Thus he represents the multitude and men of low degree as speaking of him. However, though he rejected the tyranny, he did not administer affairs in the mildest possible manner, nor in the enactment of his laws did he show a feeble spirit, nor make concessions to the powerful, nor consult the pleasure of his electors. Nay, where a condition was as good as it could well be, he applied no remedy, and introduced no innovation, fearing lest, after utterly confusing and confounding the city, he should be too weak to establish it again and recompose it for the best.
But those things wherein he hoped to find them open to persuasion or submissive to compulsion, these he did,
Combining both force and justice together,
as he says himself. Therefore when he was afterwards asked if he had enacted the best laws for the Athenians, he replied,
‘The best they would receive.’
Now later writers observe that the ancient Athenians used to cover up the ugliness of things with auspicious and kindly terms, giving them polite and endearing names.
Thus they called harlots
‘contributions,’ the garrison of a city its
‘guard,’ and the prison a
‘chamber.’ But Solon was the first, it would seem, to use this device, when he called his cancelling of debts a
‘disburdenment.’ For the first of his public measures was an enactment that existing debts should be remitted, and that in future no one should lend money on the person of a borrower.
Some writers, however, and Androtion is one of them, affirm that the poor were relieved not by a cancelling of debts, but by a reduction of the interest upon them, and showed their satisfaction by giving the name of
‘disburdenment’ to this act of humanity, and to the augmentation of measures and the purchasing power of money which accompanied it.2
For he made the mina to consist of a hundred drachmas, which before has contained only seventy-three, so that by paying the same amount of money, but money of a lesser value, those who had debts to discharge were greatly benefited, and those who accepted such payments were no losers.
But most writers agree that the
‘disburdenment’ was a removal of all debt, and with such the poems of Solon are more in accord For in these he proudly boasts that from the mortgaged lands
He took away the record-stones that everywhere were planted
Before, Earth was in bondage, now she is free
And of the citizens whose persons had been seized for debt, some he brought back from foreign lands,
uttering no longer Attic speech,
So long and far their wretched wanderings
And some who here at home in shameful servitude
he says he set free
This undertaking is said to have involved him in the most vexatious experience of his life. For when he had set out to abolish debts, and was trying to find fitting arguments and a suitable occasion for the step, he told some of his most trusted and intimate friends, namely, Conon, Cleinias, and Hipponicus, that he was not going to meddle with the land, but had determined to cancel debts. They immediately took advantage of this confidence and anticipated Solon's decree by borrowing large sums from the wealthy and buying up great estates.
Then when the decree was published, they enjoyed the use of their properties, but refused to pay the moneys due their creditors. This brought Solon into great condemnation and odium, as if he had not been imposed upon with the rest, but were a party to the imposition.5
However, this charge was at once dissipated by his well-known sacrifice of five talents. For it was found that he had lent so much, and he was the first to remit this debt in accordance with his law. Some say that the sum was fifteen talents, and among them is Polyzelus the Rhodian. But his friends were ever after called
‘chreocopidae,’ or debt- cutters.