Solon, then, after his father had impaired his estate in sundry benevolent charities, as Hermippus tells us, might have found friends enough who were willing to aid him. But he was ashamed to take from others, since he belonged to a family which had always helped others, and therefore, while still a young man, embarked in commerce. And yet some say that he travelled to get experience and learning rather than to make money.
For he was admittedly a lover of wisdom, since even when he was well on in years he would say that he
‘grew old ever learning many things’; and he was not an admirer of wealth, but actually says that two men are alike wealthy of whom one
much silver hath,
And gold, and wide domains of wheat-bearing soil,
Horses and mules; while to the other only enough belongs
To give him comfort of food, and clothes, and shoes,
Enjoyment of child and blooming wife, when these too come,
And only years commensurate therewith are his.
However, in another place he says:.—
Wealth I desire to have; but wrongfully to get it, I do not wish.
Justice, even if slow, is sure.
And there is no reason why a good statesman should either set his heart too much on the acquisition of superfluous wealth, or despise unduly the use of what is necessary and convenient. In those earlier times, to use the words of Hesiod,3
‘work was no disgrace,’ nor did a trade bring with it social inferiority, and the calling of a merchant was actually held in honor, since it gave him familiarity with foreign parts, friendships with foreign kings, and a large experience in affairs.
Some merchants were actually founders of great cities, as Protis, who was beloved by the Gauls along the Rhone, was of Marseilles. Thales is said to have engaged in trade, as well as Hippocrates the mathematician; and Plato defrayed the expenses of his sojourn in Egypt by the sale of oil.