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Life of
Solon


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Life of
Publicola

This webpage reproduces a section of
The Parallel Lives

by
Plutarch

published in Vol. I
of the Loeb Classical Library edition,
1914

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

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(Vol. I) Plutarch, The Parallel Lives

p565 Comparison of Solon and Publicola

(109) 1 1 There is, then, something peculiar in this comparison, and something that has not been true of any other thus far, namely, that the second imitated the first, and the first bore witness for the second. For it must be plain that the verdict concerning happiness which Solon pronounced to Croesus, is more applicable to Publicola than to Tellus. 2 Tellus, whom Solon pronounced the most blessed man he knew, because of his fortunate lot, his virtue, and his goodly offspring, was not celebrated in Solon's poems as a good man, nor did his children or any magistracy of his achieve a reputation; whereas Publicola, while he lived, was foremost among the Romans in influence p567and repute for virtue, and since his death the most illustrious family lines of our own day, like the Publicolae, the Messalae, and the Valerii, for six hundred years ascribed the glory of their noble birth to him. 3 Tellus, moreover, though he kept his post and fought like a brave man, died at the hands of his enemies; whereas Publicola slew his enemies, which is a better fortune than to be slain by them, saw his country victorious through his efforts as consul and general, and enjoyed honours and triumphs before he came to the end which Solon pronounced so enviable and blest. 4 Still further, what Solon says to Mimnermus,1 in arguing with him on the proper duration of human life,

"May not an unlamented death be mine, but unto friends

Let me be cause, when dead, for sorrow and for sighing,"

110argues Publicola a happy man. For when he died, his loss filled not only friends and kindred, but the entire city, numbering many tens of thousands, with weeping and yearning and sorrow. For the women of Rome mourned for him as though they had lost a son, or a brother, or a common father. 5 Wealth I desire to have," says Solon, "but wrongfully to get it, I do not wish,"2 believing that punishment would follow. And Publicola's wealth was not only not ill got, but also nobly spent in benefactions to the needy. So that if Solon was the wisest, Publicola was the most happy of men, since what Solon prayed for as the greatest and p569fairest of blessings, these Publicola was privileged to win and continue to enjoy until the end.

2 1 Thus did Solon enhance the fame of Publicola. And Publicola, too, in his political activities, enhanced the fame of Solon, by making him the fairest of examples for one who was arranging a democracy. For he took away the arrogant powers of the consulship and made it gracious and acceptable to all, and he adopted many of Solon's laws. For instance, he put the appointment of their rulers in the power of the people, and gave defendants the right of appealing to the people, as Solon to the jurors. He did not, indeed, create a new senate, as Solon did, but he increased the one already existing to almost double its numbers. 2 And his appointment of quaestors over the public moneys had a like origin. Its purpose was that the consul, if a worthy officer, might not be without leisure for his more important duties, and, if unworthy, might not have greater opportunities for injustice by having both the administration and the treasury in his hands. Hatred of tyranny was more intense in Publicola than in Solon. For in case any one attempted to usurp the power, by Solon's law he could be punished only after conviction, whereas Publicola made it lawful to kill him before any trial. 3 Moreover, though Solon rightly and justly plumes himself on rejecting absolute power even when circumstances offered it to him and his fellow-citizens were willing that he should take it, it redounds no less to the honour of Publicola that, when he had received a tyrannical power, he made it more democratic, and did not use even the prerogatives which were his by right of possession. And of the wisdom of such a course p571Solon seems to have been conscious even before Publicola, when he says3 that a people

"then will yield the best obedience to its guides

When it is neither humoured nor oppressed too much."

3 1 Peculiar to Solon was his remission of debts, and by this means especially he confirmed the liberties of the citizens. For equality under the law is of no avail if the poor are robbed of it by their debts. Nay, in the very places where they are supposed to exercise their liberties most, there they are most in subjection to the rich, since in the courts of justice, the offices of state, and in public debates, they are under their orders and do them service. 2 And what is of greater moment here, though sedition always follows an abolition of debts, in this case alone, by employing opportunity, as it were, a dangerous but powerful medicine, Solon actually put an end to the sedition that was already rife, for his own virtue and high repute prevailed over the ill-repute and odium of the measure.

As regards their political careers in general, Solon's was more brilliant in the beginning. For he led the way and followed no man, and it was alone and without colleagues that he effected the most and greatest of his public measures. 3 But in the ending, the other was more fortunate and enviable. For Solon lived to see with his own eyes the dissolution of his polity, while that of Publicola preserved order in the city down to the civil wars. Solon, as soon as he had made his laws, left them p573inscribed on wooden tables and destitute of a defender, and departed from Athens; whereas Publicola, by remaining in the city, serving as consul, and busying himself with public affairs, firmly and safely established his form of government. 4 And further, though Solon knew beforehand of the designs of Peisistratus, he was not able to hinder them, but yielded to his tyranny in its incipiency; 111whereas Publicola subverted and drove out a kingly power which was strong with the might which many ages bring. Thus, while exhibiting virtues equal to Solon's, and a purpose identical with his, he enjoyed a good fortune and an efficacious power which supplemented his virtues.

4 1 When we consider their military careers, moreover, Daïmachus of Plataea does not allow Solon even the conduct of the war against the Megarians, as we have described it;4 but Publicola, fighting and commanding in person, brought the greatest struggles to a successful issue. And still further, comparing their political activities, Solon, in play, so to speak, and counterfeiting madness, went forth to plead for the recovery of Salamis; 2 but Publicola, without any subterfuges, ran the greatest risks, set himself in opposition to the party of the Tarquins, and detected their treachery. Then, after being mainly instrumental in the capture and punishment of the traitors, he not only drove the tyrants themselves from the city, but extirpated their very hopes of return. And if he thus sturdily and resolutely confronted situations which called for active and spirited opposition, still better did he deal with those which required peaceable intercourse and gentle p575persuasion, as when he tactfully won over Porsena, an invincible and formidable foe, and made him a friend of Rome.

3 But here, perhaps, some one will say that Solon won back Salamis for the Athenians when they had given it up, whereas Publicola relinquished territory which the Romans had acquired. But we must view men's actions in the light of the times which call them forth. The subtle statesman will handle each issue that arises in the most feasible manner, and often saves the whole by relinquishing a part, and by yielding small advantages secures greater ones. 4 And so Publicola, in that instance, by yielding the territory which belonged to others, saved all that was assuredly his own, and procured besides, for those who were hard put to it to save their city, the camp of their besiegers with all its stores. He made his adversary judge in the controversy, won his case, and received besides what his people would gladly have given for the victory. For Porsena put a stop to the war, and left the Romans all his provisions for carrying it on, owing to the confidence in their virtue and nobility with which their consul had inspired him.


The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Fragment 21 (Bergk).

2 See Solon, ii.3.

3 Fragment 6 (Bergk); cf. Aristotle, Const. of Athens, xii.2.

4 Solon, viii; Cf. Aristotle, Const. of Athens, xiv.1.


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Page updated: 4 May 12