Athens: Its Rise and Fall, Complete
Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Part 2 out of 13

dispute as to the precise amount of the influence they exercised, and
the exact nature of the rites and customs they established.

A belief in the early connexion between the Egyptians and Athenians,
encouraged by the artful vanity of the one, was welcomed by the lively
credulity of the other. Many ages after the reputed sway of the
mythical Cecrops, it was fondly imagined that traces of their origin
from the solemn Egypt [70] were yet visible among the graceful and
versatile people, whose character was as various, yet as
individualized, as their religion--who, viewed in whatsoever aspect of
their intellectual history, may appear constantly differing, yet
remain invariably Athenian. Whether clamouring in the Agora--whether
loitering in the Academe--whether sacrificing to Hercules in the
temple--whether laughing at Hercules on the stage--whether with
Miltiades arming against the Mede--whether with Demosthenes declaiming
against the Macedonian--still unmistakeable, unexampled, original, and
alone--in their strength or their weakness, their wisdom or their
foibles their turbulent action, their cultivated repose.


The unimportant consequences to be deduced from the admission that
Cecrops might be Egyptian.--Attic Kings before Theseus.--The
Hellenes.--Their Genealogy.--Ionians and Achaeans Pelasgic.--Contrast
between Dorians and Ionians.--Amphictyonic League.

I. In allowing that there does not appear sufficient evidence to
induce us to reject the tale of the Egyptian origin of Cecrops, it
will be already observed, that I attach no great importance to the
dispute: and I am not inclined reverently to regard the innumerable
theories that have been built on so uncertain a foundation. An
Egyptian may have migrated to Attica, but Egyptian influence in Attica
was faint and evanescent;--arrived at the first dawn of historical
fact, it is with difficulty that we discover the most dubious and
shadowy vestiges of its existence. Neither Cecrops nor any other
Egyptian in those ages is recorded to have founded a dynasty in
Attica--it is clear that none established a different language--and
all the boasted analogies of religion fade, on a close examination,
into an occasional resemblance between the symbols and attributes of
Egyptian and Grecian deities, or a similarity in mystic ceremonies and
solemn institutions, which, for the most part, was almost indisputably
formed by intercourse between Greece and Egypt in a far later age.
Taking the earliest epoch at which history opens, and comparing the
whole character of the Athenian people--moral, social, religious, and
political--with that of any Egyptian population, it is not possible to
select a more startling contrast, or one in which national character
seems more indelibly formed by the early and habitual adoption of
utterly opposite principles of thought and action. [71]

I said that Cecrops founded no dynasty: the same traditions that bring
him from Egypt give him Cranaus, a native, for his successor. The
darkness of fable closes over the interval between the reign of
Cranaus and the time of Theseus: if tradition be any guide whatsoever,
the history of that period was the history of the human race--it was
the gradual passage of men from a barbarous state to the dawn of
civilization--and the national mythi only gather in wild and beautiful
fictions round every landmark in their slow and encumbered progress.

It would he very possible, by a little ingenious application of the
various fables transmitted to us, to construct a history of imagined
conquests and invented revolutions; and thus to win the unmerited
praise of throwing a new light upon those remote ages. But when fable
is our only basis--no fabric we erect, however imposing in itself, can
be rightly entitled to the name of history. And, as in certain
ancient chronicles it is recorded merely of undistinguished monarchs
that they "lived and died," so such an assertion is precisely that
which it would be the most presumptuous to make respecting the shadowy
kings who, whether in Eusebius or the Parian marble, give dates and
chronicles to the legendary gloom which preceded the heroic age.

The principal event recorded in these early times, for which there
seems some foundation, is a war between Erechtheus of Athens and the
Eleusinians;--the last assisted or headed by the Thracian Eumolpus.
Erechtheus is said to have fallen a victim in this contest. But a
treaty afterward concluded with the Eleusinians confirmed the
ascendency of Athens, and, possibly, by a religious ceremonial, laid
the foundation of the Eleusinian mysteries. In this contest is
introduced a very doubtful personage, under the appellation of Ion (to
whom I shall afterward recur), who appears on the side of the
Athenians, and who may be allowed to have exercised a certain
influence over them, whether in religious rites or political
institutions, though he neither attained to the throne, nor seems to
have exceeded the peaceful authority of an ally. Upon the dim and
confused traditions relative to Ion, the wildest and most luxuriant
speculations have been grafted--prolix to notice, unnecessary to

II. During this period there occurred--not rapidly, but slowly--the
most important revolution of early Greece, viz., the spread of that
tribe termed the Hellenes, who gradually established their
predominance throughout the land, impressed indelible traces on the
national character, and finally converted their own into the national

I have already expressed my belief that the Pelasgi were not a
barbarous race, speaking a barbarous tongue, but that they were akin
to the Hellenes, who spoke the Grecian language, and are considered
the proper Grecian family. Even the dubious record of genealogy
(which, if fabulous in itself, often under the names of individuals
typifies the affinity of tribes) makes the Hellenes kindred to the
Pelasgi. Deucalion, the founder of the Hellenes, was of Pelasgic
origin--son of Prometheus, and nephew of Atlas, king of the Pelasgic

However this may be, we find the Hellenes driven from Phocis, their
earliest recorded seat, by a flood in the time of Deucalion.
Migrating into Thessaly, they expelled the Pelasgi; and afterward
spreading themselves through Greece, they attained a general
ascendency over the earlier habitants, enslaving, doubtless, the bulk
of the population among which they formed a settlement, but ejecting
numbers of the more resolute or the more noble families, and causing
those celebrated migrations by which the Pelasgi carried their name
and arts into Italy, as well as into Crete and various other isles.
On the continent of Greece, when the revolution became complete, the
Pelasgi appear to have retained only Arcadia, the greater part of
Thessaly [72], the land of Dodona, and Attica.

There is no reason to suppose the Hellenes more enlightened and
civilized than the Pelasgi; but they seem, if only by the record of
their conquests, to have been a more stern, warlike, and adventurous
branch of the Grecian family. I conclude them, in fact, to have been
that part of the Pelasgic race who the longest retained the fierce and
vigorous character of a mountain tribe, and who found the nations they
invaded in that imperfect period of civilization which is so
favourable to the designs of a conqueror--when the first warlike
nature of a predatory tribe is indeed abandoned--but before the
discipline, order, and providence of a social community are acquired.
Like the Saxons into Britain, the Hellenes were invited [73] by the
different Pelasgic chiefs as auxiliaries, and remained as conquerors.
But in other respects they rather resembled the more knightly and
energetic race by whom in Britain the Saxon dynasty was overturned:--
the Hellenes were the Normans of antiquity. It is impossible to
decide the exact date when the Hellenes obtained the general
ascendency or when the Greeks received from that Thessalian tribe
their common appellation. The Greeks were not termed Hellenes in the
time in which the Iliad was composed--they were so termed in the time
of Hesiod. But even in the Iliad, the word Panhellenes, applied to
the Greeks, testifies the progress of the revolution [74], and in the
Odyssey, the Hellenic name is no longer limited to the dominion of

III. The Hellenic nation became popularly subdivided into four
principal families, viz., the Dorians, the Aeolians, the Ionians, and
Achaeans, of which I consider the former two alone genuinely Hellenic.
The fable which makes Dorus, Aeolus, and Xuthus, the sons of Helen,
declares that while Dorus was sent forth to conquer other lands,
Aeolus succeeded to the domain of Phthiotis, and records no conquests
of his own; but attributes to his sons the origin of most of the
principal families of Greece. If rightly construed, this account
would denote that the Aeolians remained for a generation at least
subsequent to the first migration of the Dorians, in their Thessalian
territories; and thence splitting into various hordes, descended as
warriors and invaders upon the different states of Greece. They
appear to have attached themselves to maritime situations, and the
wealth of their early settlements is the theme of many a legend. The
opulence of Orchomenus is compared by Homer to that of Egyptian
Thebes. And in the time of the Trojan war, Corinth was already termed
"the wealthy." By degrees the Aeolians became in a great measure
blended and intermingled with the Dorians. Yet so intimately
connected are the Hellenes and Pelasgi, that even these, the lineal
descendants of Helen through the eldest branch, are no less confounded
with the Pelasgic than the Dorian race. Strabo and Pausanias alike
affirm the Aeolians to be Pelasgic, and in the Aeolic dialect we
approach to the Pelasgic tongue.

The Dorians, first appearing in Phthiotis, are found two generations
afterward in the mountainous district of Histiaeotis, comprising
within their territory, according to Herodotus, the immemorial Vale of
Tempe. Neighboured by warlike hordes, more especially the heroic
Lapithae, with whom their earliest legends record fierce and continued
war, this mountain tribe took from nature and from circumstance their
hardy and martial character. Unable to establish secure settlements
in the fertile Thessalian plains, and ranging to the defiles through
which the romantic Peneus winds into the sea, several of the tribe
migrated early into Crete, where, though forming only a part of the
population of the isle, they are supposed by some to have established
the Doric constitution and customs, which in their later settlements
served them for a model. Other migrations marked their progress to
the foot of Mount Pindus; thence to Dryopis, afterward called Doris;
and from Dryopis to the Peloponnesus; which celebrated migration,
under the name of the "Return of the Heraclidae," I shall hereafter
more especially describe. I have said that genealogy attributes the
origin of the Dorians and that of the Aeolians to Dorus and Aeolus,
sons of Helen. This connects them with the Hellenes and with each
other. The adventures of Xuthus, the third son of Helen, are not
recorded by the legends of Thessaly, and he seems merely a fictitious
creation, invented to bring into affinity with the Hellenes the
families, properly Pelasgic, of the Achaeans and Ionians. It is by
writers comparatively recent that we are told that Xuthus was driven
from Thessaly by his brothers--that he took refuge in Attica, and on
the plains of Marathon built four towns--Oenoe, Marathon,
Probalinthus, and Tricorythus [75], and that he wedded Creusa,
daughter of Erechtheus, king of Attica, and that by her he had two
sons, Achaeus and Ion. By some we are told that Achaeus, entering the
eastern side of Peloponnesus, founded a dominion in Laconia and
Argolis; by others, on the contrary, that he conducted a band, partly
Athenian, into Thessaly, and recovered the domains of which his father
had been despoiled [76]. Both these accounts of Achaeus, as the
representative of the Achaeans, are correct in this, that the
Achaeans, had two settlements from remote periods--the one in the
south of Thessaly--the other in the Peloponnesus.

The Achaeans were long the most eminent of the Grecian tribes.
Possessed of nearly the whole of the Peloponnesus, except, by a
singular chance, that part which afterward bore their name, they
boasted the warlike fame of the opulent Menelaus and the haughty
Agamemnon, the king of men. The dominant tribe of the heroic age, the
Achaeans form the kindred link between the several epochs of the
Pelasgic and Hellenic sway--their character indeed Hellenic, but their
descent apparently Pelasgic. Dionysius of Halicarnassus derives them
from Pelasgus himself, and they existed as Achaeans before the
Hellenic Xuthus was even born. The legend which makes Achaeus the
brother of Ion, tends likewise to prove, that if the Ionians were
originally Pelasgic, so also were the Achaeans. Let us then come to

Although Ion is said to have given the name of Ionians to the
Atticans, yet long before his time the Iaones were among the ancient
inhabitants of the country; and Herodotus (the best authority on the
subject) declares that the Ionians were Pelasgic and indigenous.
There is not sufficient reason to suppose, therefore, that they were
Hellenic conquerors or Hellenic settlers. They appear, on the
contrary, to have been one of the aboriginal tribes of Attica:--a part
of them proceeded into the Peloponnesus (typified under the migration
thither of Xuthus), and these again returning (as typified by the
arrival of Ion at Athens), in conjunction with such of their
fraternity as had remained in their native settlement, became the most
powerful and renowned of the several divisions of the Attic
population. Their intercourse with the Peloponnesians would lead the
Ionians to establish some of the political institutions and religious
rites they had become acquainted with in their migration; and thus may
we most probably account for the introduction of the worship of Apollo
into Attica, and for that peaceful political influence which the
mythical Ion is said to have exercised over his countrymen.

At all events, we cannot trace, any distinct and satisfactory
connexion between this, the most intellectual and brilliant tribe of
the Grecian family, and that roving and fortunate Thessalian horde to
which the Hellenes gave the general name, and of which the Dorians
were the fittest representative and the most powerful section. Nor,
despite the bold assumptions of Mueller, is there any evidence of a
Hellenic conquest in Attica. [77]

And that land which, according to tradition and to history, was the
early refuge of exiles, derived from the admission and intercourse of
strangers and immigrants those social and political improvements which
in other states have been wrought by conquest.

IV. After the Dorians obtained possession of the Peloponnesus, the
whole face of Greece was gradually changed. The return of the
Heraclidae was the true consummation of the Hellenic revolution. The
tribes hitherto migratory became fixed in the settlements they
acquired. The Dorians rose to the rank of the most powerful race of
Greece: and the Ionians, their sole rivals, possessed only on the
continent the narrow soil of Attica, though their colonies covered the
fertile coast of Asia Minor. Greece thus reduced to two main tribes,
the Doric and the Ionian, historians have justly and generally
concurred in noticing between them the strongest and most marked
distinctions,--the Dorians grave, inflexible, austere,--the Ionians
lively, versatile, prone to change. The very dialect of the one was
more harsh and masculine than that of the other; and the music, the
dances of the Dorians, bore the impress of their severe simplicity.
The sentiment of veneration which pervaded their national character
taught the Dorians not only, on the one hand, the firmest allegiance
to the rites of religion--and a patriarchal respect for age--but, on
the other hand, a blind and superstitious attachment to institutions
merely on account of their antiquity--and an almost servile regard for
birth, producing rather the feelings of clanship than the sympathy of
citizens. We shall see hereafter, that while Athens established
republics, Sparta planted oligarchies. The Dorians were proud of
independence, but it was the independence of nobles rather than of a
people. Their severity preserved them long from innovation--no less
by what was vicious in its excess than by what was wise in its
principle. With many great and heroic qualities, they were yet harsh
to enemies--cruel to dependants--selfish to allies. Their whole
policy was to preserve themselves as they were; if they knew not the
rash excesses, neither were they impelled by the generous emotions,
which belong to men whose constant aspirations are to be better and to
be greater;--they did not desire to be better or to be greater; their
only wish was not to be different. They sought in the future nothing
but the continuance of the past; and to that past they bound
themselves with customs and laws of iron. The respect in which they
held their women, as well as their disdain of pleasure, preserved them
in some measure from the licentiousness common to states in which
women are despised; but the respect had little of the delicacy and
sentiment of individual attachment--attachment was chiefly for their
own sex [78]. The Ionians, on the contrary, were susceptible,
flexile, and more characterized by the generosity of modern knighthood
than the sternness of ancient heroism. Them, not the past, but the
future, charmed. Ever eager to advance, they were impatient even of
the good, from desire of the better. Once urged to democracy--
democracy fixed their character, as oligarchy fixed the Spartan. For,
to change is the ambition of a democracy--to conserve of an oligarchy.
The taste, love, and intuition of the beautiful stamped the Greeks
above all nations, and the Ionians above all the Greeks. It was not
only that the Ionians were more inventive than their neighbours, but
that whatever was beautiful in invention they at once seized and
appropriated. Restless, inquisitive, ardent, they attempted all
things, and perfected art--searched into all things, and consummated

The Ionic character existed everywhere among Ionians, but the Doric
was not equally preserved among the Dorians. The reason is evident.
The essence of the Ionian character consisted in the spirit of change
--that of the Dorian in resistance to innovation. When any Doric
state abandoned its hereditary customs and institutions, it soon lost
the Doric character--became lax, effeminate, luxurious--a corruption
of the character of the Ionians; but no change could assimilate the
Ionian to the Doric; for they belonged to different eras of
civilization--the Doric to the elder, the Ionian to the more advanced.
The two races of Scotland have become more alike than heretofore; but
it is by making the highlander resemble the lowlander--and not by
converting the lowland citizen into the mountain Gael. The habits of
commerce, the substitution of democratic for oligarchic institutions,
were sufficient to alter the whole character of the Dorians. The
voluptuous Corinth--the trading Aegina (Doric states)--infinitely more
resembled Athens than Sparta.

It is, then, to Sparta, that in the historical times we must look
chiefly for the representative of the Doric tribe, in its proper and
elementary features; and there, pure, vigorous, and concentrated, the
Doric character presents a perpetual contrast to the Athenian. This
contrast continued so long as either nation retained a character to
itself;--and (no matter what the pretences of hostility) was the real
and inevitable cause of that enmity between Athens and Sparta, the
results of which fixed the destiny of Greece.

Yet were the contests of that enmity less the contests between
opposing tribes than between those opposing principles which every
nation may be said to nurse within itself; viz., the principle to
change, and the principle to preserve; the principle to popularize,
and the principle to limit the governing power; here the genius of an
oligarchy, there of a people; here adherence to the past, there desire
of the future. Each principle produced its excesses, and furnishes a
salutary warning. The feuds of Sparta and Athens may be regarded as
historical allegories, clothing the moral struggles, which, with all
their perils and all their fluctuations, will last to the end of time.

V. This period is also celebrated for the supposed foundation of that
assembly of the Grecian states, called the Amphictyonic Confederacy.
Genealogy attributes its origin to a son of Deucalion, called
Amphictyon. [79]

This fable would intimate a Hellenic origin, since Deucalion is the
fabled founder of the Hellenes; but out of twelve tribes which
composed the confederacy, only three were Hellenic, and the rest
Pelasgic. But with the increasing influence of the Dorian oracle of
Delphi, with which it was connected, it became gradually considered a
Hellenic institution. It is not possible to decipher the first
intention of this league. The meeting was held at two places, near
Anthela, in the pass of Thermopylae, and Delphi; at the latter place
in the spring, at the former in the autumn. If tradition imputed to
Amphictyon the origin of the council, it ascribed to Acrisius, king
of Argos [80], the formation of its proper power and laws. He is said
to have founded one of the assemblies, either that in Delphi or
Thermopylae (accounts vary), and to have combined the two, increased
the number of the members, and extended the privileges of the body.
We can only interpret this legend by the probable supposition, that
the date of holding the same assembly at two different places, at
different seasons of the year, marks the epoch of some important
conjunction of various tribes, and, it may be, of deities hitherto
distinct. It might be an attempt to associate the Hellenes with the
Pelasgi, in the early and unsettled power of the former race: and this
supposition is rendered the more plausible by the evident union of the
worship of the Dorian Apollo at Delphi with that of the Pelasgian
Ceres at Thermopylae [81]. The constitution of the league was this--
each city belonging to an Amphictyonic state sent usually two
deputies--the one called Pylagoras, the other Hieromnemon. The
functions of the two deputies seem to have differed, and those of the
latter to have related more particularly to whatsoever appertained to
religion. On extraordinary occasions more than one pylagoras was
deputed--Athens at one time sent no less than three. But the number
of deputies sent did not alter the number of votes in the council.
Each city had two votes and no more, no matter how many delegates it

All the deputies assembled,--solemn sacrifices were offered at Delphi
to Apollo, Diana, Latona, and Minerva; at Thermopylae to Ceres. An
oath was then administered, the form of which is preserved to us by

"I swear," runs the oath, "never to subvert any Amphictyonic city--
never to stop the courses of its waters in peace or in war. Those who
attempt such outrages I will oppose by arms; and the cities that so
offend I will destroy. If any ravages be committed in the territory
of the god, if any connive at such a crime, if any conceive a design
hostile to the temple, against them will I use my hands, my feet, my
whole power and strength, so that the offenders may be brought to

Fearful and solemn imprecations on any violation of this engagement
followed the oath.

These ceremonies performed, one of the hieromnemons [82] presided over
the council; to him were intrusted the collecting the votes, the
reporting the resolutions, and the power of summoning the general
assembly, which was a convention separate from the council, held only
on extraordinary occasions, and composed of residents and strangers,
whom the solemnity of the meeting congregated in the neighbourhood.

VI. Throughout the historical times we can trace in this league no
attempt to combine against the aggression of foreign states, except
for the purposes of preserving the sanctity of the temple. The
functions of the league were limited to the Amphictyonic tribes and
whether or not its early, and undefined, and obscure purpose, was to
check wars among the confederate tribes, it could not attain even that
object. Its offices were almost wholly confined to religion. The
league never interfered when one Amphictyonic state exercised the
worst severities against the other, curbing neither the ambition of
the Athenian fleet nor the cruelties of the Spartan sword. But, upon
all matters relative to religion, especially to the worship of Apollo,
the assembly maintained an authority in theory supreme--in practice,
equivocal and capricious.

As a political institution, the league contained one vice which could
not fail to destroy its power. Each city in the twelve Amphictyonic
tribes, the most unimportant as the most powerful, had the same number
of votes. This rendered it against the interest of the greater states
(on whom its consideration necessarily depended) to cement or increase
its political influence and thus it was quietly left to its natural
tendency to sacred purposes. Like all institutions which bestow upon
man the proper prerogative of God, and affect authority over religious
and not civil opinions, the Amphictyonic council was not very
efficient in good: even in its punishment of sacrilege, it was only
dignified and powerful whenever the interests of the Delphic temple
were at stake. Its most celebrated interference was with the town of
Crissa, against which the Amphictyons decreed war B. C. 505; the
territory of Crissa was then dedicated to the god of the temple.

VII. But if not efficient in good, the Amphictyonic council was not
active in evil. Many causes conspired to prevent the worst excesses
to which religious domination is prone,--and this cause in particular.
It was not composed of a separate, interested, and permanent class,
but of citizens annually chosen from every state, who had a much
greater interest in the welfare of their own state than in the
increased authority of the Amphictyonic council [83]. They were
priests but for an occasion--they were citizens by profession. The
jealousies of the various states, the constant change in the
delegates, prevented that energy and oneness necessary to any settled
design of ecclesiastical ambition. Hence, the real influence of the
Amphictyonic council was by no means commensurate with its grave
renown; and when, in the time of Philip, it became an important
political agent, it was only as the corrupt and servile tool of that
able monarch. Still it long continued, under the panoply of a great
religious name, to preserve the aspect of dignity and power, until, at
the time of Constantine, it fell amid the ruins of the faith it had
aspired to protect. The creed that became the successor of the
religion of Delphi found a mightier Amphictyonic assembly in the
conclaves of Rome. The papal institution possessed precisely those
qualities for directing the energies of states, for dictating to the
ambition of kings, for obtaining temporal authority under spiritual
pretexts--which were wanting to the pagan.


The Heroic Age.--Theseus.--His legislative Influence upon Athens.--
Qualities of the Greek Heroes.--Effect of a Traditional Age upon the
Character of a People.

I. As one who has been journeying through the dark [84] begins at
length to perceive the night breaking away in mist and shadow, so that
the forms of things, yet uncertain and undefined, assume an
exaggerated and gigantic outline, half lost amid the clouds,--so now,
through the obscurity of fable, we descry the dim and mighty outline
of the HEROIC AGE. The careful and skeptical Thucydides has left us,
in the commencement of his immortal history, a masterly portraiture of
the manners of those times in which individual prowess elevates the
possessor to the rank of a demigod; times of unsettled law and
indistinct control;--of adventure--of excitement;--of daring qualities
and lofty crime. We recognise in the picture features familiar to the
North: the roving warriors and the pirate kings who scoured the seas,
descended upon unguarded coasts, and deemed the exercise of plunder a
profession of honour, remind us of the exploits of the Scandinavian
Her-Kongr, and the boding banners of the Dane. The seas of Greece
tempted to piratical adventures: their numerous isles, their winding
bays, and wood-clad shores, proffered ample enterprise to the bold--
ample booty to the rapacious; the voyages were short for the
inexperienced, the refuges numerous for the defeated. In early ages,
valour is the true virtue--it dignifies the pursuits in which it is
engaged, and the profession of a pirate was long deemed as honourable
in the Aegean as among the bold rovers of the Scandinavian race [85].
If the coast was thus exposed to constant incursion and alarm, neither
were the interior recesses of the country more protected from the
violence of marauders. The various tribes that passed into Greece, to
colonize or conquer, dislodged from their settlements many of the
inhabitants, who, retreating up the country, maintained themselves by
plunder, or avenged themselves by outrage. The many crags and
mountains, the caverns and the woods, which diversify the beautiful
land of Greece, afforded their natural fortresses to these barbarous
hordes. The chief who had committed a murder, or aspired
unsuccessfully to an unsteady throne, betook himself, with his
friends, to some convenient fastness, made a descent on the
surrounding villages, and bore off the women or the herds, as lust or
want excited to the enterprise. No home was safe, no journey free
from peril, and the Greeks passed their lives in armour. Thus,
gradually, the profession and system of robbery spread itself
throughout Greece, until the evil became insufferable--until the
public opinion of all the states and tribes, in which society had
established laws, was enlisted against the freebooter--until it grew
an object of ambition to rid the neighbourhood of a scourge--and the
success of the attempt made the glory of the adventurer. Then
naturally arose the race of heroes--men who volunteered to seek the
robber in his hold--and, by the gratitude of a later age, the courage
of the knight-errant was rewarded with the sanctity of the demigod.
At that time, too, internal circumstances in the different states--
whether from the predominance of, or the resistance to, the warlike
Hellenes, had gradually conspired to raise a military and fierce
aristocracy above the rest of the population; and as arms became the
instruments of renown and power, so the wildest feats would lead to
the most extended fame.

II. The woods and mountains of Greece were not then cleared of the
first rude aboriginals of nature--wild beasts lurked within its
caverns;--wolves abounded everywhere--herds of wild bulls, the large
horns of which Herodotus names with admiration, were common; and even
the lion himself, so late as the invasion of Xerxes, was found in wide
districts from the Thracian Abdera to the Acarnanian Achelous. Thus,
the feats of the early heroes appear to have been mainly directed
against the freebooter or the wild beast; and among the triumphs of
Hercules are recorded the extermination of the Lydian robbers, the
death of Cacus, and the conquest of the lion of Nemea and the boar of

Hercules himself shines conspicuously forth the great model of these
useful adventurers. There is no doubt that a prince [86], so named,
actually existed in Greece; and under the title of the Theban
Hercules, is to be carefully distinguished, both from the god of Egypt
and the peaceful Hercules of Phoenicia [87], whose worship was not
unknown to the Greeks previous to the labours of his namesake. As the
name of Hercules was given to the Theban hero (originally called
Alcaeus), in consequence of his exploits, it may be that his
countrymen recognised in his character or his history something
analogous to the traditional accounts of the Eastern god. It was the
custom of the early Greeks to attribute to one man the actions which
he performed in concert with others, and the reputation of Hercules
was doubtless acquired no less as the leader of an army than by the
achievements of his personal prowess. His fame and his success
excited the emulation of his contemporaries, and pre-eminent among
these ranks the Athenian Theseus.

III. In the romance which Plutarch has bequeathed to us, under the
title of a "History of Theseus," we seem to read the legends of our
own fabulous days of chivalry. The adventures of an Amadis or a
Palmerin are not more knightly nor more extravagant.

According to Plutarch, Aegeus, king of Athens, having no children,
went to Delphi to consult the oracle how that misfortune might be
repaired. He was commanded not to approach any woman till he returned
to Athens; but the answer was couched in mystic and allegorical terms,
and the good king was rather puzzled than enlightened by the reply.
He betook himself therefore to Troezene, a small town in Peloponnesus,
founded by Pittheus, of the race of Pelops, a man eminent in that day
for wisdom and sagacity. He communicated to him the oracle, and
besought his interpretation. Something there was in the divine answer
which induced Pittheus to draw the Athenian king into an illicit
intercourse with his own daughter, Aethra. The princess became with
child; and, before his departure from Troezene, Aegeus deposited a
sword and a pair of sandals in a cavity concealed by a huge stone
[88], and left injunctions with Aethra that, should the fruit of their
intercourse prove a male child, and able, when grown up, to remove the
stone, she should send him privately to Athens with the sword and
sandals in proof of his birth; for Aegeus had a brother named Pallas,
who, having a large family of sons, naturally expected, from the
failure of the direct line, to possess himself or his children of the
Athenian throne; and the king feared, should the secret of his
intercourse with Aethra be discovered before the expected child had
arrived to sufficient strength to protect himself, that either by
treason or assassination the sons of Pallas would despoil the rightful
heir of his claim to the royal honours. Aethra gave birth to Theseus,
and Pittheus concealed the dishonour of his family by asserting that
Neptune, the god most honoured at Troezene, had condescended to be the
father of the child:--the gods were very convenient personages in
those days. As the boy grew up, he evinced equal strength of body and
nobleness of mind; and at length the time arrived when Aethra
communicated to him the secret of his birth, and led him to the stone
which concealed the tokens of his origin. He easily removed it, and
repaired by land to Athens.

At that time, as I have before stated, Greece was overrun by robbers:
Hercules had suppressed them for awhile; but the Theban hero was now
at the feet of the Lydian Omphale, and the freebooters had reappeared
along the mountainous recesses of the Peloponnesus; the journey by
land was therefore not only longer, but far more perilous, than a
voyage by sea, and Pittheus earnestly besought his grandson to prefer
the latter. But it was the peril of the way that made its charm in
the eyes of the young hero, and the fame of Hercules had long inspired
his dreams by night [89], and his thoughts by day. With his father's
sword, then, he repaired to Athens. Strange and wild were the
adventures that befell him. In Epidauria he was attacked by a
celebrated robber, whom he slew, and whose club he retained as his
favourite weapon. In the Isthmus, Sinnis, another bandit, who had
been accustomed to destroy the unfortunate travellers who fell in his
way by binding them to the boughs of two pine trees (so that when the
trees, released, swung back to their natural position, the victim was
torn asunder, limb by limb), was punished by the same death he had
devised for others; and here occurs one of those anecdotes
illustrative of the romance of the period, and singularly analogous to
the chivalry of Northern fable, which taught deference to women, and
rewarded by the smiles of the fair the exploits of the bold. Sinnis,
"the pine bender," had a daughter remarkable for beauty, who
concealed herself amid the shrubs and rushes in terror of the victor.
Theseus discovered her, praying, says Plutarch, in childish innocence
or folly, to the plants and bushes, and promising, if they would
shelter her, never to destroy or burn them. A graceful legend, that
reminds us of the rich inventions of Spenser. But Theseus, with all
gentle words and soothing vows, allured the maiden from her retreat,
and succeeded at last in obtaining her love and its rewards.

Continued adventures--the conquest of Phaea, a wild sow (or a female
robber, so styled from the brutality of her life)--the robber Sciron
cast headlong from a precipice--Procrustes stretched on his own bed--
attested the courage and fortune of the wanderer, and at length he
arrived at the banks of the Cephisus. Here he was saluted by some of
the Phytalidae, a sacred family descended from Phytalus, the beloved
of Ceres, and was duly purified from the blood of the savages he had
slain. Athens was the first place at which he was hospitably
entertained. He arrived at an opportune moment; the Colchian Medea,
of evil and magic fame, had fled from Corinth and taken refuge with
Aegeus, whose affections she had insnared. By her art she promised
him children to supply his failing line, and she gave full trial to
the experiment by establishing herself the partner of the royal couch.
But it was not likely that the numerous sons of Pallas would regard
this connexion with indifference, and faction and feud reigned
throughout the city. Medea discovered the secret of the birth of
Theseus; and, resolved by poison to rid herself of one who would
naturally interfere with her designs on Aegeus, she took advantage of
the fear and jealousies of the old king, and persuaded him to become
her accomplice in the premeditated crime. A banquet, according to the
wont of those hospitable times, was given to the stranger. The king
was at the board, the cup of poison at hand, when Theseus, wishing to
prepare his father for the welcome news he had to divulge, drew the
sword or cutlass which Aegeus had made the token of his birth, and
prepared to carve with it the meat that was set before him. The sword
caught the eye of the king--he dashed the poison to the ground, and
after a few eager and rapid questions, recognised his son in his
intended victim. The people were assembled--Theseus was acknowledged
by the king, and received with joy by the multitude, who had already
heard of the feats of the hero. The traditionary place where the
poison fell was still shown in the time of Plutarch. The sons of
Pallas ill brooked the arrival and acknowledgment of this unexpected
heir to the throne. They armed themselves and their followers, and
prepared for war. But one half of their troops, concealed in ambush,
were cut off by Theseus (instructed in their movements by the
treachery of a herald), and the other half, thus reduced, were obliged
to disperse. So Theseus remained the undisputed heir to the Athenian

IV. It would be vain for the historian, but delightful for the poet,
to follow at length this romantic hero through all his reputed
enterprises. I can only rapidly sketch the more remarkable. I pass,
then, over the tale how he captured alive the wild bull of Marathon,
and come at once to that expedition to Crete, which is indissolubly
intwined with immortal features of love and poetry. It is related
that Androgeus, a son of Minos, the celebrated King of Crete, and by
his valour worthy of such a sire, had been murdered in Attica; some
suppose by the jealousies of Aegeus, who appears to have had a
singular distrust of all distinguished strangers. Minos retaliated by
a war which wasted Attica, and was assisted in its ravages by the
pestilence and the famine. The oracle of Apollo, which often laudably
reconciled the quarrels of princes, terminated the contest by
enjoining the Athenians to appease the just indignation of Minos.
They despatched, therefore, ambassadors to Crete, and consented, in
token of submission, to send every ninth year a tribute of seven
virgins and seven young men. The little intercourse that then existed
between states, conjoined with the indignant grief of the parents at
the loss of their children, exaggerated the evil of the tribute. The
hostages were said by the Athenians to be exposed in an intricate
labyrinth, and devoured by a monster, the creature of unnatural
intercourse, half man half bull; but the Cretans, certainly the best
authority in the matter, stripped the account of the fable, and
declared that the labyrinth was only a prison in which the youths and
maidens were confined on their arrival--that Minos instituted games in
honour of Androgeus, and that the Athenian captives were the prize of
the victors. The first victor was the chief of the Cretan army, named
Taurus, and he, being fierce and unmerciful, treated the slaves he
thus acquired with considerable cruelty. Hence the origin of the
labyrinth and the Minotaur. And Plutarch, giving this explanation of
the Cretans, cites Aristotle to prove that the youths thus sent were
not put to death by Minos, but retained in servile employments, and
that their descendants afterward passed into Thrace, and were called
Bottiaeans. We must suppose, therefore, in consonance not only with
these accounts, but the manners of the age, that the tribute was
merely a token of submission, and the objects of it merely considered
as slaves. [90]

Of Minos himself all accounts are uncertain. There seems no
sufficient ground to doubt, indeed, his existence, nor the extended
power which, during his reign, Crete obtained in Greece. It is most
probable that it was under Phoenician influence that Crete obtained
its maritime renown; but there is no reason to suppose Minos himself

After the return of Theseus, the time came when the tribute to Crete
was again to be rendered. The people murmured their dissatisfaction.
"It was the guilt of Aegeus," said they, "which caused the wrath of
Minos, yet Aegeus alone escaped its penalty; their lawful children
were sacrificed to the Cretan barbarity, but the doubtful and
illegitimate stranger, whom Aegeus had adopted, went safe and free."
Theseus generously appeased these popular tumults: he insisted on
being himself included in the seven.

V. Twice before had this human tribute been sent to Crete; and in
token of the miserable and desperate fate which, according to vulgar
belief, awaited the victims, a black sail had been fastened to the

But this time, Aegeus, inspired by the cheerful confidence of his son,
gave the pilot a white sail, which he was to hoist, if, on his return,
he bore back Theseus in safety: if not, the black was once more to be
the herald of an unhappier fate. It is probable that Theseus did not
esteem this among the most dangerous of his adventures. At the court
of the wise Pittheus, or in the course of his travels, he had
doubtless heard enough of the character of Minos, the greatest and
most sagacious monarch of his time, to be convinced that the son of
the Athenian king would have little to fear from his severity. He
arrived at Crete, and obtained the love of Ariadne, the daughter of
Minos. Now follows a variety of contradictory accounts, the most
probable and least poetical of which are given by Plutarch; but as he
concludes them all by the remark that none are of certainty, it is a
needless task to repeat them: it suffices to relate, that either with
or without the consent of Minos, Theseus departed from Crete, in
company with Ariadne, and that by one means or the other he
thenceforth freed the Athenians from the payment of the accustomed
tribute. As it is obvious that with the petty force with which, by
all accounts, he sailed to Crete, he could not have conquered the
powerful Minos in his own city, so it is reasonable to conclude, as
one of the traditions hath it, that the king consented to his alliance
with his daughter, and, in consequence of that marriage, waived all
farther claim to the tribute of the Athenians. [91]

Equal obscurity veils the fate of the loving Ariadne; but the
supposition which seems least objectionable is, that Theseus was
driven by storm either on Cyprus or Naxos, and Ariadne being then with
child, and rendered ill by the violence of the waves, was left on
shore by her lover while he returned to take charge of his vessel;
that she died in childbed, and that Theseus, on his return, was
greatly afflicted, and instituted an annual festival in her honour.
While we adopt the story most probable in itself, and most honourable
to the character of the Athenian hero, we cannot regret the various
romance which is interwoven with the tale of the unfortunate Cretan,
since it has given us some of the most beautiful inventions of
poetry;--the Labyrinth love-lighted by Ariadne--the Cretan maid
deserted by the stranger with whom she fled--left forlorn and alone on
the Naxian shore--and consoled by Bacchus and his satyr horde.

VI. Before he arrived at Athens, Theseus rested at Delos, where he is
said to have instituted games, and to have originated the custom of
crowning the victor with the palm. Meanwhile Aegeus waited the return
of his son. On the Cecropian rock that yet fronts the sea, he watched
the coming of the vessel and the waving of the white sail: the masts
appeared--the ship approached--the white sail was not visible: in the
joy and the impatience of the homeward crew, the pilot had forgotten
to hoist the appointed signal, and the old man in despair threw
himself from the rock and was dashed to pieces. Theseus received the
news of his father's death with sorrow and lamentation. His triumph
and return were recorded by periodical festivals, in which the fate of
Aegeus was typically alluded to, and the vessel of thirty oars with
which he had sailed to Crete was preserved by the Athenians to the
times of Demetrius the Phalerean--so often new-pieced and repaired,
that it furnished a favourite thesis to philosophical disputants,
whether it was or was not the same vessel which Theseus had employed.

VII. Possessed of the supreme power, Theseus now bent his genius to
the task of legislation, and in this part of his life we tread upon
firmer ground, because the most judicious of the ancient historians
[92] expressly attributes to the son of Aegeus those enactments which
so mainly contributed to consolidate the strength and union of the
Athenian people.

Although Cecrops is said to have brought the tribes of Attica under
one government, yet it will be remembered that he had divided the
territory into twelve districts, with a fortress or capital to each.
By degrees these several districts had become more and more distinct
from each other, and in many cases of emergency it was difficult to
obtain a general assembly or a general concurrence of the people; nay,
differences had often sprung up between the tribes, which had been
adjusted, not as among common citizens, by law, but as among jealous
enemies, by arms and bloodshed. It was the master policy of Theseus
to unite these petty commonwealths in one state. He applied in
person, and by all the arte of persuasion, to each tribe: the poor he
found ready enough to listen to an invitation which promised them the
shelter of a city, and the protection of a single government from the
outrage of many tyrants: the rich and the powerful were more jealous
of their independent, scattered, and, as it were, feudal life. But
these he sought to conciliate by promises that could not but flatter
that very prejudice of liberty which naturally at first induced them
to oppose his designs. He pledged his faith to a constitution which
should leave the power in the hands of the many. He himself, as
monarch, desired only the command in war, and in peace the
guardianship of laws he was equally bound to obey. Some were induced
by his persuasions, others by the fear of his power, until at length
he obtained his object. By common consent he dissolved the towns'-
corporations and councils in each separate town, and built in Athens
one common prytaneum or council-hall, existent still in the time of
Plutarch. He united the scattered streets and houses of the citadel,
and the new town that had grown up along the plain, by the common name
of "Athens," and instituted the festival of the Panathenaea, in honour
of the guardian goddess of the city, and as a memorial of the
confederacy. Adhering then to his promises, he set strict and narrow
limits to the regal power, created, under the name of eupatrids or
well-born, an hereditary nobility, and divided into two orders (the
husbandmen and mechanics) the remainder of the people. The care of
religion, the explanation of the laws, and the situations of
magistrates, were the privilege of the nobles. He thus laid the
foundation of a free, though aristocratic constitution--according to
Aristotle, the first who surrendered the absolute sway of royalty, and
receiving from the rhetorical Isocrates the praise that it was a
contest which should give most, the people of power, or the king of
freedom. As an extensive population was necessary to a powerful
state, so Theseus invited to Athens all strangers willing to share in
the benefits of its protection, granting them equal security of life
and law; and he set a demarcation to the territory of the state by the
boundary of a pillar erected in the Isthmus, dividing Ionia from
Peloponnesus. The Isthmian games in honour of Neptune were also the
invention of Theseus.

VIII. Such are the accounts of the legislative enactments of Theseus.
But of these we must reject much. We may believe from the account of
Thucydides that jealousies among some Attic towns--which might either
possess, or pretend to, an independence never completely annihilated
by Cecrops and his successors, and which the settlement of foreigners
of various tribes and habits would have served to increase--were so
far terminated as to induce submission to the acknowledged supremacy
of Athens as the Attic capital; and that the right of justice, and
even of legislation, which had before been the prerogative of each
separate town (to the evident weakening of the supreme and regal
authority), was now concentrated in the common council-house of
Athens. To Athens, as to a capital, the eupatrids of Attica would
repair as a general residence [93]. The city increased in population
and importance, and from this period Thucydides dates the enlargement
of the ancient city, by the addition of the Lower Town. That Theseus
voluntarily lessened the royal power, it is not necessary to believe.
In the heroic age a warlike race had sprung up, whom no Grecian
monarch appears to have attempted to govern arbitrarily in peace,
though they yielded implicitly to his authority in war. Himself on a
newly-won and uncertain throne, it was the necessity as well as the
policy of Theseus to conciliate the most powerful of his subjects. It
may also be conceded, that he more strictly defined the distinctions
between the nobles and the remaining classes, whether yeomen or
husbandmen, mechanics or strangers; and it is recorded that the
honours and the business of legislation were the province of the
eupatrids. It is possible that the people might be occasionally
convened--but it is clear that they had little, if any, share in the
government of the state. But the mere establishment and confirmation
of a powerful aristocracy, and the mere collection of the population
into a capital, were sufficient to prepare the way for far more
democratic institutions than Theseus himself contemplated or designed.
For centuries afterward an oligarchy ruled in Athens; but, free
itself, that oligarchy preserved in its monopoly the principles of
liberty, expanding in their influence with the progress of society.
The democracy of Athens was not an ancient, yet not a sudden,
constitution. It developed itself slowly, unconsciously,
continuously--passing the allotted orbit of royalty, oligarchy,
aristocracy, timocracy, tyranny, till at length it arrived at its
dazzling zenith, blazed--waned--and disappeared.

After the successful issue of his legislative attempts, we next hear
of Theseus less as the monarch of history than as the hero of song.
On these later traditions, which belong to fable, it is not necessary
to dwell. Our own Coeur de Lion suggests no improbable resemblance to
a spirit cast in times yet more wild and enterprising, and without
seeking interpretations, after the fashion of allegory or system, of
each legend, it is the most simple hypothesis, that Theseus really
departed in quest of adventure from a dominion that afforded no scope
for a desultory and eager ambition; and that something of truth lurks
beneath many of the rich embellishments which his wanderings and
exploits received from the exuberant poetry and the rude credibility
of the age. During his absence, Menestheus, of the royal race of
Attica, who, Plutarch simply tells us, was the first of mankind that
undertook the profession of a demagogue, ingratiated himself with the
people, or rather with the nobles. The absence of a king is always
the nurse of seditions, and Menestheus succeeded in raising so
powerful a faction against the hero, that on his return Theseus was
unable to preserve himself in the government, and, pouring forth a
solemn curse on the Athenians, departed to Scyros, where he either
fell by accident from a precipice, or was thrown down by the king.
His death at first was but little regarded; in after-times, to appease
his ghost and expiate his curse, divine honours were awarded to his
memory; and in the most polished age of his descendants, his supposed
remains, indicated by an eagle in the skeleton of a man of giant
stature, with a lance of brass and a sword by his side, were brought
to Athens in the galley of Cimon, hailed by the shouts of a joyous
multitude, "as if the living Theseus were come again."

X. I have not altogether discarded, while I have abridged, the
legends relating to a hero who undoubtedly exercised considerable
influence over his country and his time, because in those legends we
trace, better than we could do by dull interpretations equally
unsatisfactory though more prosaic, the effigy of the heroic age--not
unillustrative of the poetry and the romance which at once formed and
indicated important features in the character of the Athenians. Much
of the national spirit of every people, even in its most civilized
epochs, is to be traced to the influence of that age which may be
called the heroic. The wild adventurers of the early Greece tended to
humanize even in their excesses. It is true that there are many
instances of their sternness, ferocity, and revenge;--they were
insolent from the consciousness of surpassing strength;--often cruel
from that contempt of life common to the warlike. But the darker side
of their character is far less commonly presented to us than the
brighter--they seem to have been alive to generous emotions more
readily than any other race so warlike in an age so rude--their
affections were fervid as their hatreds--their friendships more
remarkable than their feuds. Even their ferocity was not, as with the
Scandinavian heroes, a virtue and a boast--their public opinion
honoured the compassionate and the clement. Thus Hercules is said
first to have introduced the custom of surrendering to the enemy the
corpses of their slain; and mildness, justice, and courtesy are no
less his attributes than invincible strength and undaunted courage.
Traversing various lands, these paladins of an elder chivalry acquired
an experience of different governments and customs, which assisted on
their return to polish and refine the admiring tribes which their
achievements had adorned. Like the knights of a Northern mythus,
their duty was to punish the oppressor and redress the wronged, and
they thus fixed in the wild elemeats of unsettled opinion a recognised
standard of generosity and of justice. Their deeds became the theme
of the poets, who sought to embellish their virtues and extenuate
their offences. Thus, certain models, not indeed wholly pure or
excellent, but bright with many of those qualities which ennoble a
national character, were set before the emulation of the aspiring and
the young:--and the traditional fame of a Hercules or a Theseus assisted
to inspire the souls of those who, ages afterward, broke the Mede at
Marathon, and arrested the Persian might in the Pass of Thermopylae.
For, as the spirit of a poet has its influence on the destiny and
character of nations, so TIME itself hath his own poetry, preceding
and calling forth the poetry of the human genius, and breathing
inspirations, imaginative and imperishable, from the great deeds and
gigantic images of an ancestral and traditionary age.


The Successors of Theseus.--The Fate of Codrus.--The Emigration of
Nileus.--The Archons.--Draco.

I. The reputed period of the Trojan war follows close on the age of
Hercules and Theseus; and Menestheus, who succeeded the latter hero on
the throne of Athens, led his countrymen to the immortal war.
Plutarch and succeeding historians have not failed to notice the
expression of Homer, in which he applies the word demus or "people" to
the Athenians, as a proof of the popular government established in
that state. But while the line has been considered an interpolation,
as late at least as the time of Solon, we may observe that it was
never used by Homer in the popular and political sense it afterward
received. And he applies it not only to the state of Athens, but to
that of Ithaca, certainly no democracy. [94]

The demagogue king appears to have been a man of much warlike renown
and skill, and is mentioned as the first who marshalled an army in
rank and file. Returning from Troy, he died in the Isle of Melos, and
was succeeded by Demophoon, one of the sons of Theseus, who had also
fought with the Grecian army in the Trojan siege. In his time a
dispute between the Athenians and Argives was referred to fifty
arbiters of each nation, called Ephetae, the origin of the court so
styled, and afterward re-established with new powers by Draco.

To Demophoon succeeded his son Oxyntes, and to Oxyntes, Aphidas,
murdered by his bastard brother Thymaetes. Thymaetes was the last of
the race of Theseus who reigned in Athens. A dispute arose between
the Boeotians and the Athenians respecting the confines of their
several territories; it was proposed to decide the difference by a
single combat between Thymaetes and the King of the Boeotians.
Thymaetes declined the contest. A Messenian exile, named Melanthus,
accepted it, slew his antagonist by a stratagem, and, deposing the
cowardly Athenian, obtained the sovereignty of Athens. With
Melanthus, who was of the race of Nestor, passed into Athens two
nobles of the same house, Paeon and Alcmaeon, who were the founders of
the Paeonids and Alcmaeonids, two powerful families, whose names often
occur in the subsequent history of Athens, and who, if they did not
create a new order of nobility, at least sought to confine to their
own families the chief privileges of that which was established.

II. Melanthus was succeeded by his son Codrus, a man whose fame finds
more competitors in Roman than Grecian history. During his reign the
Dorians invaded Attica. They were assured of success by the Delphian
oracle, on condition that they did not slay the Athenian king.
Informed of the response, Codrus disguised himself as a peasant, and,
repairing to the hostile force, sought a quarrel with some of the
soldiers, and was slain by them not far from the banks of the Ilissus
[95]. The Athenians sent to demand the body of their king; and the
Dorians, no longer hoping of success, since the condition of the
oracle was thus violated, broke up their encampment and relinquished
their design. Some of the Dorians had already by night secretly
entered the city and concealed themselves within its walls; but, as
the day dawned, and they found themselves abandoned by their
associates and surrounded by the foe, they fled to the Areopagus and
the altars of the Furies; the refuge was deemed inviolable, and the
Dorians were dismissed unscathed--a proof of the awe already attached
to the rites of sanctuary [96]. Still, however, this invasion was
attended with the success of what might have been the principal object
of the invaders. Megara [97], which had hitherto been associated with
Attica, was now seized by the Dorians, and became afterward a colony
of Corinth. This gallant but petty state had considerable influence
on some of the earlier events of Athenian history.

III. Codrus was the last of the Athenian kings. The Athenians
affected the motives of reverence to his memory as an excuse for
forbidding to the illustrious martyr the chance of an unworthy
successor. But the aristocratic constitution had been morally
strengthened by the extinction of the race of Theseus and the jealousy
of a foreign line; and the abolition of the monarchy was rather caused
by the ambition of the nobles than the popular veneration for the
patriotism of Codrus. The name of king was changed into that of
archon (magistrate or governor); the succession was still made
hereditary, but the power of the ruler was placed under new limits,
and he was obliged to render to the people, or rather to the
eupatrids, an account of his government whenever they deemed it
advisable to demand it.

IV. Medon, the son of Codrus, was the first of these perpetual
archons. In that age bodily strength was still deemed an essential
virtue in a chief; and Nileus, a younger brother of Medon, attempted
to depose the archon on no other pretence than that of his lameness.

A large portion of the people took advantage of the quarrel between
the brothers to assert that they would have no king but Jupiter. At
length Medon had recourse to the oracle, which decided in his favour;
and Nileus, with all the younger sons of Codrus, and accompanied by a
numerous force, departed from Athens, and colonized that part of Asia
Minor celebrated in history under the name of Ionia. The rise, power,
and influence of these Asiatic colonies we shall find a more
convenient opportunity to notice. Medon's reign, thus freed from the
more stirring spirits of his time, appears to have been prosperous and
popular; it was an era in the ancient world, when the lameness of a
ruler was discovered to be unconnected with his intellect! Then
follows a long train of archons--peaceable and obscure. During a
period estimated at three hundred years, the Athenians performed
little that has descended to posterity--brief notices of petty
skirmishes, and trivial dissensions with their neighbours, alone
diversify that great interval. Meanwhile, the Ionian colonies rise
rapidly into eminence and power. At length, on the death of Alcmaeon
--the thirteenth and last perpetual archon--a new and more popular
change was introduced into the government. The sway of the archon was
limited to ten years. This change slowly prepared the way to changes
still more important. Hitherto the office had been confined to the
two Neleid houses of Codrus and Alcmaeon;--in the archonship of
Hippomenes it was thrown open to other distinguished families; and at
length, on the death of Eryxias, the last of the race of Codrus, the
failure of that ancient house in its direct line (indirectly it still
continued, and the blood of Codrus flowed through the veins of Solon)
probably gave excuse and occasion for abolishing the investment of the
supreme power in one magistrate; nine were appointed, each with the
title of archon (though the name was more emphatically given to the
chief of the number), and each with separate functions. This
institution continued to the last days of Athenian freedom. This
change took place in the 24th Olympiad.

V. In the 39th Olympiad, Draco, being chief archon, was deputed to
institute new laws in B. C. 621. He was a man concerning whom history
is singularly brief; we know only that he was of a virtuous and
austere renown--that he wrote a great number of verses, as little
durable as his laws [98]. As for the latter--when we learn that they
were stern and bloody beyond precedent--we have little difficulty in
believing that they were inefficient.

VI. I have hastened over this ambiguous and uninteresting period with
a rapidity I trust all but antiquaries will forgive. Hitherto we have
been in the land of shadow--we approach the light. The empty names of
apocryphal beings which we have enumerated are for the most part as
spectres, so dimly seen as to be probably delusions--invoked to please
a fanciful curiosity, but without an object to satisfy the reason or
excuse the apparition. If I am blamed for not imitating those who
have sought, by weaving together disconnected hints and subtle
conjectures, to make a history from legends, to overturn what has been
popularly believed, by systems equally contradictory, though more
learnedly fabricated;--if I am told that I might have made the
chronicle thus briefly given extend to a greater space, and sparkle
with more novel speculation, I answer that I am writing the history of
men and not of names--to the people and not to scholars--and that no
researches however elaborate, no conjectures however ingenious, could
draw any real or solid moral from records which leave us ignorant both
of the characters of men and the causes of events. What matters who
was Ion, or whence the first worship of Apollo? what matter
revolutions or dynasties, ten or twelve centuries before Athens
emerged from a deserved obscurity?--they had no influence upon her
after greatness; enigmas impossible to solve--if solved, but
scholastic frivolities.

Fortunately, as we desire the history of a people, so it is when the
Athenians become a people, that we pass at once from tradition into

I pause to take a brief survey of the condition of the rest of Greece
prior to the age of Solon.


A General Survey of Greece and the East previous to the time of
Solon.--The Grecian Colonies.--The Isles.--Brief account of the States
on the Continent.--Elis and the Olympic Games.

I. On the north, Greece is separated from Macedonia by the Cambunian
mountains; on the west spreads the Ionian, on the south and east the
Aegean Sea. Its greatest length is two hundred and twenty
geographical miles; its greatest width one hundred and forty. No
contrast can be more startling than the speck of earth which Greece
occupies in the map of the world, compared to the space claimed by the
Grecian influences in the history of the human mind. In that contrast
itself is the moral which Greece has left us--nor can volumes more
emphatically describe the triumph of the Intellectual over the
Material. But as nations, resembling individuals, do not become
illustrious from their mere physical proportions; as in both, renown
has its moral sources; so, in examining the causes which conduced to
the eminence of Greece, we cease to wonder at the insignificance of
its territories or the splendour of its fame. Even in geographical
circumstance Nature had endowed the country of the Hellenes with gifts
which amply atoned the narrow girth of its confines. The most
southern part of the continent of Europe, it contained within itself
all the advantages of sea and land; its soil, though unequal in its
product, is for the most part fertile and abundant; it is intersected
by numerous streams, and protected by chains of mountains; its plains
and valleys are adapted to every product most necessary to the support
of the human species; and the sun that mellows the fruits of nature is
sufficiently tempered not to relax the energies of man. Bordered on
three sides by the sea, its broad and winding extent of coast early
conduced to the spirit of enterprise; and, by innumerable bays and
harbours, proffered every allurement to that desire of gain which is
the parent of commerce and the basis of civilization. At the period
in which Greece rose to eminence it was in the very centre of the most
advanced and flourishing states of Europe and of Asia. The attention
of its earlier adventurers was directed not only to the shores of
Italy, but to the gorgeous cities of the East, and the wise and hoary
institutions of Egypt. If from other nations they borrowed less than
has been popularly supposed, the very intercourse with those nations
alone sufficed to impel and develop the faculties of an imitative and
youthful people;--while, as the spirit of liberty broke out in all the
Grecian states, producing a restless competition both among the
citizens in each city and the cities one with another, no energy was
allowed to sleep until the operations of an intellect, perpetually
roused and never crippled, carried the universal civilization to its
height. Nature herself set the boundaries of the river and the
mountain to the confines of the several states--the smallness of each
concentrated power into a focus--the number of all heightened
emulation to a fever. The Greek cities had therefore, above all other
nations, the advantage of a perpetual collision of mind--a perpetual
intercourse with numerous neighbours, with whom intellect was ever at
work--with whom experiment knew no rest. Greece, taken collectively,
was the only free country (with the exception of Phoenician states and
colonies perhaps equally civilized) in the midst of enlightened
despotisms; and in the ancient world, despotism invented and sheltered
the arts which liberty refined and perfected [99]: Thus considered,
her greatness ceases to be a marvel--the very narrowness of her
dominions was a principal cause of it--and to the most favourable
circumstances of nature were added circumstances the most favourable
of time.

If, previous to the age of Solon, we survey the histories of Asia, we
find that quarter of the globe subjected to great and terrible
revolutions, which confined and curbed the power of its various
despotisms. Its empires for the most part built up by the successful
invasions of Nomad tribes, contained in their very vastness the
elements of dissolution. The Assyrian Nineveh had been conquered by
the Babylonians and the Medes (B. C. 606); and Babylon, under the new
Chaldaean dynasty, was attaining the dominant power of western Asia.
The Median monarchy was scarce recovering from the pressure of
barbarian foes, and Cyrus had not as yet arisen to establish the
throne of Persia. In Asia Minor, it is true, the Lydian empire had
attained to great wealth and luxury, and was the most formidable enemy
of the Asiatic Greeks, yet it served to civilize them even while it
awed. The commercial and enterprising Phoenicians, now foreboding the
march of the Babylonian king, who had "taken counsel against Tyre, the
crowning city, whose merchants are princes, whose traffickers are the
honourable of the earth," at all times were precluded from the desire
of conquest by their divided states [100], formidable neighbours, and
trading habits.

In Egypt a great change had operated upon the ancient character; the
splendid dynasty of the Pharaohs was no more. The empire, rent into
an oligarchy of twelve princes, had been again united under the
sceptre of one by the swords of Grecian mercenaries (B. C. 616); and
Neco, the son of the usurper--a man of mighty intellect and vast
designs--while he had already adulterated the old Egyptian customs
with the spirit of Phoenician and Greek adventure, found his field of
action only in the East (defeats Josiah B. C. 609). As yet, then, no
foreign enemy had disturbed the early rise of the several states of
Greece; they were suffered to form their individual demarcations
tranquilly and indelibly; and to progress to that point between social
amenities and chivalric hardihood, when, while war is the most sternly
encountered, it the most rapidly enlightens. The peace that follows
the first war of a half-civilized nation is usually the great era of
its intellectual eminence.

II. At this time the colonies in Asia Minor were far advanced in
civilization beyond the Grecian continent. Along the western coast of
that delicious district--on a shore more fertile, under a heaven more
bright, than those of the parent states--the Aeolians, Ionians, and
Dorians, in a remoter age, had planted settlements and founded cities
(probably commenced under Penthilus, son of Orestes, about B. C.
1068). The Aeolian colonies (the result of the Dorian immigrations)
[101] occupied the coasts of commenced Mysia and Caria--on the
mainland twelve cities--the most renowned of which were Cyme and
Smyrna; and the islands of the Heccatonnesi, Tenedos, and Lesbos, the
last illustrious above the rest, and consecrated by the muses of
Sappho and Alcaeus. They had also settlements about Mount Ida. Their
various towns were independent of each other; but Mitylene, in the
Isle of Lesbos, was regarded as their common capital. The trade of
Mitylene was extensive--its navy formidable.

The Ionian colonies (probably commenced about 988 B. C.), founded
subsequently to the Aeolian, but also (though less immediately) a
consequence of the Dorian revolution, were peopled not only by
Ionians, but by various nations, led by the sons of Codrus. In the
islands of Samos and Chios, on the southern coast of Lydia, where
Caria stretches to the north, they established their voluptuous
settlements known by the name "Ionia." Theirs were the cities of
Myus, and Priene, Colophon, Ephesus, Lebedus, Teos, Clazomene,
Erythrae, Phocae, and Miletus:--in the islands of Samos and Chios were
two cities of the same name as the isles themselves. The chief of the
Ionian cities at the time on which we enter, and second perhaps in
trade and in civilization to none but the great Phoenician states, was
the celebrated Miletus--founded first by the Carians--exalted to her
renown by the Ionians (Naval dominion of Miletus commenced B. C. 750).
Her streets were the mart of the world; along the Euxine and the Palus
Maeotis, her ships rode in the harbours of a hundred of her colonies.
Here broke the first light of the Greek philosophy. But if inferior
to this, their imperial city, each of the Ionian towns had its title
to renown. Here flourished already music, and art, and song. The
trade of Phocae extended to the coasts of Italy and Gaul. Ephesus had
not yet risen to its meridian--it was the successor of Miletus and
Phocaea. These Ionian states, each independent of the other, were
united by a common sanctuary--the Panionium (Temple of Neptune), which
might be seen far off on the headland of that Mycale afterward the
witness of one of the proudest feats of Grecian valour. Long free,
Ionia became tributary to the Lydian kings, and afterward to the great
Persian monarchy.

In the islands of Cos and Rhodes, and on the southern shores of Caria,
spread the Dorian colonies--planted subsequently to the Ionian by
gradual immigrations. If in importance and wealth the Aeolian were
inferior to the Ionian colonies, so were the Dorian colonies to the
Aeolian. Six cities (Ialyssus, Camirus, and Lindus, in Rhodes; in
Cos, a city called from the island; Cnidus and Halicarnassus, on the
mainland) were united, like the Ionians, by a common sanctuary--the
Temple of Apollo Triopius.

Besides these colonies--the Black Sea, the Palus Maeotis, the
Propontis, the coasts of Lower Italy, the eastern and southern shores
of Sicily [102], Syracuse, the mightiest of Grecian offspring, and the
daughter of Corinth,--the African Cyrene,--not enumerating settlements
more probably referable to a later date, attested the active spirit
and extended navigation of early Greece.

The effect of so vast and flourishing a colonization was necessarily
prodigious upon the moral and intellectual spirit of the mother land.
The seeds scattered over the earth bore their harvests to her garner.

III. Among the Grecian isles, the glory of Minos had long passed from
Crete (about 800 B. C.). The monarchical form of government had
yielded to the republican, but in its worst shape--the oligarchic.
But the old Cretan institutions still lingered in the habits of
private life;--while the jealousies and commotions of its several
cities, each independent, exhausted within itself those powers which,
properly concentrated and wisely directed, might have placed Crete at
the head of Greece.

Cyprus, equally favoured by situation with Crete, and civilized by the
constant influence of the Phoenicians, once its masters, was attached
to its independence, but not addicted to warlike enterprise. It was,
like Crete, an instance of a state which seemed unconscious of the
facilities for command and power which it had received from nature.
The Island of Corcyra (a Corinthian colony) had not yet arrived at its
day of power. This was reserved for that period when, after the
Persian war, it exchanged an oligarchic for a democratic action, which
wore away, indeed, the greatness of the country in its struggles for
supremacy, obstinately and fatally resisted by the antagonist

Of the Cyclades--those beautiful daughters of Crete--Delos, sacred to
Apollo, and possessed principally by the Ionians, was the most
eminent. But Paros boasted not only its marble quarries, but the
valour of its inhabitants, and the vehement song of Archilochus.

Euboea, neighbouring Attica, possessed two chief cities, Eretria and
Chalcis, governed apparently by timocracies, and frequently at war
with each other. Though of importance as connected with the
subsequent history of Athens, and though the colonization of Chalcis
was considerable, the fame of Euboea was scarcely proportioned to its
extent as one of the largest islands of the Aegean; and was far
outshone by the small and rocky Aegina--the rival of Athens, and at
this time her superior in maritime power and commercial enterprise.
Colonized by Epidaurus, Aegina soon became independent; but the
violence of party, and the power of the oligarchy, while feeding its
energies, prepared its downfall.

IV. As I profess only to delineate in this work the rise and fall of
the Athenians, so I shall not deem it at present necessary to do more
than glance at the condition of the continent of Greece previous to
the time of Solon. Sparta alone will demand a more attentive survey.

Taking our station on the citadel of Athens, we behold, far projecting
into the sea, the neighbouring country of Megaris, with Megara for its
city. It was originally governed by twelve kings; the last, Hyperion,
being assassinated, its affairs were administered by magistrates, and
it was one of the earliest of the countries of Greece which adopted
republican institutions. Nevertheless, during the reigns of the
earlier kings of Attica, it was tributary to them [103]. We have seen
how the Dorians subsequently wrested it from the Athenians [104]; and
it underwent long and frequent warfare for the preservation of its
independence from the Dorians of Corinth. About the year 640, a
powerful citizen named Theagenes wrested the supreme power from the
stern aristocracy which the Dorian conquest had bequeathed, though the
yoke of Corinth was shaken off. The tyrant--for such was the
appellation given to a successful usurper--was subsequently deposed,
and the democratic government restored; and although that democracy
was one of the most turbulent in Greece, it did not prevent this
little state from ranking among the most brilliant actors in the
Persian war.

V. Between Attica and Megaris we survey the Isle of Salamis--the
right to which we shall find contested both by Athens and the

VI. Turning our eyes now to the land, we may behold, bordering
Attica--from which a mountainous tract divides it--the mythological
Boeotia, the domain of the Phoenician Cadmus, and the birthplace of
Polynices and Oedipus. Here rise the immemorial mountains of Helicon
and Cithaeron--the haunt of the muses; here Pentheus fell beneath the
raging bands of the Bacchanals, and Actaeon endured the wrath of the
Goddess of the Woods; here rose the walls of Thebes to the harmony of
Amphion's lyre--and still, in the time of Pausanias, the Thebans
showed, to the admiration of the traveller, the place where Cadmus
sowed the dragon-seed--the images of the witches sent by Juno to
lengthen the pains of Alcmena--the wooden statue wrought by Daedalus--
and the chambers of Harmonia and of Semele. No land was more
sanctified by all the golden legends of poetry--and of all Greece no
people was less alive to the poetical inspiration. Devoted, for the
most part, to pastoral pursuits, the Boeotians were ridiculed by their
lively neighbours for an inert and sluggish disposition--a reproach
which neither the song of Hesiod and Pindar, nor the glories of Thebes
and Plataea, were sufficient to repel. As early as the twelfth
century (B. C.) royalty was abolished in Boeotia--its territory was
divided into several independent states, of which Thebes was the
principal, and Plataea and Cheronaea among the next in importance.
Each had its own peculiar government; and, before the Persian war,
oligarchies had obtained the ascendency in these several states. They
were united in a league, of which Thebes was the head; but the
ambition and power of that city kept the rest in perpetual jealousy,
and weakened, by a common fear and ill-smothered dissensions, a
country otherwise, from the size of its territories [105] and the
number of its inhabitants, calculated to be the principal power of
Greece. Its affairs were administered by eleven magistrates, or
boeotarchs, elected by four assemblies held in the four districts into
which Boeotia was divided.

VII. Beyond Boeotia lies Phocis, originally colonized, according to
the popular tradition, by Phocus from Corinth. Shortly after the
Dorian irruption, monarchy was abolished and republican institutions
substituted. In Phocis were more than twenty states independent of
the general Phocian government, but united in a congress held at
stated times on the road between Daulis and Delphi. Phocis contained
also the city of Crissa, with its harbour and the surrounding
territory inhabited by a fierce and piratical population, and the
sacred city of Delphi, on the southwest of Parnassus.

VIII. Of the oracle of Delphi I have before spoken--it remains only
now to point out to the reader the great political cause of its rise
into importance. It had been long established, but without any
brilliant celebrity, when happened that Dorian revolution which is
called the "Return of the Heraclidae." The Dorian conquerors had
early steered their course by the advice of the Delphian oracle, which
appeared artfully to favour their pretensions, and which, adjoining
the province of Doris, had imposed upon them the awe, and perhaps felt
for them the benevolence, of a sacred neighbour. Their ultimate
triumph not only gave a striking and supreme repute to the oracle, but
secured the protection and respect of a race now become the most
powerful of Greece. From that time no Dorian city ever undertook an
enterprise without consulting the Pythian voice; the example became
general, and the shrine of the deity was enriched by offerings not
only from the piety of Greece, but the credulous awe of barbarian
kings. Perhaps, though its wealth was afterward greater, its
authority was never so unquestioned as for a period dating from about
a century preceding the laws of Solon to the end of the Persian war.
Delphi was wholly an independent state, administered by a rigid
aristocracy [106]; and though protected by the Amphictyonic council,
received from its power none of those haughty admonitions with which
the defenders of a modern church have often insulted their charge.
The temple was so enriched by jewels, statues, and vessels of gold,
that at the time of the invasion of Xerxes its wealth was said to
equal in value the whole of the Persian armament and so wonderful was
its magnificence, that it appeared more like the Olympus of the gods
than a human temple in their honour. On the ancient Delphi stands now
the monastery of Kastri. But still you discover the terraces once
crowded by fans--still, amid gloomy chasms, bubbles the Castalian
spring--and yet permitted to the pilgrim's gaze is the rocky bath of
the Pythia, and the lofty halls of the Corycian Cave.

IX. Beyond Phocis lies the country of the Locrians, divided into
three tribes independent of each other--the Locri Ozolae, the Locri
Opuntii, the Locri Epicnemidii. The Locrians (undistinguished in
history) changed in early times royal for aristocratic institutions.

The nurse of the Dorian race--the small province of Doris--borders the
Locrian territory to the south of Mount Oeta; while to the west of
Locris spreads the mountainous Aetolia, ranging northward from Pindus
to the Ambracian Bay. Aetolia gave to the heroic age the names of
Meleager and Diomed, but subsequently fell into complete obscurity.
The inhabitants were rude and savage, divided into tribes, nor emerged
into importance until the latest era of the Grecian history. The
political constitution of Aetolia, in the time referred to, is

X. Acarnania, the most western country of central Greece, appears
little less obscure at this period than Aetolia, on which it borders;
with Aetolia it arose into eminence in the Macedonian epoch of Greek

XI. Northern Greece contains two countries--Thessaly and Epirus.

In Thessaly was situated the long and lofty mountain of the divine
Olympus, and to the more southern extreme rose Pindus and Oeta. Its
inhabitants were wild and hardy, and it produced the most celebrated
breed of horses in Greece. It was from Thessaly that the Hellenes
commenced their progress over Greece--it was in the kingdoms of
Thessaly that the race of Achilles held their sway; but its later
history was not calculated to revive the fame of the Homeric hero; it
appears to have shared but little of the republican spirit of the more
famous states of Greece. Divided into four districts (Thessaliotis,
Pelasgiotis, Phthiotis, and Hestiaeotis), the various states of
Thessaly were governed either by hereditary princes or nobles of vast
possessions. An immense population of serfs, or penestae, contributed
to render the chiefs of Thessaly powerful in war and magnificent in
peace. Their common country fell into insignificance from the want of
a people--but their several courts were splendid from the wealth of a

XII. Epirus was of somewhat less extent than Thessaly, and far less
fertile; it was inhabited by various tribes, some Greek, some
barbarian, the chief of which was the Molossi, governed by kings who
boasted their descent from Achilles. Epirus has little importance or
interest in history until the sun of Athens had set, during the
ascendency of the Macedonian kings. It contained the independent
state of Ambracia, peopled from Corinth, and governed by republican
institutions. Here also were the sacred oaks of the oracular Dodona.

XIII. We now come to the states of the Peloponnesus, which contained
eight countries.

Beyond Megaris lay the territory of Corinth: its broad bay adapted it
for commerce, of which it availed itself early; even in the time of
Homer it was noted for its wealth. It was subdued by the Dorians, and
for five generations the royal power rested with the descendants of
Aletes [107], of the family of the Heraclidae. By a revolution, the
causes of which are unknown to us, the kingdom then passed to Bacchis,
the founder of an illustrious race (the Bacchiadae), who reigned first
as kings, and subsequently as yearly magistrates, under the name of
Prytanes. In the latter period the Bacchiadae were certainly not a
single family, but a privileged class--they intermarried only with
each other,--the administrative powers were strictly confined to them
--and their policy, if exclusive, seems to have been vigorous and
brilliant. This government was destroyed, as under its sway the
people increased in wealth and importance; a popular movement, headed
by Cypselus, a man of birth and fortune, replaced an able oligarchy by
an abler demagogue (B. C. 655). Cypselus was succeeded by the
celebrated Heriander (B. C. 625), a man, whose vices were perhaps
exaggerated, whose genius was indisputable. Under his nephew
Psammetichus, Corinth afterward regained its freedom. The
Corinthians, in spite of every change in the population, retained
their luxury to the last, and the epistles of Alciphron, in the second
century after Christ, note the ostentation of the few and the poverty
of the many. At the time now referred to, Corinth--the Genoa of
Greece--was high in civilization, possessed of a considerable naval
power, and in art and commerce was the sole rival on the Grecian
continent to the graceful genius and extensive trade of the Ionian

XIV. Stretching from Corinth along the coast opposite Attica, we
behold the ancient Argolis. Its three principal cities were Argos,
Mycenae, and Epidaurus. Mycenae, at the time of the Trojan war, was
the most powerful of the states of Greece; and Argos, next to Sicyori,
was reputed the most ancient. Argolis suffered from the Dorian
revolution, and shortly afterward the regal power, gradually
diminishing, lapsed into republicanism [108]. Argolis contained
various independent states--one to every principal city.

XV. On the other side of Corinth, almost opposite Argolis, we find
the petty state of Sicyon. This was the most ancient of the Grecian
states, and was conjoined to the kingdom of Agamemnon at the Trojan
war. At first it was possessed by Ionians, expelled subsequently by
the Dorians, and not long after seems to have lapsed into a democratic
republic. A man of low birth, Orthagoras, obtained the tyranny, and
it continued in his family for a century, the longest tyranny in
Greece, because the gentlest. Sicyon was of no marked influence at
the period we are about to enter, though governed by an able tyrant,
Clisthenes, whose policy it was to break the Dorian nobility, while
uniting, as in a common interest, popular laws and regal authority.

XVI. Beyond Sicyon we arrive at Achaia. We have already seen that
this district was formerly possessed by the Ionians, who were expelled
by some of the Achaeans who escaped the Dorian yoke. Governed first
by a king, it was afterward divided into twelve republics, leagued
together. It was long before Achaia appeared on that heated stage of
action, which allured the more restless spirits of Athens and

XVII. We now pause at Elis, which had also felt the revolution of the
Heraclidae, and was possessed by their comrades the Aetolians.

The state of Elis underwent the general change from monarchy to
republicanism; but republicanism in its most aristocratic form;--
growing more popular at the period of the Persian wars, but, without
the convulsions which usually mark the progress of democracy. The
magistrates of the commonwealth were the superintendents of the Sacred
Games. And here, diversifying this rapid, but perhaps to the general
reader somewhat tedious survey of the political and geographical
aspect of the states of Greece, we will take this occasion to examine
the nature and the influence of those celebrated contests, which gave
to Elis its true title to immortality.

XVIII. The origin of the Olympic Games is lost in darkness. The
legends which attribute their first foundation to the times of
demigods and heroes, are so far consonant with truth, that exhibitions
of physical strength made the favourite diversion of that wild and
barbarous age which is consecrated to the heroic. It is easy to
perceive that the origin of athletic games preceded the date of
civilization; that, associated with occasions of festival, they, like
festivals, assumed a sacred character, and that, whether first
instituted in honour of a funeral, or in celebration of a victory, or
in reverence to a god,--religion combined with policy to transmit an
inspiring custom to a more polished posterity. And though we cannot
literally give credit to the tradition which assigns the restoration
of these games to Lycurgus, in concert with Iphitus, king of Elis, and
Cleosthenes of Pisa, we may suppose at least that to Elis, to Pisa,
and to Sparta, the institution was indebted for its revival.

The Dorian Oracle of Delphi gave its sanction to a ceremony, the
restoration of which was intended to impose a check upon the wars and
disorders of the Peloponnesus. Thus authorized, the festival was
solemnized at the temple of Jupiter, at Olympia, near Pisa, a town in
Elis. It was held every fifth year; it lasted four days. It
consisted in the celebration of games in honour of Jupiter and
Hercules. The interval between each festival was called, an Olympiad.
After the fiftieth Olympiad (B. C. 580), the whole management of the
games, and the choice of the judges, were monopolized by the Eleans.
Previous to each festival, officers, deputed by the Eleans, proclaimed
a sacred truce. Whatever hostilities were existent in Greece,
terminated for the time; sufficient interval was allowed to attend and
to return from the games. [109]

During this period the sacred territory of Elis was regarded as under
the protection of the gods--none might traverse it armed. The Eleans
arrogated indeed the right of a constant sanctity to perpetual peace;
and the right, though sometimes invaded, seems generally to have been
conceded. The people of this territory became, as it were, the
guardians of a sanctuary; they interfered little in the turbulent
commotions of the rest of Greece; they did not fortify their capital;
and, the wealthiest people of the Peloponnesus, they enjoyed their
opulence in tranquillity;--their holy character contenting their
ambition. And a wonderful thing it was in the midst of those warlike,
stirring, restless tribes--that solitary land, with its plane grove
bordering the Alpheus, adorned with innumerable and hallowed monuments
and statues--unvisited by foreign wars and civil commotion--a whole
state one temple!

At first only the foot-race was exhibited; afterward were added
wrestling, leaping, quoiting, darting, boxing, a more complicated
species of foot-race (the Diaulus and Dolichus), and the chariot and
horse-races. The Pentathlon was a contest of five gymnastic exercises
combined. The chariot-races [110] preceded those of the riding
horses, as in Grecian war the use of chariots preceded the more
scientific employment of cavalry, and were the most attractive and
splendid part of the exhibition. Sometimes there were no less than
forty chariots on the ground. The rarity of horses, and the expense
of their training, confined, without any law to that effect, the
chariot-race to the highborn and the wealthy. It was consistent with
the vain Alcibiades to decline the gymnastic contests in which his
physical endowments might have ensured him success, because his
competitors were not the equals to the long-descended heir of the
Alcmaeonidae. In the equestrian contests his success was
unprecedented. He brought seven chariots into the field, and bore off
at the same time the first, second, and fourth prize [111]. Although
women [112], with the exception of the priestesses of the neighbouring
fane of Ceres, were not permitted to witness the engagements, they
were yet allowed to contend by proxy in the chariot-races; and the
ladies of Macedon especially availed themselves of the privilege. No
sanguinary contest with weapons, no gratuitous ferocities, no struggle
between man and beast (the graceless butcheries of Rome), polluted the
festival dedicated to the Olympian god. Even boxing with the cestus
was less esteemed than the other athletic exercises, and was excluded
from the games exhibited by Alexander in his Asiatic invasions [113].
Neither did any of those haughty assumptions of lineage or knightly
blood, which characterize the feudal tournament, distinguish between
Greek and Greek. The equestrian contests were indeed, from their
expense, limited to the opulent, but the others were impartially free
to the poor as to the rich, the peasant as the noble,--the Greeks
forbade monopoly in glory. But although thus open to all Greeks, the
stadium was impenetrably closed to barbarians. Taken from his plough,
the boor obtained the garland for which the monarchs of the East were
held unworthy to contend, and to which the kings of the neighbouring
Macedon were forbidden to aspire till their Hellenic descent had been
clearly proved [114]. Thus periodically were the several states
reminded of their common race, and thus the national name and
character were solemnly preserved: yet, like the Amphictyonic league,
while the Olympic festival served to maintain the great distinction
between foreigners and Greeks, it had but little influence in
preventing the hostile contests of Greeks themselves. The very
emulation between the several states stimulated their jealousy of each
other: and still, if the Greeks found their countrymen in Greeks they
found also in Greeks their rivals.

We can scarcely conceive the vast importance attached to victory in
these games [115]; it not only immortalized the winner, it shed glory
upon his tribe. It is curious to see the different honours
characteristically assigned to the conqueror in different states. If
Athenian, he was entitled to a place by the magistrates in the
Prytaneum; if a Spartan, to a prominent station in the field. To
conquer at Elis was renown for life, "no less illustrious to a Greek
than consulship to a Roman!" [116] The haughtiest nobles, the
wealthiest princes, the most successful generals, contended for the
prize [117]. And the prize (after the seventh Olympiad) was a wreath
of the wild olive!

Numerous other and similar games were established throughout Greece.
Of these, next to the Olympic, the most celebrated, and the only
national ones, were the Pythian at Delphi, the Nemean in Argolis, the
Isthmian in Corinth; yet elsewhere the prize was of value; at all the
national ones it was but a garland--a type of the eternal truth, that
praise is the only guerdon of renown. The olive-crown was nothing!--
the shouts of assembled Greece--the showers of herbs and flowers--the
banquet set apart for the victor--the odes of imperishable poets--the
public register which transmitted to posterity his name--the privilege
of a statue in the Altis--the return home through a breach in the
walls (denoting by a noble metaphor, "that a city which boasts such
men has slight need of walls" [118]), the first seat in all public
spectacles; the fame, in short, extended to his native city--
bequeathed to his children--confirmed by the universal voice wherever
the Greek civilization spread; this was the true olive-crown to the
Olympic conqueror!

No other clime can furnish a likeness to these festivals: born of a
savage time, they retained the vigorous character of an age of heroes,
but they took every adjunct from the arts and the graces of
civilization. To the sacred ground flocked all the power, and the
rank, and the wealth, and the intellect, of Greece. To that gorgeous
spectacle came men inspired by a nobler ambition than that of the
arena. Here the poet and the musician could summon an audience to
their art. If to them it was not a field for emulation [119], it was
at least a theatre of display.

XIX. The uses of these games were threefold;--1st, The uniting all
Greeks by one sentiment of national pride, and the memory of a common
race; 2dly, The inculcation of hardy discipline--of physical education
throughout every state, by teaching that the body had its honours as
well as the intellect--a theory conducive to health in peace--and in
those ages when men fought hand to hand, and individual strength and
skill were the nerves of the army, to success in war; but, 3dly, and
principally, its uses were in sustaining and feeding as a passion, as
a motive, as an irresistible incentive--the desire of glory! That
desire spread through all classes--it animated all tribes--it taught
that true rewards are not in gold and gems, but in men's opinions.
The ambition of the Altis established fame as a common principle of
action. What chivalry did for the few, the Olympic contests effected
for the many--they made a knighthood of a people.

If, warmed for a moment from the gravity of the historic muse, we
might conjure up the picture of this festival, we would invoke the
imagination of the reader to that sacred ground decorated with the
profusest triumphs of Grecian art--all Greece assembled from her
continent, her colonies, her isles--war suspended--a Sabbath of
solemnity and rejoicing--the Spartan no longer grave, the Athenian
forgetful of the forum--the highborn Thessalian, the gay Corinthian--
the lively gestures of the Asiatic Ionian;--suffering the various
events of various times to confound themselves in one recollection of
the past, he may see every eye turned from the combatants to one
majestic figure--hear every lip murmuring a single name [120]--
glorious in greater fields: Olympia itself is forgotten. Who is the
spectacle of the day? Themistocles, the conqueror of Salamis, and the
saviour of Greece! Again--the huzzas of countless thousands following
the chariot-wheels of the competitors--whose name is shouted forth,
the victor without a rival!--it is Alcibiades, the destroyer of
Athens! Turn to the temple of the Olympian god, pass the brazen
gates, proceed through the columned aisles [121], what arrests the awe
and wonder of the crowd! Seated on a throne of ebon and of ivory, of
gold and gems--the olive-crown on his head, in his right hand the
statue of Victory, in his left; wrought of all metals, the cloud-
compelling sceptre, behold the colossal masterpiece of Phidias, the
Homeric dream imbodied [122]--the majesty of the Olympian Jove! Enter
the banquet-room of the conquerors--to whose verse, hymned in a solemn
and mighty chorus, bends the listening Spartan--it is the verse of the
Dorian Pindar! In that motley and glittering space (the fair of
Olympia, the mart of every commerce, the focus of all intellect), join
the throng, earnest and breathless, gathered round that sunburnt
traveller;--now drinking in the wild account of Babylonian gardens, or
of temples whose awful deity no lip may name--now, with clinched hands
and glowing cheeks, tracking the march of Xerxes along exhausted
rivers, and over bridges that spanned the sea--what moves, what hushes
that mighty audience? It is Herodotus reading his history! [123]

Let us resume our survey.

XX. Midland, in the Peloponnesus, lies the pastoral Arcady. Besides
the rivers of Alpheus and Erymanthus, it is watered by the gloomy
stream of Styx; and its western part, intersected by innumerable
brooks, is the land of Pan. Its inhabitants were long devoted to the
pursuits of the herdsman and the shepherd, and its ancient government
was apparently monarchical. The Dorian irruption spared this land of
poetical tradition, which the oracle of Delphi took under no
unsuitable protection, and it remained the eldest and most unviolated
sanctuary of the old Pelasgic name. But not very long after the
return of the Heraclidae, we find the last king stoned by his
subjects, and democratic institutions established. It was then
parcelled out into small states, of which Tegea and Mantinea were the

XXI. Messenia, a fertile and level district, which lies to the west
of Sparta, underwent many struggles with the latter power; and this
part of its history, which is full of interest, the reader will find
briefly narrated in that of the Spartans, by whom it was finally
subdued. Being then incorporated with that country, we cannot, at the
period of history we are about to enter, consider Messenia as a
separate and independent state. [124]

And now, completing the survey of the Peloponnesus, we rest at
Laconia, the country of the Spartans.


Return of the Heraclidae.--The Spartan Constitution and Habits.--The
first and second Messenian War.

I. We have already seen, that while the Dorians remained in Thessaly,
the Achaeans possessed the greater part of the Peloponnesus. But,
under the title of the Return of the Heraclidae (or the descendants of
Hercules), an important and lasting revolution established the Dorians
in the kingdoms of Agamemnon and Menelaus. The true nature of this
revolution has only been rendered more obscure by modern ingenuity,
which has abandoned the popular accounts for suppositions still more
improbable and romantic. The popular accounts run thus:--Persecuted
by Eurystheus, king of Argos, the sons of Hercules, with their friends
and followers, are compelled to take refuge in Attica. Assisted by
the Athenians, they defeat and slay Eurystheus, and regain the
Peloponnesus. A pestilence, regarded as an ominous messenger from
offended heaven, drives them again into Attica. An oracle declares
that they shall succeed after the third fruit by the narrow passage at
sea. Wrongly interpreting the oracle, in the third year they make for
the Corinthian Isthmus. At the entrance of the Peloponnesus they are
met by the assembled arms of the Achaeans, Ionians, and Arcadians.
Hyllus, the eldest son of Hercules, proposes the issue of a single
combat. Echemus, king of Tegea, is selected by the Peloponnesians.
He meets and slays Hyllus, and the Heraclidae engage not to renew the
invasion for one hundred years. Nevertheless, Cleodaeus, the son, and
Aristomachus, the grandson, of Hyllus, successively attempt to renew
the enterprise, and in vain. The three sons of Aristomachus
(Aristodemus, Temenus, and Cresphontes), receive from Apollo himself
the rightful interpretation of the oracle. It was by the Straits of
Rhium, across a channel which rendered the distance between the
opposing shores only five stadia, that they were ordained to pass; and
by the Return of the third fruit, the third generation was denoted.
The time had now arrived:--with the assistance of the Dorians, the
Aetolians, and the Locrians, the descendants of Hercules crossed the
strait, and established their settlement in Peloponnesus (B. C. 1048).

II. Whether in the previous expeditions the Dorians had assisted the
Heraclidae, is a matter of dispute--it is not a matter of importance.
Whether these Heraclidae were really descendants of the Achaean
prince, and the rightful heritors of a Peloponnesian throne, is a
point equally contested and equally frivolous. It is probable enough
that the bold and warlike tribe of Thessaly might have been easily
allured, by the pretext of reinstating the true royal line, into an
enterprise which might plant them in safer and more wide domains, and
that while the prince got the throne, the confederates obtained the
country [125]. All of consequence to establish is, that the Dorians
shared in the expedition, which was successful--that by time and
valour they obtained nearly the whole of the Peloponnesus--that they
transplanted the Doric character and institutions to their new
possessions, and that the Return of the Heraclidae is, in fact, the
popular name for the conquest of the Dorians. Whatever distinction
existed between the Achaean Heraclidae and the Doric race, had
probably been much effaced during the long absence of the former among
foreign tribes, and after their establishment in the Peloponnesus it
soon became entirely lost. But still the legend that assigned the
blood of Hercules to the royalty of Sparta received early and implicit
credence, and Cleomenes, king of that state, some centuries afterward,
declared himself not Doric, but Achaean.

Of the time employed in consummating the conquest of the invaders we
are unable to determine--but, by degrees, Sparta, Argos, Corinth, and
Messene, became possessed by the Dorians; the Aetolian confederates
obtained Elis. Some of the Achaeans expelled the Ionians from the
territory they held in the Peloponnesus, and gave to it the name it
afterward retained, of Achaia. The expelled Ionians took refuge with
the Athenians, their kindred race.

The fated house of Pelops swept away by this irruption, Sparta fell to
the lot of Procles and Eurysthenes [126], sons of Aristodemus, fifth
in descent from Hercules; between these princes the royal power was
divided, so that the constitution always acknowledged two kings--one
from each of the Heracleid families. The elder house was called the
Agids, or descendants of Agis, son of Eurysthenes; the latter, the
Eurypontids, from Eurypon, descendant of Procles. Although Sparta,
under the new dynasty, appears to have soon arrogated the pre-eminence
over the other states of the Peloponnesus, it was long before she
achieved the conquest even of the cities in her immediate
neighbourhood. The Achaeans retained the possession of Amyclae, built
upon a steep rock, and less than three miles from Sparta, for more
than two centuries and a half after the first invasion of the Dorians.
And here the Achaeans guarded the venerable tombs of Cassandra and

III. The consequences of the Dorian invasion, if slowly developed,
were great and lasting. That revolution not only changed the
character of the Peloponnesus--it not only called into existence the
iron race of Sparta--but the migrations which it caused made the
origin of the Grecian colonies in Asia Minor. It developed also those
seeds of latent republicanism which belonged to the Dorian
aristocracies, and which finally supplanted the monarchical
government--through nearly the whole of civilized Greece. The
revolution once peacefully consummated, migrations no longer disturbed
to any extent the continent of Greece, and the various tribes became
settled in their historic homes.

IV. The history of Sparta, till the time of Lycurgus, is that of a
state maintaining itself with difficulty amid surrounding and hostile
neighbours; the power of the chiefs diminished the authority of the
kings; and while all without was danger, all within was turbulence.
Still the very evils to which the Spartans were subjected--their
paucity of numbers--their dissensions with their neighbours--their
pent up and encompassed situation in their mountainous confines--even
the preponderating power of the warlike chiefs, among whom the unequal
divisions of property produced constant feuds--served to keep alive
the elements of the great Doric character; and left it the task of the
first legislative genius rather to restore and to harmonize, than to
invent and create.

As I am writing the history, not of Greece, but of Athens, I do not
consider it necessary that I should detail the legendary life of
Lycurgus. Modern writers have doubted his existence, but without
sufficient reason:--such assaults on our belief are but the amusements
of skepticism. All the popular accounts of Lycurgus agree in this--
that he was the uncle of the king (Charilaus, an infant), and held the
rank of protector--that unable successfully to confront a powerful
faction raised against him, he left Sparta and travelled into Crete,
where all the ancient Doric laws and manners were yet preserved,
vigorous and unadulterated. There studying the institutions of Minos,
he beheld the model for those of Sparta. Thence he is said to have
passed into Asia Minor, and to have been the first who collected and
transported to Greece the poems of Homer [127], hitherto only
partially known in that country. According to some writers, he
travelled also into Egypt; and could we credit one authority, which
does not satisfy even the credulous Plutarch, he penetrated into Spain
and Libya, and held converse with the Gymnosophists of India.

Returned to Sparta, after many solicitations, he found the state in
disorder: no definite constitution appears to have existed; no laws
were written. The division of the regal authority between two kings
must have produced jealousy--and jealousy, faction. And the power so
divided weakened the monarchic energy without adding to the liberties
of the people. A turbulent nobility--rude, haughty mountain chiefs--
made the only part of the community that could benefit by the weakness
of the crown, and feuds among themselves prevented their power from
becoming the regular and organized authority of a government [128].
Such disorders induced prince and people to desire a reform; the
interference of Lycurgus was solicited; his rank and his travels gave
him importance; and he had the wisdom to increase it by obtaining from
Delphi (the object of the implicit reverence of the Dorians) an oracle
in his favour.

Thus called upon and thus encouraged, Lycurgus commenced his task. I
enter not into the discussion whether he framed an entirely new
constitution, or whether he restored the spirit of one common to his
race and not unfamiliar to Sparta. Common sense seems to me
sufficient to assure us of the latter. Let those who please believe
that one man, without the intervention of arms--not as a conqueror,
but a friend--could succeed in establishing a constitution, resting
not upon laws, but manners--not upon force, but usage--utterly hostile
to all the tastes, desires, and affections of human nature: moulding
every the minutest detail of social life into one system--that system
offering no temptation to sense, to ambition, to the desire of
pleasure, or the love of gain, or the propensity to ease--but painful,
hard, steril, and unjoyous;--let those who please believe that a
system so created could at once be received, be popularly embraced,
and last uninterrupted, unbroken, and without exciting even the desire
of change for four hundred years, without having had any previous
foundation in the habits of a people--without being previously rooted
by time, custom, superstition, and character into their breasts. For
my part, I know that all history furnishes no other such example; and
I believe that no man was ever so miraculously endowed with the power
to conquer nature. [129]

But we have not the smallest reason, the slightest excuse, for so
pliant a credulity. We look to Crete, in which, previous to Lycurgus,
the Dorians had established their laws and customs, and we see at once
the resemblance to the leading features of the institutions of
Lycurgus; we come with Aristotle to the natural conclusion, that what
was familiar to the Dorian Crete was not unknown to the Dorian Sparta,
and that Lycurgus did not innovate, but restore and develop, the laws
and the manners which, under domestic dissensions, might have
undergone a temporary and superficial change, but which were deeply
implanted in the national character and the Doric habits. That the
regulations of Lycurgus were not regarded as peculiar to Sparta, but
as the most perfect development of the Dorian constitution, we learn
from Pindar [130], when he tells us that "the descendants of Pamphylus
and of the Heraclidae wish always to retain the Doric institutions of
Aegimius." Thus regarded, the legislation of Lycurgus loses its
miraculous and improbable character, while we still acknowledge
Lycurgus himself as a great and profound statesman, adopting the only
theory by which reform can be permanently wrought, and suiting the
spirit of his laws to the spirit of the people they were to govern.
When we know that his laws were not written, that he preferred
engraving them only on the hearts of his countrymen, we know at once
that he must have legislated in strict conformity to their early
prepossessions and favourite notions. That the laws were unwritten
would alone be a proof how little he introduced of what was alien and

V. I proceed to give a brief, but I trust a sufficient outline, of
the Spartan constitution, social and political, without entering into
prolix and frivolous discussions as to what was effected or restored
by Lycurgus--what by a later policy.

There was at Sparta a public assembly of the people (called alia), as
common to other Doric states, which usually met every full moon--upon
great occasions more often. The decision of peace and war--the final
ratification of all treaties with foreign powers--the appointment to
the office of counsellor, and other important dignities--the
imposition of new laws--a disputed succession to the throne,--were
among those matters which required the assent of the people. Thus
there was the show and semblance of a democracy, but we shall find
that the intention and origin of the constitution were far from
democratic. "If the people should opine perversely, the elders and
the princes shall dissent." Such was an addition to the Rhetra of
Lycurgus. The popular assembly ratified laws, but it could propose
none--it could not even alter or amend the decrees that were laid
before it. It appears that only the princes, the magistrates, and
foreign ambassadors had the privilege to address it.

The main business of the state was prepared by the Gerusia, or council
of elders, a senate consisting of thirty members, inclusive of the two
kings, who had each but a simple vote in the assembly. This council
was in its outline like the assemblies common to every Dorian state.
Each senator was required to have reached the age of sixty; he was
chosen by the popular assembly, not by vote, but by acclamation. The
mode of election was curious. The candidates presented themselves
successively before the assembly, while certain judges were enclosed
in an adjacent room where they could hear the clamour of the people
without seeing the person, of the candidate. On him whom they
adjudged to have been most applauded the election fell. A mode of
election open to every species of fraud, and justly condemned by
Aristotle as frivolous and puerile [131]. Once elected, the senator
retained his dignity for life: he was even removed from all
responsibility to the people. That Mueller should consider this an
admirable institution, "a splendid monument of early Grecian customs,"
seems to me not a little extraordinary. I can conceive no elective
council less practically good than one to which election is for life,
and in which power is irresponsible. That the institution was felt to
be faulty is apparent, not because it was abolished, but because its
more important functions became gradually invaded and superseded by a
third legislative power, of which I shall speak presently.

The original duties of the Gerusia were to prepare the decrees and
business to be submitted to the people; they had the power of
inflicting death or degradation without written laws, they interpreted
custom, and were intended to preserve and transmit it. The power of
the kings may be divided into two heads--power at home--power abroad:
power as a prince--power as a general. In the first it was limited
and inconsiderable. Although the kings presided over a separate
tribunal, the cases brought before their court related only to repairs
of roads, to the superintendence of the intercourse with other states,
and to questions of inheritance and adoption.

When present at the council they officiated as presidents, but without
any power of dictation; and, if absent, their place seems easily to
have been supplied. They united the priestly with the regal
character; and to the descendants of a demigod a certain sanctity was
attached, visible in the ceremonies both at demise and at the
accession to the throne, which appeared to Herodotus to savour rather
of Oriental than Hellenic origin. But the respect which the Spartan
monarch received neither endowed him with luxury nor exempted him from
control. He was undistinguished by his garb--his mode of life, from
the rest of the citizens. He was subjected to other authorities,
could be reprimanded, fined, suspended, exiled, put to death. If he
went as ambassador to foreign states, spies were not unfrequently sent
with him, and colleagues the most avowedly hostile to his person
associated in the mission. Thus curbed and thus confined was his
authority at home, and his prerogative as a king. But by law he was
the leader of the Spartan armies. He assumed the command--he crossed
the boundaries, and the limited magistrate became at once an imperial
despot! [132] No man could question--no law circumscribed his power.
He raised armies, collected money in foreign states, and condemned to
death without even the formality of a trial. Nothing, in short,
curbed his authority, save his responsibility on return. He might be
a tyrant as a general; but he was to account for the tyranny when he
relapsed into a king. But this distinction was one of the wisest


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