But the people of Athens were again divided into factions while Solon was away. The Plain-men were headed by Lycurgus; the Shore-men by Megacles the son of Alcmaeon, and the Hill-men by Peisistratus.1
Among the last was the multitude of Thetes who were the bitter enemies of the rich. As a consequence, though the city still observed the new laws yet all were already expecting a revolution and desirous of a different form of government, not in hopes of an equality, but each party thinking to be bettered by the change, and to get the entire mastery of its opponents.
Such was the state of affairs when Solon returned to Athens. He was revered and honored by all, but owing to his years he no longer had the strength or the ardor to speak and act in public as before. He did, however, confer privately with the chiefs of the opposing factions, endeavoring to reconcile and harmonize them, and Peisistratus seemed to pay him more heed than the others. For Peisistratus had an insinuating and agreeable quality in his address, he was ready to help the poor and was reasonable and moderate in his enmities.
Even those virtues which nature had denied him were imitated by him so successfully that he won more confidence than those who actually possessed them. He was thought to be a cautious and order-loving man, one that prized equality above all things, and would take it ill if any one disturbed the existing order and attempted a change. On these points, indeed, he completely deceived most people. But Solon quickly detected his real character, and was the first to perceive his secret designs. He did not, however, treat him as an enemy, but tried to soften and mould him by his instructions. He actually said to him and to others that if the desire for pre- eminence could but be banished from his soul, and his eager passion for the tyranny be cured, no other man would be more naturally disposed to virtue, or a better citizen.
Thespis was now beginning to develop tragedy, and the attempt attracted most people because of its novelty, although it was not yet made a matter of competitive contest. Solon, therefore, who was naturally fond of hearing and learning anything new, and who in his old age more than ever before indulged himself in leisurely amusement, yes, and in wine and song, went to see Thespis act in his own play, as the custom of the ancient poets was.
After the spectacle, he accosted Thespis, and asked him if he was not ashamed to tell such lies in the presence of so many people. Thespis answered that there was no harm in talking and acting that way in play, whereupon Solon smote the ground sharply with his staff and said:
‘Soon, however, if we give play of this sort so much praise and honor, we shall find it in our solemn contracts.’