To this point it is fit that Solon should first speak,
quoth Chilo, not only because he is the eldest in the company and therefore sits uppermost at table, but because he
governs and gives laws to the amplest and most complete
and flourishing republic in the world, that of Athens.
Here Niloxenus whispered me in the ear: O Diocles, saith
he, how many reports fly about and are believed, and how
some men delight in lies which they either feign of their
own heads or most greedily swallow from the mouths of
others. In Egypt I heard it reported how Chilo had renounced all friendship and correspondence with Solon,
because he maintained the mutability of laws. A ridiculous fiction, quoth I, for then he and we must have renounced Lycurgus, who changed the laws and indeed the
whole government of Sparta.
Solon, pausing awhile, gave his opinion in these words.
I conceive that monarch, whether king or tyrant, were infinitely to be commended, who would exchange his monarchy
for a commonwealth. Bias subjoined, And who would be
first and foremost in conforming to the laws of his country.
Thales added, I reckon that prince happy, who, being old,
dies in his bed a natural death. Fourthly, Anacharsis, If
he alone be a wise man. Fifthly, Cleobulus said, If he
trust none of his courtiers. Sixthly, Pittacus spake thus,
If he could cause his subjects to have fear not of him but
for him. Lastly, Chilo concluded thus, A magistrate ought
to have thoughts, purposes, and resolutions not mean and
earthly, but divine and immortal.
When all had given in their judgments upon this point,
we requested Periander he would condescend to give the
company the satisfaction to let them know his thoughts
upon the same head. Disorder and discontent appearing
in his countenance, he said, These opinions are enough to
scare any wise man from affecting empire. These things,
saith Esop after his fault-finding way, ought rather to have
been discussed privately among ourselves, lest we be accounted antimonarchical while we desire to be esteemed
friends and loyal counsellors. Solon, gently clapping him
upon the shoulder and smiling, answered: Do you not perceive that any one would make a king more moderate and
a tyrant more favorable, who should persuade him that it
is better not to reign than to reign? Then we must believe you before the oracle delivered unto you, quoth
Esop, which pronounced that city happy that heard but one
crier. Yes, quoth Solon, and Athens, though now a commonwealth, hath but one crier and one magistrate, and that
is the law, though the government be democratical; but
you, my friend, have been so accustomed to the croaking
of ravens and the prating of jays, that you do not hear
your own voice. For you maintain it to be the happiness
of a city to be under the command of one man, and yet
account it the praise of a feast if liberty is allowed every
man to speak his mind freely upon what subject he pleases.
But you have not prohibited your servants' drunkenness,
as you have forbidden them to love or to use dry ointments.
Solon laughed at this; but Cleodorus the physician said: To
use dry ointment is like talking when a man is drenched
with wine; both are very pleasant. Therefore, saith Chilo,
it concerns men the more carefully to avoid it. Esop proceeds, Thales seemed to imply that he should soon grow old.