Now, to resume, it befell Aristides to be loved at first because of this surname, but afterwards to be jealously hated, especially when Themistocles set the story going among the multitude that Aristides had done away with the public courts of justice by his determining and judging everything in private, and that, without any one perceiving it, he had established for himself a monarchy, saving only the armed body-guard. And besides, the people too must by this time have become greatly elated over their victory; they thought nothing too good for themselves, and were therefore vexed with those who towered above the multitude in name and reputation.
So they assembled in the city from all the country round, and ostracized Aristides, giving to their envious dislike of his reputation the name of fear of tyranny.
Now the sentence of ostracism was not a chastisement of base practices, nay, it was speciously called a humbling and docking of oppressive prestige and power; but it was really a merciful exorcism of the spirit of jealous hate, which thus vented its malignant desire to injure, not in some irreparable evil, but in a mere change of residence for ten years.
And when ignoble men of the baser sort came to be subjected to this penalty, it ceased to be inflicted at all, and Hyperbolus was the last to be thus ostracized.1
It is said that Hyperbolus was ostracized for the following reason. Alcibiades and Nicias had the greatest power in the state, and were at odds. Accordingly, when the people were about to exercise the ostracism, and were clearly going to vote against one or the other of these two men, they came to terms with one another, united their opposing factions, and effected the ostracism of Hyperbolus.
The people were incensed at this for they felt that the institution had been insulted and abused, and so they abandoned it utterly and put an end to it.
The method of procedure—to give a general outline—was as follows. Each voter took an ostrakon, or potsherd, wrote on it the name of that citizen whom he wished to remove from the city, and brought it to a place in the agora which was all fenced about with railings.
The archons first counted the total number of ostraka cast. For if the voters were less than six thousand, the ostracism was void. Then they separated the names, and the man who had received the most votes they proclaimed banished for ten years, with the right to enjoy the income from his property.
Now at the time of which I was speaking, as the voters were inscribing their ostraka, it is said that an unlettered and utterly boorish fellow handed his ostrakon to Aristides, whom he took to be one of the ordinary crowd, and asked him to write Aristides on it.
He, astonished, asked the man what possible wrong Aristides had done him.
‘None whatever,’ was the answer,
‘I don't even know the fellow, but I am tired of hearing him everywhere called 'The Just.'’ On hearing this, Aristides made no answer, but wrote his name on the ostrakon and handed it back. Finally, as he was departing the city, he lifted up his hands to heaven and prayed—a prayer the opposite, as it seems, of that which Achilles made2
—that no crisis might overtake the Athenians which should compel the people to remember Aristides.