private relations to his fellow-citizens, in public matters he often acted in accordance with the policy which his country had adopted, feeling that this required much actual injustice. For instance, he says that when the question of removing the moneys of the confederacy from Delos to Athens,1
contrary to the compacts, was being debated, and even the Samians proposed it, Aristides declared that it was unjust, but advantageous.
And yet, although he at last established his city in its sway over so many men, he himself abode by his poverty, and continued to be no less content with the reputation he got from being a poor man, than with that based on his trophies of victory. This is clear from the following story.
Callias the Torch-bearer was a kinsman of his. This man was prosecuted by his enemies on a capital charge, and after they had brought only moderate accusations against him within the scope of their indictment, they went outside of it and appealed to the judges as follows:
‘You know Aristides the son of Lysimachus,’ they said,
‘how he is admired in Hellas; what do you suppose his domestic circumstances are when you see him entering the public assembly in such a scanty cloak as that? Is it not likely that a man who shivers in public goes hungry at home, and is straitened for the other necessaries of life? Callias, however, who is the richest man of Athens (and his cousin at that), allows him to suffer want with his wife and children, though he has often had service of the man, and many times reaped advantage from his influence with you.’
But Callias, seeing that his judges were very turbulent at this charge, and bitterly disposed toward him, summoned Aristides and demanded his testimony before the judges that though often proffered aid from him and importuned to accept it, he had refused it, with the answer that it more became him to be proud of his poverty than Callias of his wealth; for many were to be seen who use wealth well or ill, but it was not easy to find a man who endured poverty with a noble spirit; and those only should be ashamed of poverty who could not be otherwise than poor.
When Aristides had borne this witness for Callias, there was no one of his hearers who did not go home preferring to be poor with Aristides rather than to be rich with Callias. This, at any rate, is the story told by Aeschines the Socratic. And Plato2
maintains that of all those who had great names and reputations at Athens, this man alone was worthy of regard. Themistocles, he says, and Cimon, and Pericles, filled the city with porches and moneys and no end of nonsense; but Aristides squared his politics with virtue.
There are also strong proofs of his reasonableness to be seen in his treatment of Themistocles. This man he had found to be his foe during almost all his public service, and it was through this man that he was ostracized; but when Themistocles was in the same plight, and was under accusation before the city, Aristides remembered no evil; nay, though Alcmeon and Cimon and many others denounced and persecuted the man, Aristides alone did and said no meanness, nor did he take any advantage of his enemy's misfortune, just as formerly he did not grudge him his prosperity.