Now when Peisistratus, after inflicting a wound upon himself,1
came into the market-place riding in a chariot, and tried to exasperate the populace with the charge that his enemies had plotted against his life on account of his political opinions and many of them greeted the charge with angry cries Solon drew near and accosted him, saying:
‘0 son of Hippocrates, thou art playing the Homeric Odysseus badly; for when he disfigured himself it was to deceive his enemies2
but thou doest it to mislead thy fellow-citizens.’
After this the multitude was ready to fight for Peisistratus, and a general assembly of the people was held. Here Ariston made a motion that Peisistratus be allowed a body-guard of fifty club-bearers, but Solon formally opposed it, and said many things which were like what he has written in his poems:—
Ye have regard indeed to the speech and words of a wily man.
Yet every one of you walks with the steps of a fox,
And in you all dwells an empty mind.
But when he saw that the poor were tumultuously bent on gratifying Peisistratus, while the rich were fearfully slinking away from any conflict with him, he left the assembly, saying that he was wiser than the one party, and braver than the other; wiser than those who did not understand what was being done and braver than those who, though they understood it, were nevertheless afraid to oppose the tyranny.4
So the people passed the decree, and then held Peisistratus to no strict account of the number of his club-bearers, but suffered him to keep and lead about in public as many as he wished, until at last he seized the acropolis.
When this had been done, and the city was in an uproar, Megacles5
straightway fled, with the rest of the Alcmaeonidae. But Solon, although he was now a very old man, and had none to support him, went nevertheless into the market-place and reasoned with the citizens, partly blaming their folly and weakness, and partly encouraging them still and exhorting them not to abandon their liberty.
Then it was, too, that he uttered the famous saying, that earlier it had been easier for them to hinder the tyranny, while it was in preparation; but now it was a greater and more glorious task to uproot and destroy it when it had been already planted and was grown. No one had the courage to side with him, however, and so he retired to his own house, took his arms, and placed them in the street in front of his door, saying:
‘I have done all I can to help my country and its laws.’
From that time on he lived in quiet retirement, and when his friends urged him to fly, he paid no heed to them, but kept on writing poems, in which he heaped reproaches on the Athenians:—
If now ye suffer grievously through cowardice all your own,
Cherish no wrath against the gods for this,
For ye yourselves increased the usurper's power by giving him a guard,
And therefore are ye now in base subjection.