Solon in Lydia
Written by Theodor Herzl
Translated from German into English by Google Translate and Omer Zak.
Copy edited by Juliet England.
Solon in Lydia – English translation by Omer Zak is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at https://de.wikisource.org/wiki/Solon_in_Lydien.
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Solon was in the prime of his life and in top mental shape when he decided to leave Athens. His laws were written on the Kyrben, but they were still very new to the citizens. Men of all classes and walks of life came every day to look at the Axones of Solon with amazement or reluctance. One day, his friend Hipponikos said to him:
“You see how all classes of citizens disapprove of your laws. ”
“Because they’re new, Hipponikos. My laws aren’t good yet, but they’re not bad either. Laws are in many ways like fine wine. They improve with age. ”
“My Solon, you satisfy no one. I am not surprised that the Pentacostomedimnen, the Knights and the Zaugites oppose you, because you are a friend of the fourth class, to which you do not belong. But the Thetes also grumble among themselves, and if it were not for their blind gratitude to you thanks to your Seisachtheia, which has eased the debts they must pay, they would surely revolt against you. ”
“Laws, Hipponikos, cannot please everyone. He who wants to satisfy people by law alone is a fool, a dreamer, if not an outright villain. The law can only be based upon everyone’s dissatisfaction. ”
“A tyrant would not think differently. ”
“Only he wouldn’t say it, my good Hipponikos. The secret meaning of my laws was to leave everyone a little dissatisfied. That state has now been reached. But I still have one worry: how to maintain it for a long time. Because only I have the power to do that. ”
“So you want to be king, Solon? ”
“Oh, no! How little you understand me despite being my friend! I could make this sacrifice to Attica and occupy the seat of my great ancestor Kodros in the Acropolis. Who among the Eupatrids would block my way to the seat? However, why should I repeat the Kylon adventure? Because then I, too, would be a Kylon, and the regime that I had established would look self-serving, and demagogues would exploit the dissatisfaction that is the secret behind the success of my laws. Even now, my power scares me, because it poses a threat to my laws. Look, every day people come to me from the coast or the mountains to beg me to make my regulations a little less onerous. As the First Archon, the all-powerful, I could do whatever I wanted. But should I, like Penelope, unstitch at night what I have woven during the day? Then there are others, especially among the small artisans, who want to understand the reasoning behind a particular regulation. However, it would be a waste of effort, and could even be damaging, if I were to try to explain to them what can only be understood from the point of view of the state. There are hardships in my laws, and at times I feel sorry for those I have to hurt. If I could have left my Archon position, it would have been much easier on my heart. But any time there was a problem, they would call me again because I am the only one in Attica who everyone trusts. Then one day, out of pity or to be popular among the people, I would go against my own laws. I’m a human being, Hipponikos, and I am afraid of my own human frailty. ”
“It is, of course, a bad situation,” agreed Hipponikos thoughtfully. “And what do you intend to do now? I sense a decision in your eyes.”
“I was thinking of dying. It would be great, like Kodro’s sacrifice, if I drank from the poisoned cup. Then no one would be able to change my laws. However, Athens still needs me. One must assume that Lykurgos and Miltiades, the sons of Kypselos, and Megakles, and my relative Peisistratos would tear the country to shreds in the event of my death. I consider Peisistratos, who relies upon the grumpy Diakrians, to be the most dangerous of all, because he is the nicest. That’s why I want to arrange matters so that I do not lose all contact with the people, even if I withdraw from them. I want to go on a long trip. I will take my leave of the citizens. By the time I come back, my laws will be as familiar to them as their daily bread. During my absence, nobody will dare to change my work for fear of my revenge upon my return. From a distance, Solon is more terrifying than the one they can see every day. That’s how I shall protect my laws from parties and tyrants, and from myself. ”
Solon was as good as his word. He was determined to stay away from his country of birth for ten years. He explained to his citizens that, after fulfilling his duty as an archon, he must now be mindful of his own business. Because he asked for no favors from the state. He was a merchant, and didn’t want to be anything else.
Solon’s farewell deeply saddened the Athenians, but the general discontent changed into gratitude and affection as the lawmaker left the state. Soon, he was sailing across the wine-colored sea. With a loving gaze, he took a final look at the coast of Attica, which was fading as the Sun set, and becoming dim as it disappeared. He heaved a sigh and his eyes filled with tears. Then poetry consoled him. While the ship was gliding past the rosy Cyclades, past Andros, Tenos, Naxos, and later also Rhodes, out into the Carpathian Sea, Solon distracted himself from his longing by singing happy hexameters. As in his youth, he became once again a simple merchant and poet.
First of all, he had a long stay in Egypt. Here, Psenophis from Heliopolis and Sonchis from Sais befriended him during the hours when he was contemplative. To these clever and learned priests, he owed the first news of the island of Atlantis, which shimmered beyond the pillars of Heracles day after day and disappeared from the surface of the sea because it was so wonderful. After soaking up the wisdom of the Egyptians like a sponge, Solon continued his travels.
In Cyprus, he enjoyed the royal hospitality of a ruler, which he repaid in kind in his unique style. He advised and helped the king, whose city Aepeia was on an inconvenient hill, to move the whole city down and rebuild it on a magnificent plain. Solon did this because his gaze was always munificent and focused on people’s well-being. The king named the new city Soloi in honor of the noble Athenian.
From Cyprus, Solon traveled to Sardis, ruled by Kroisos, the wealthy king of Lydia. Initially, Kroisos wanted to make an impression on Solon by showing off his treasures in the manner of vulgar people. The Greek looked at this extravagant pomp with a polite calm. He did not express the admiration Kroisos expected, which rather hurt the vain Lord of Lydia. Nevertheless, he remained benevolent to his guest, even patiently enduring his overly philosophical remarks about the nature of true happiness. If Solon, in his voluntary exile, believed that no one could be described as being happy before death, Kroisos knew better. He ”was” happy. He had Lydia, the prosperous city, all of which belonged to him and all of whose citizens obeyed him. They had nothing to fear from the Persians or Greeks. There was a great sense of calm inside the state, which made his reign pure joy. Added to this was the comfort his own family brought. A young daughter, called Omphale after the legendary Queen of Lydia, bloomed for Kroisos and was lovely to look at. Kroisos also knew how to enjoy life in an exquisite way. He exercised pleasures of the mind, without which wealth and power could only give joy to small minds. He welcomed artists and philosophers and treated them with grace, and the elites of Hellas were his friends. Thus, for example, at this time the fabled poet Aesop was also his guest in Sardis. Kroisos revealed to this enlightened poet, in a moment of candor, his astonishment at Solon’s calm indifference.
“Don’t be surprised, O king,” cried Aesop. “That’s the way the wisest men are. The ephemeral does not interest them. They always play with the idea of eternity, like kittens with a ball of wool. ”
Solon stayed at Sardis for a long time, and Kroisos felt his respect for the Athenian growing by the day<nowiki>; </nowiki>he who was so fearless yet mild-mannered. He grew accustomed to asking Solon for advice regarding all matters of state. One day, they were at a symposium, the king, the Attic politician and the fabled poet, their heads crowned by wreaths of roses. Kroisos emptied his drinking bowl more silently than usual. Even the dancers and flautists could not remove the worried expression from his face, while the other two were absorbed in their halcyon dreams. Finally, Aesop noticed the king’s mood.
“My friends, I want to tell you the reason for my worry,” confided the king, as he beckoned the slaves to move away. He continued, “Today, my government’s most difficult problem has confronted me. It was as sudden as fate. Never have I begged the gods so urgently to show me the way. ”
“What is it, Kroisos?” Solon asked calmly.
“A youngster of Ionic origin, born in Bolissos of Chios, has come before me and asked to marry my daughter, Omphale. ”
“Is he of royal blood?” asked Aesop.
“He is perhaps more important than all kings,” replied Kroisos. “But his father is only a poor craftsman in Bolissos. ”
“I don’t understand you,” replied Solon.
Kroisos explained, “The young man claims that he has found something that will ban human misery from the earth forever. He wants to give it to me, no, to the sons of Lydia, or rather to everyone. The only reward he asks for is my Omphale, whom he loves dearly. ”
“The guy doesn’t have bad taste,” Aesop smiled.
But Solon persisted. “What is it that he claims to have found? ”
“He should explain it himself,” declared Kroisos, and ordered the young man to be brought.
Eukosmos of Bolissos entered. He looked noble. He wore the iconic chiton with dignity. His face had the colors of milk and blood, while his cheeks shone, covered in a youthful light-brown beard. His blue eyes were particularly piercing and full of laughter.
“Eukosmos!,” said the king gently, “these are my friends. You may speak as freely in front of them as you do to me. Tell us about your miracle cure. ”
“Here it is,” said Eukosmos in a warm voice that touched the hearts of the men, as he lifted a sack.
“What do you have in the sack? Gold?” asked Aesop.
“Something much more dear!,” smiled Eukosmos. “Worth much more than gold! … Flour!. ”
The fabled poet turned to Solon, delighted: “Our princely landlord is still playing a joke on us. ”
“No,” Kroisos shouted impatiently. “It’s serious. At least that’s what this one claims. Speak, Eukosmos! ”
“It’s flour,” repeated the boy from Bolissos. “Flour that I made myself! ”
Aesop clutched his belly as he laughed: “Well, you have planted a field, harvested grain and then ground it between millstones, turning it into flour. I have already heard this kind of story. ”
Eukosmos looked quietly at the laughing poet: “I didn’t cultivate any field, I didn’t harvest any grain, and therefore I didn’t grind it between stones. I made this flour in a different way. ”
“Another way?” muttered Solon.
“And its quality is equal to that of the very best wheat flour,” added Kroisos. “The bread we had at the meal today was made with this material. ”
“It had a delicious taste,” marveled Aesop, as he shook his head in wonder.
Solon growled at Eukosmos. “Don’t mess with us, boy! Even if the king is amused by you, respect for your elders should stop you from showing them such nonsense. ”
Eukosmos replied calmly, “I know who you are, Solon, and I do respect you. In eternal Zeus’ name, I swear to you that it is as I said. I have found a way to make flour without a crop. I make it from a substance which comes in a limitless supply. I can make as much of it as I like, and with hardly any effort. One man can achieve in one day what it now takes many hundreds of farmers a year to do. ”
“Name your method,” insisted Solon, “or I will condemn you as a liar. ”
Eukosmos replied, “I have nothing but my secret. The king knows what I want in exchange for revealing it. But I desire only that, nothing else in the world. Otherwise, I’d rather be torn to pieces. I could steadily turn my secret into gold if I were merely lusting after easy profits. But he who has received such grace from the gods as I have may only give up the delicious gift for the sweetest deliciousness in return. Once my wish is granted, I will give bread to mankind forever. Bread without sweat, not threatened by any blight, in abundance, forever … ”
Kroisos spoke, his voice cracking with emotion. “We heard you. Now go and wait for my decision! ”
“If this is true,” said Aesop, “he could start making flour for the poor. Why should they go needlessly hungry, even for an hour? For the time being you may keep your secret to yourself, dear Eukosmos, but if you have a heart in your body and want to please certain people who also have hearts in their bodies, start now from generosity. ”
“I will go gladly!,” said Eukosmos. “However, can the king please guarantee that there will be no attempt to spy after me or to get the secret out of me by deceit? ”
“Eukosmos, my royal word! ”
The boy bowed and left.
“Well, what do my friends say?” asked Kroisos once they were alone again.
“Give him your daughter, King of Lydia!” Aesop shouted enthusiastically.
“And what is your advice, Solon? ”
“Kill him! ”
Shocked, Kroisos and Aesop looked at the Athenian. There was a strange fire burning in his eyes.
The king first said, “You mean, Solon, if he lied to me? ”
“No, King of the Lydians! You should kill him if he has told the truth! ”
“Solon, I don’t understand you!” Aesop sighed. “You want to have the greatest benefactor of humankind executed? ”
“I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment,” Solon agreed.
“But I would!” cried Kroisos. “I am outraged at this man who dares to reach out for my daughter – but kill him? I couldn’t contemplate it. ”
Solon replied with a cold anger: “Then you do not deserve to be a king! ”
Aesop was startled and wanted to intervene and calm the two men down, but Kroisos smiled.
“I am king enough to endure a man’s harsh words. Explain your thoughts, my dear Solon! ”
“My idea is simple, Kroisos, as simple as always, as simple as your own idea. The difference just has to do with time. I think the Athenians were right when they gave me the job of making laws. You measure the advantages of a thing in hours, weeks, or years while aeons slide through my fingers … This young person poses one of the gravest threats ever seen on earth. I do not want to speak to you in the baby language of children and the pious, otherwise I would lament about the daring one who intervenes in the fate of the immortal gods and does not let Persephone rise from the underworld. We are the men who looked behind the veil. We know what is behind Eleusis’ Hierophantism. The fields bear fruit, not because Demeter wills it, but because they are soaked in the sweat of the workers. Now this youth wants to change all that. He wants to make people carefree, this wicked man. He wants to rob them of the best they have, hunger. So, what? Should the rough times of the Pelasgians return, should the settlements, the bourgeois sense, the manners disappear once more along with your agriculture? King of Lydia, kill him if you are a king. ”
“Solon, you crush me!” Groaned Kroisos.
“A king must be able to kill,” Solon continued relentlessly. “But not only the bad, the wrongdoers, because that would be too easy and pleasant. He must also destroy the good when the well-being of the people is at stake. That is why there is no earthly person above you, so that you can also accomplish such things. That is the hidden justification of your power. This fabulous poet probably finds me heartless. So be it. You can also portray me as a raging animal in your poems, Aesop! You deserve to be popular. But I tell you that there is no greater deed to be done in our time than the annihilation of this sunny youth who I have embraced in my heart since I first laid eyes on him. I will cry for him when he dies, but I would cry more if he stayed alive. If we murder him, we will be worthy of Hellas and the world and will have the reward on our conscience. It will be a great, silent deed, lofty and beyond the common man’s understanding, that no historian reports and no Homer sings of. ”
“Slow down! ” urged the king, visibly moved. “It has not yet been decided. ”
“Thank all the heavenly ones!” Aesop exclaimed with relief. “And I also want to make a special sacrifice to Musagetes for not allowing me to become a politician … Listen to me, good Solon! If everything were as you say, how do you know whether tomorrow someone else will not discover what Eukosmos discovered? It is because of the coincidence that he came here and fell in love with Omphale that we know these things. We will not have the fortune to know that someone else, and he will also abolish hunger, which, by the way, I would not complain about. Because, Solon, I know what hunger tastes like. Maybe that’s why I’m such a popular poet. ”
Solon replied, “I appreciate your reasons, Aesop. It is possible that Eukosmos will have a successor. It’s just a matter of when. Millions of years can pass by until the successor comes. These are not a loss to the human race, as you mean in your poetic good-naturedness, but a gain. How civilized is the great country of the Greeks today, if we compare it with the old times? We thank the hunger that taught us to work. In its finest form, the work ennobles itself into art, just as meditation on one’s own can turn into sublime philosophy. Who knows which Atlantis still awaits beneath unknown seas for its explorer? I imagine that in the future people will travel from Athens to Corinth on faster boats than we do now. I can picture even more efficient ships than our mightiest triads.
“Let’s not paralyze the spirit of discovery! Maybe there will also be cloudless days of mankind when people no longer need hunger. Of course, my gaze does not reach that far … Kroisos, please kill Eukosmos! Yet still you hesitate! I want to make a proposal to you. There is a man who is the wisest of all Greeks. Let him decide our dispute! ”
“Thales of Miletos?” asked Aesop.
“Thales!” Solon confirmed. “Let him know the whole thing. Our friend Aesop will write it down with his usual beautiful clarity. Don’t tell him about me. He should pronounce his free judgment. Whatever he says, I will acknowledge as the right answer. ”
“Good!” Exclaimed Kroisos, who was delighted to avoid an immediate decision. “Let Thales tell me what our duty is in this extraordinary case. ”
The next morning, a royal letter was rushed to Miletos. The wise man’s reply soon came. It read: “My king! You have to give me some time to think. I cannot immediately give you my opinion on such a difficult matter of conscience. ”
Moons waxed and waned. No news came from Thales. Kroisos sent another messenger over to Miletus. The messenger returned with a strange reply. Thales was away on a trip, and no one knew where he was. Kroisos shook his head moodily. But Solon said:
“Let it be! Thales always knows what he’s doing. You will hear his judgment. It will be tasty, just like a piece of ripe fruit. ”
But things developed in Sardis. Eukosmos had become a dear comrade to the king and his friends. Each day, they were delighted anew with the grace of his spirit, the boldness and the masculine cheerfulness of his being. And no one loved him more than Solon. He often said to the young man, “I would like my son to be like you when I return from my exile and can see him again! ”
Kroisos would take his guest aside and ask him in confidence, “Well, do you still stand by your opinion? ”
“Still!” was Solon’s unchanging answer.
Eukosmos was also allowed to approach the lovely Omphale unhindered. He confessed his love to her in the spring.
And that same spring, she replied, “Eukosmos, I love you too, and want to be your wife when your trial period is over. ”
She said this because she knew of the indefinite trial period that her father had imposed on her suitor.
But that spring was a strange time in Lydia, one which made people both happy and melancholic. An unexplained wealth had poured out across the land. At least there were no more beggars or famine. It had begun with the free distribution of flour a few months earlier. This was done with the blessing of the king, in Sardis and all the other towns and cities in the country. Initially, only the poorest accepted the gift. But since the supply seemed as inexhaustible as the grace of their good ruler, and since everyone could get as much flour as they needed for their household, others gradually joined them. It was like living by a public fountain. One had constantly full buckets. Some tried to explain the miraculous process, before concluding that Kroisos had succeeded in meeting the country’s food needs in such a significant way through his successful foreign policy. Most accepted the bounty without excessive questioning, and rejoiced in the gift of the gods, until their senses were blunted by the routine of the miracle repeating itself each day.
However, there were also some who found it uncomfortable: the farmers, landowners, and traders. Grain became devalued in price, and then even all work in progress was lazily abandoned. Lydia’s lush grain fields became overgrown. Nobody cared about looking after them, or protecting them from damage. So what if birds or vermin wreaked havoc on the fields? Nobody cared anymore. Everyone was safe from the worst of any emergency, as long as the king’s flour storage did not become empty, and it never did. The more you needed, the more supplies there were. So the peasants surrendered, albeit with some gnashing of teeth, to their hard fate of limitless abundance.
For the ordinary people of Lydia, who did not live from agriculture but from other occupations, this new set-up had a peculiarly unnerving effect, like a sultry wind. All energy went out of any activity. People grew lazy and listless. They were less worried than they had been before, and therefore indulged in all kinds of idle and dangerous pastimes. They became addicted and lax because their strength, which was not exhausted by work, had no outlet. They also turned to politics in an unruly, seditious way. They began to grumble about Kroisos. They even hatched a formal plot to overthrow him, and among the ringleaders were the circle of impoverished small landowners.
“These are your Diakriers, Kroisos,” remarked Solon when these events were reported to the court. “I know them from the Pentelikon. People are the same wherever you go.”
A grim-faced leader of the king’s army said, “What our Lydian people need is a little war. You have to get victories or fighting to calm them down. For example, we could start a war with Cyrus of Persia. ”
Of course, there was also talk of war at the court of Sardis, spoken from the heart. Kroisos nonetheless rejected the idea.
Around this time, someone came from Miletos and casually remarked that he had seen Thales.
“What?” said Kroisos. “He returned home without sending me a message? Can you explain it, Solon? We are waiting for his decision yet he is silent! ”
“Do you still need his judgment, king of Lydia?” Solon replied, pointing down to the city with outstretched arms.
“Yes!” Kroisos replied at once. “Now more than ever! Because a restlessness has entered my soul. I used to know where to turn. To you, Aesop! I no longer know what to do. It’s all your fault, Solon! ”
“Send a messenger to Miletos,” Solon replied calmly. “The wisest of Hellenes will release you from your doubts. We now want to prepare a bowl of fragrant wine with a quick-acting poison. ”
“But also the quince apple that the bride and groom eat together,” Aesop urged.
“So be it,” agreed Kroisos. “Both are ready: quince and poison bowl. We want to hear what Thales has to say. ”
Another messenger hurried to Miletos. When he returned, it was difficult for him to get through the streets of Sardis, because they were in complete turmoil. Kroisos’ warriors fought these troubled people. The clash of battle could be heard as far away as the king’s chambers, where his friends Solon and Aesop and the young bride-to-be were. Kroisos had a golden drinking bowl and a beautiful quince apple in front of him.
“Omphale!” Whispered Eukosmos, “don’t be afraid. I would defend you with my life if this rabble managed to get here. ”
“I’m not afraid, Eukosmos, as long as I have you. Let them chase us away. I will follow you to Bolissos or anywhere else you want. I only ask to be your wife. Yours and yours alone! In poverty or wealth. I love only you. ”
Kroisos has read Thales’s answer. He sighed deeply and handed it to his friends. Aesop read it murmuring and trembling: “King! I traveled to obey you. Because in me I could not find the wisdom that you sought of me. There is only one man among the Greeks who understands the state deeply enough to solve this dilemma. I looked for this man in Athens. He had left his home city. I followed his trail and came to the land of the Egyptians. He had already left. It was only in Cyprus that I found out where he was. He’s with you. That’s why I remained silent. Why should I bring his wisdom to you in a bucket, if you can draw it yourself from the well? My king, I urge you to do whatever Solon advises you to do! ”
Shivering, Kroisos reached for the golden bowl. Still trembling, he handed it to Solon before covering his teary eyes with his hand.
Solon approached the lovers. “Omphale, I have to talk seriously to your groom. Your father wishes us men to be alone. You can kiss him first as his bride. And then go! ”
Blessed was the bride on the breast of Eukosmos. She felt there was no higher moment in life. And with a final smile of her gentle eyes, she wriggled away from him and walked off meekly, because the men genuinely wanted to be alone.
“Well, Eukosmos,” said Solon, “do you still think that people are happy? You can hear the turmoil down there. Your heavenly gift caused it. Do you still want to give them eternal bread without worry, without work? Wouldn’t you rather keep your secret to yourself? Destroy it, forget it! Omphale is yours because you are worthy of her; Kroisos will give her to you even if you don’t reveal your miracle cure. Hear me out, let people sweat in the fields as they did before, and toil with bent backs. It’s good for them. That way they will have achieved something. ”
Eukosmos stood up: “I can only believe that you are testing me, Solon! You want to see if I’m so small-minded that I can’t keep my word. Omphale is my bride, and tomorrow I will reveal my secret. The remedy is not mine; rather it belongs to all people, for whom I only kept it in good faith. The fact that they riot down there doesn’t change their rights. They only riot because they don’t know. I will open their eyes. ”
Then Solon said softly, “You guessed it, it was a test. Eukosmos, I love you as you are. I have never loved a person as I love you. O, you dear dreamer, you happy people! You also deserve to have your own dream, the dream of marrying Omphale. I think your soul is now made complete by her, the lovely one. You have never been happier, Eukosmos, and when your life reaches old age, you will still never have been happier! See, Kroisos, we spoke at first of true happiness. Here it is before your eyes: Eukosmos! He loves the people and he loves Omphale. Everyone who knows him loves him … Eukosmos! Empty this drinking bowl that Kroisos gave you through me. Empty it for the good of mankind and think about the woman you love. ”
And Eukosmos drank.