Now the Cylonian pollution had for a long time agitated the city, ever since Megacles the archon had persuaded Cylon and his fellow conspirators, who had taken sanctuary in the temple of Athena, to come down and stand their trial.1
They fastened a braided thread to the image of the goddess and kept hold of it, but when they reached the shrine of the Erinyes on their way down, the thread broke of its own accord, upon which Megacles and his fellow-archons rushed to seize them, on the plea that the goddess refused them the rights of suppliants. Those who were outside of sacred precincts were stoned to death, and those who took refuge at the altars were slaughtered there; only those were spared who made supplication to the wives of the archons.
Therefore the archons were called polluted men and were held in execration. The survivors of the followers of Cylon also recovered strength, and were forever at variance with the descendants of Megacles. At this particular time the quarrel was at its height and the people divided between the two factions. Solon, therefore, being now in high repute, interposed between them, along with the noblest of the Athenians, and by his entreaties and injunctions persuaded the men who were held to be polluted to submit to a trial, and to abide by the decision of three hundred jurors selected from the nobility.
Myron of Phlya conducted the prosecution, and the family of Megacles was found guilty. Those who were alive were banished, and the bodies of the dead were dug up and cast forth beyond the borders of the country. During these disturbances the Megarians also attacked the Athenians, who lost Nisaea, and were driven out of Salamis once more. The city was also visited with superstitious fears and strange appearances, and the seers declared that their sacrifices indicated pollutions and defilements which demanded expiation.
Under these circumstances they summoned to their aid from Crete Epimenides of Phaestus, who is reckoned as the seventh Wise Man by some of those who refuse Periander a place in the list.2
He was reputed to be a man beloved of the gods, and endowed with a mystical and heaven-sent wisdom in religious matters. Therefore the men of his time said that he was the son of a nymph named Balte, and called him a new Cures.3
On coming to Athens he made Solon his friend, assisted him in many ways, and paved the way for his legislation.
For he made the Athenians decorous and careful in their religious services, and milder in their rites of mourning, by attaching certain sacrifices immediately to their funeral ceremonies and by taking away the harsh and barbaric practices in which their women had usually indulged up to that time. Most important of all, by sundry rites of propitiation and purification, and by sacred foundations, he hallowed and consecrated the city, and brought it to be observant of justice and more easily inclined to unanimity. It is said that when he had seen Munychia4
garrisoned by conquerors of Athens and considered it for some time, he remarked to the bystanders that man was indeed blind to the future; for if the Athenians only knew what mischiefs the place would bring upon their city,
they would devour it with their own teeth. A similar insight into futurity is ascribed to Thales. They say that he gave directions for his burial in an obscure and neglected quarter of the city's territory, predicting that it would one day be the market-place of Miletus. Well then, Epimenides was vastly admired by the Athenians, who offered him much money and large honors; but he asked for nothing more than a branch of the sacred olive-tree, with which he returned home.