The Story of the Greeks
Page: 43Pisistratus came of his own free will before the judges of the Areopagus, confessed his crime, and was so humble that he quite disarmed the anger of the people.
As soon as he felt quite sure that he had won many friends among the poor, Pisistratus appeared one day in the market place, covered with blood, which flowed from slight wounds which he had made upon his own body.
His polite manners and kindly words had been only a pretense, however; and he was not only a hypocrite, but also a liar. So he now said that the aristocrats had tried to kill him because he was the friend of the people.
In proof of these words, he pointed to his wounds.[Pg 96] The poorer Athenians, who believed him, were very indignant, and began to talk angrily about the wicked nobles, who had hurt Pisistratus only because he was ready to help them.
When Pisistratus cried out that his life was no longer safe, all the democrats exclaimed that they would protect him; and, as they had the right of voting, they then and there said that he should have a bodyguard of fifty armed men to protect him.
Pisistratus pretended to be very grateful for this favor, and, under pretext of choosing his bodyguard, engaged a great number of soldiers. When his plans were all ready, he took possession of the Acropolis by force.
The people now found out, but too late, that Pisistratus had deceived them only to get more power; and that, thanks to the guard they had voted him, he had become master of the town, and held the reins of the government.
The Athenians did not long remain angry with their former favorite, however; for he did all he could to make them happy, and ruled them very wisely. He improved the city by building magnificent temples and other public buildings, and made a great aqueduct, so that the people could have plenty of pure water to drink.
Pisistratus also laid out a public park, the Ly-ce´um, just outside the city walls, so that the Athenians could go there, and enjoy the cool shade of the groves he had planted.
Then he began to collect all the poems of Homer, had them carefully written down, and placed them in a[Pg 97] public library, so that the Greeks could read them whenever they pleased. Until then these poems had only been recited, and no written copy existed. Pisistratus, therefore, did a very good work in thus keeping for our enjoyment the greatest epic poems ever composed.
As Pisistratus ruled just as he pleased, without consulting the Tribunal or people, he has been called a tyrant. This word in those days meant "supreme ruler;" but as many of those who followed him made a bad use of their power, and were cruel and grasping, its meaning soon changed, and the word now means "a selfish and unkind ruler."
While Pisistratus was thus governing Athens to suit himself, Solon was traveling in Asia, where he met several interesting persons of whom you will hear in ancient history.
Solon had gone away for ten years, hoping that the Athenians would strictly obey his laws. During that time he had no news of his native land; for there were no post offices or newspapers in those days, and people neither wrote nor received letters except when something very important happened.
On coming back to Athens, Solon was very sorry to learn that it was Pisistratus, his own kinsman, who had taken the power of the archons; but when he saw how wisely Pisistratus governed the people, and how[Pg 98] careful he was to make them happy and improve them, he freely forgave him, and remained on good terms with him until he died.
Pisistratus went on ruling the Athenians for thirty-three years, and when he died they mourned him greatly. In their grief for their loss, they allowed his sons, Hip´-pi-as and Hip-par´chus, to succeed him, without raising any objections.
These young men were very careful at first to follow their father's good example; but they soon began to neglect business for pleasure, and, instead of thinking of the people's good, they spent much of their time in feasting and drinking.
In those days there dwelt at Athens two young men named Har-mo´di-us and A-ris-to-gi´ton. They were intimate friends, and were loved by all on account of their good qualities, and more especially because they were so anxious to increase the glory and prosperity of their native city.
Harmodius had a sister who was as good as she was beautiful: so the people, hoping to please him, chose her to carry a basket of flowers in the great religious procession which took place in Athens every year.
One of the tyrants, Hipparchus, was very jealous of Harmodius, because the people loved him so much. He therefore tried to annoy the young man in every way; and when he heard that his sister had been chosen to bear the flowers, he rudely forbade her presence at the feast.