The Story of the Greeks

Page: 40

The city had been defiled by the crime which Megacles had committed, and the people felt that they would never be prosperous again until Athens had been purified;[Pg 90] but the great question was to find a man holy enough to perform the ceremony.

After much talking, they decided to send for Ep-i-men´i-des, and to ask him to purify the city. This man, when a mere lad, once went into a cave near his native town, and there laid himself down to sleep. Instead of taking an ordinary nap, however, he slept fifty-eight years, without awakening or undergoing any change. When he came out of the cave, where he fancied he had spent only a few hours, he was surprised to find everything new and strange to him.

His relatives had all died, no one knew him, and it was only after some time had passed that he found out that he had slept fifty-eight years at a stretch. This man was a poet of note, and, as he had enjoyed so long a sleep, the people thought that he was a favorite of the gods.

When the Athenians asked him to purify the town, he came to do so; but when the ceremonies were ended, he refused to accept any of the rich gifts which the people offered him as reward. Instead, he humbly begged them to give him a twig of the sacred olive tree which they said Athene herself had planted on the Acropolis.

Their troubles having now ceased, the Athenians began to think of making another and less severe code of laws. This time they chose as lawmaker a wise man called So´lon, a descendant of the noble Codrus; and he soon consented to tell them what to do.

Solon was a studious and thoughtful man, and had acquired much of his wisdom by traveling, and by learning all he could from the people he visited. He knew[Pg 91] so much that he was called a sage, and he loved to meet and talk with wise people.

Solon changed many of Draco's severe laws, arranged that the farmers and poor people should no longer be treated badly by the rich, and even took care of the slaves. He also gave the Athenians a court of law called A-re-op´a-gus. Here there were jurymen to judge all criminals; and here, for the first time, an accused person was allowed to speak in his own defense.

When a man was accused of any wrongdoing, he was brought before this jury, who sat under the open sky at night. No light was provided, and the whole trial was carried on in the dark, so that the jury should not be influenced by the good or bad looks of the prisoner, but should judge merely from what was proved about him.

If the accused person was found guilty, he was also sentenced and executed in the dark, so that the bright sun god, riding across the sky in his golden chariot, should not be offended by the sad sight of a man dying for his misdeeds.