Aristides

"The Just"

(530 - 468 B.C.)

ARISTEIDHS

by Plutarch

Aristides was so respected throughout Greece for his fairness that Athens assumed the leadership of the alliance against the Persian invaders. His character is a model for all ages.

Aristides was a close friend of Cleisthenes, the man who had stamped out tyranny in Athens. His lifelong antagonist was Themistocles.1 In character as well as political philosophy, Aristides and Themistocles were complete opposites. Themistocles was quick, nimble, adventurous, and subtle. Aristides was a quiet, steady man who loved justice and truth, and would never lie, flatter, or abuse anybody -- even as a joke.

Being an admirer of Lycurgus and the Spartan ethic, Aristides naturally favored aristocracy over democracy. Aristides went his own way in politics. He would not do any man wrong, not even to favor his friends, and he did not want to anger his friends by refusing their requests, so his policy was to treat everyone impartially. Aristides saw that political connections made men bold to do wrong, giving them the illusion of immunity from the consequences of injustice. An honest man, he believed, should not depend on his friends, but on his own personal integrity.

Themistocles joined the democratic political party, where each member sought personal benefit through the help of his comrades. "I hope that I never hold an office where I could not benefit my friends more than strangers who do me no pleasure," said Themistocles. After Themistocles and his party had caused many dangerous changes, Aristides felt obliged to resist him.

Themistocles was always trying to increase his influence and authority. Even when Themistocles proposed a good idea, Aristides opposed him so that his power would not grow. Partisan rancor and personal spite became so bad that whenever Aristides wanted to propose legislation, he had to find another man to introduce it.

Aristides was only interested in what was good for Athens, not in increasing his own wealth or prestige. He therefore would admit when he had made a mistake, even though it made him look like a fool. Once Aristides proposed something, and the council of four hundred -- over the objections of Themistocles and his party -- approved it. When it was submitted to the people for their ratification, and some good reasons were presented against it, Aristides got up and spoke against his own bill.

In all the vicissitudes of public affairs, Aristides was never elated with the honors he received, nor was he dejected by his defeats. He always carried himself with a steady, quiet dignity. Aristides despised mercenary motives in public men. It was his opinion that every honest citizen had a duty to serve the public interest without hope of any money or glory.

* * *

Aristides was a most determined champion of justice -- not just the appearance of justice, but the reality. Neither friendship nor feelings of anger or malice polluted his judgment. Once Aristides won a lawsuit and the judges were so disgusted by the opponent that they refused to give him a chance to speak, as allowed by law, before judgment was rendered. Aristides kneeled beside his defeated enemy and pleaded with the judges to let him be heard.

Another time, when he was the judge in a case, the plaintiff said that the defendant had also injured him. "Just tell me what he has done to you," said Aristides. "It is your case, not mine, that I am judging."

The Athenians chose Aristides to be their treasurer, and he discovered that Themistocles (who had held this office previously) had embezzled large sums of money from the public funds. When Aristides presented the evidence, Themistocles and his party made such a show of outrage and wounded dignity at this accusation that Aristides was fired and also fined for abusing his office. But the best men of Athens saw that a great wrong had been done, and they managed by their efforts to convince the people to repeal the fine and to allow Aristides to continue in his office for the next year.

After that experience, Aristides said nothing about corruption, and therefore the crooks praised him for being an outstanding public servant. These were his loudest supporters for another term in office as treasurer. After he was re-elected in a landslide, Aristides addressed the Athenians: "When I did my job to the best of my ability, you fired me and fined me. When I said nothing about the theft of public money, you called me an honest man and re-elected me. I want you to know that I am more ashamed of the honor you give me today than I was of the dishonor you put on me last year. It's a shame that you think it better to please the wicked than to preserve our city." He then proceeded to give them a full account of all of the corruption of the past year as the crooks listened aghast.

* * *

When the Persian fleet arrived at Marathon and landed a huge army to conquer Athens, Aristides was one of the ten generals chosen for the defense. Command of the Athenian army rotated among the ten generals from day to day. When Aristides' turn came, he deferred to Miltiades as being a better man. The other generals followed this example, and subordinated their personal vanity and rivalry to the general good. Miltiades thus obtained complete authority to manage the war.

In the Battle of Marathon [490 B.C.] Aristides fought in the center, where the struggle was most furious. 2 After the battle was over, and the Persian ships that had managed to get away were drifting toward Athens -- driven there by the wind and the currents, and not by any desire to continue the fight -- the Athenians chose Aristides to stay on the battlefield in charge of the booty while they hurried back to defend the city, arriving the same day.

An enormous amount of gold and silver and other valuable things had been left behind in the Persian tents and on the battlefield, but Aristides would not allow anyone to touch it. His honest stewardship assured that all of the Athenians could have a fair share.

* * *

Of all the virtues of Aristides, the Athenians most admired his justice. They even gave him the nickname of "The Just." Such a title was never desired by kings and tyrants, who prefer to dress themselves in the reputation that comes from violence and terror rather than the fame that comes from virtue. Although the gods, whom they ape, do exceed mortals in power, they also excel in two other qualities: immortality and justice. Of the three, justice is the best for a human being to seek. Earthquakes have power, and space cannot end, but nothing has justice except that which has reason and acquaintance with the divine.

We think that the gods are happy because they are immortal; we fear the gods because they are powerful; but we love the gods because they are just. Nevertheless, we chase after immortality (which is impossible), and power (which depends on luck), but neglect justice -- the only attribute of the gods a human being can reasonably hope to attain. Justice together with power gives the life of a god, but power without justice gives the life of a beast.

The honors that the Athenians gave Aristides, as his virtues became more widely known through his actions, drove Themistocles crazy with jealousy. Themistocles even accused Aristides of trying to make himself a king by being so just.

The envy and arrogance of the common people was greater now in Athens than ever before. Since the victory at Marathon, everyone resented anyone who stood above the rest. So just after they had honored Aristides for his justice and quiet integrity, they banished him by ostracism [482 B.C.].

Ostracism was done by popular vote, with pottery fragments used as ballots. When an ostracism was called, the citizens of Athens would gather in the marketplace and write the name of the man they wanted to ostracise on their ballot, then toss it into a pen. If less than six thousand ballots were cast, there was no ostracism, but if there were enough ballots, then the man whose name appeared most often on the pottery fragments was exiled for a period of ten years.

On the day of the voting, there was an illiterate man from the country who asked Aristides to help him write "Aristides" on his ballot. Aristides asked the bumpkin whether this Aristides had ever done him any wrong, and got the following reply: "No. In fact, I don't even know who Aristides is, but I'm tired of hearing everyone call him 'The Just.'" Without another word, Aristides did as he was asked. After the result was announced, and Aristides was on his way out of Athens, he prayed out loud to the gods that the Athenians would never have any occasion to remember him.

* * *

Three years later, however, the Athenians called Aristides back and revoked the ostracism. King Xerxes of Persia, with an army of a million soldiers, was on his way to Greece to avenge the defeat at Marathon. Many of the Greek cities were surrendering, and would not dare to stand beside the Athenians against the power of Xerxes. The Athenians feared that Aristides might work against them, but they misjudged him. Even before the ostracism was revoked, Aristides was travelling around trying to persuade the other Greeks to unite against the barbarian invaders.

Although his arch-enemy, Themistocles, was the Athenians' commander-in-chief, Aristides submitted to his command and made his worst enemy the most glorious of men. The Greeks were debating whether to flee the island of Salamis. The Persian ships had set up an ambush that night, and the Athenians did not know that there was in fact no way to escape. Aristides managed to sneak through the Persian fleet in a little boat and came to the tent of Themistocles. "Let us put aside our vain and childish contention, Themistocles," he said, "and begin a more honorable contest for honor in the defense of Greece -- you in the part of commander, and I as an assistant and advisor. I understand that you alone are in favor of meeting the Persians in a sea fight here at Salamis. Although many of our own side oppose you, the enemy is helping you, for the sea all around us is covered by their fleet. There is in fact no way to escape except by showing that we are men of courage, whether we want to be or not."

Themistocles then revealed to Aristides the strategy for the battle he had in mind, and asked for his help in convincing the others who still believed that it might be possible to escape, because Aristides had more credibility. At the council of war, one of the generals said to Themistocles that Aristides did not seem to like his advice, because Aristides sat by silently. Aristides then spoke up and said that he would not have sat silent if Themistocles had not been giving the best advice, and that he was not silent out of any good will toward the person, but in approval of his counsel.

Aristides led some soldiers to the nearby island of Psyttalea, which was occupied by the enemy. He took the island and made it a refuge for shipwrecked Greeks in the following battle. This island turned out to be very important because most of the heavy fighting took place nearby.

After the victory in the sea fight at Salamis [480 B.C.],3 Themistocles privately suggested to Aristides that the next thing that should be done was to sail immediately to the bridge that Xerxes had built over the Hellespont and burn it so as to cut off the Persians' retreat out of Greece. Aristides disagreed, saying that it would be better to leave the bridge intact so that Xerxes would hurry and use it, instead of fighting on with the strength of desperation. Themistocles sent a captured eunuch to Xerxes as a secret ambassador to tell the Persian king that his friend Themistocles had done him the favor of talking the other Greeks out of burning the bridge. Xerxes hurried over the bridge back to his kingdom. He left behind, however, 300,000 of his best soldiers under Mardonius to finish the war.

* * *

Mardonius sent messages of defiance to the Greeks, telling them that Salamis was not a serious setback for the Persians, who would crush the Greeks in a fight on solid ground if they would dare to come to the broad fields of Thessaly. But privately he sent ambassadors to the Athenians and offered to rebuild their city [which Xerxes had destroyed in his anger] if they would stay out of the rest of the war. The Spartans heard of this offer, and they sent their ambassadors to promise the Athenians food and other supplies if only they would not give up the war.

The Athenians followed the advice of Aristides and returned the following answer: "We tolerated the offer of the barbarians, who think all things can be bought for gold because to them nothing is more desirable than to be wealthy. But we are insulted by your offer, which implies that we need to be paid to fight for our own freedom."

Now that diplomacy and bribery had failed, Mardonius marched on Athens. The Athenians once more retreated to the island of Salamis, and Aristides went as their ambassador to Sparta to get help. As he urged them to hurry up and send some men to stop Mardonius, the Spartans pretended to be taking it easy, and they laughed when Aristides complained of their delay. Finally they informed Aristides that the Spartan army was already on its way. Aristides remarked that it was not right to deceive friends, and they should save their tricks for their enemies.

When Aristides returned to Athens, he was elected commander of the Athenian army. A force of eight thousand Athenian hoplites 4 marched to Plataea, where they joined the five thousand Spartan hoplites and the soldiers from the rest of Greece. 5 The Spartan general, Pausanias, was the commander-in-chief of the combined forces. Eventually, the Persian army arrived at Plataea and camped [479 B.C.]. The fortune-tellers predicted victory, but only if the Greeks fought on the defensive.

The Spartans took the right wing, which was the place of honor in the line. No one questioned their right to it. Over on the left wing, a quarrel broke out between the Athenians and the Tegeans over who would get that position. Aristides put an end to the bragging contest when he said: "The place where we stand neither gives us honor nor takes it away. We Athenians will do our best wherever we are, and you can count on that part of the line being strong. We are here not to fight with our friends but our enemies. And we are not here to brag about the deeds of our ancestors, but to make our own reputations. This battle will show what the men of each city are worth, wherever they are on the line." After this speech, everyone agreed that the left wing should go to the Athenians.

The situation looked hopeless to some of the rich men of Athens, and they thought of how they might save their possessions by treason. Aristides heard of their conspiracy, but he did not know how many were in on it. He decided not to make a full investigation or do anything more for the time being than to arrest eight out of the many conspirators. Two of the most guilty ones were allowed to escape, then Aristides gave the rest permission to go as free men. He told them that if they fought well they could erase all suspicion by thus showing their sincere good intentions toward their country. The other traitors, who were relieved to have escaped detection, also were thus motivated to fight harder.

The Greeks occupied strong and rocky places at the foot of Mount Cithaeron, except for the 3,000 Megarians, who were in the plain. Mardonius sent all of his huge force of cavalry against the Megarians. The Persian shot so many arrows that the other Greeks lost sight of the Megarians, and Pausanias called for volunteers to go and help. Only Aristides, for the Athenians, stood up.

Three hundred Athenians ran to the rescue. The Persian cavalry commander, Masistus, who was a man of great courage, saw the Athenians coming and charged them. There was a sharp combat, as if the whole war depended on this skirmish. Masistus' horse was wounded and threw him off. Masistus' armor was so heavy and his body so large that he could hardly get up. The Athenians could not get at him, however, because every part of his body was covered with gold and brass and iron. Finally one of the Athenian soldiers got a knife through the visor of his helmet, and that was the end of Masistus.

Once the Persian cavalry saw that their commander was dead, they all ran away. The greatness of the Greek success was not evident from the number of Persian casualties (which were insignificant), but from the howling and lamentation that came from the Persian camp over the loss of Masistus, who was by many degrees chief among them in valor and authority.

After this skirmish, both sides stayed on the defensive for several more days. The fortune-tellers on both sides continued to predict that whoever attacked would lose. The Persians, however, were running short of supplies, and every day the Greeks got more reinforcements. So Mardonius decided to cross the river and attack, and the order went out through the Persian camp.

The Greeks were forewarned, and they lined up for battle the next morning. Pausanias decided to post the Athenians on the right wing, against the Persians. At first the Athenians resented this change, but after Aristides had said a few words to them, they welcomed it. As they changed places with the Spartans, the Athenians encouraged each other, saying: "These Persians who come against us have no better hearts or weapons than the ones we beat at Marathon." Mardonius responded by changing his order of battle also. Both sides were so confused by each other's maneuvering that no action took place that day.

That night, the Greeks -- who were out of water -- decided to move back to another place, because the nearby springs had been polluted by the Persian cavalry. In the darkness, the soldiers did not keep together, and some of them went to enjoy the city of Plataea while the others pitched their camp with a lot of tumult and disorder.

The Spartans lagged behind because of the stubborn courage of Amompharetus, who refused to leave. Amompharetus was a very brave Spartan who commanded a company of men. He was exasperated by all of the delay in coming to grips with the enemy, and to him this retreat seemed like defeat. Amompharetus declared that he would not join in the cowardice of the other Greeks no matter how many voted to leave, and he swore that he would stay where he was even if he had to fight the whole Persian army with only his own company. Pausanias finally just left Amompharetus behind and led the rest of the Spartans to rejoin the other Greeks.

At daybreak, Mardonius saw that there were only Amompharetus and a few men left in the Greek camp, and he concluded that the others had run away out of cowardice, leaving only these few who wanted to keep fighting. Mardonius ordered an attack, and the barbarian horde advanced with a tremendous noise. Hearing this, Pausanias turned around his Spartans and prepared to fight, but the other Greeks were so scattered and disorganized that it took them a long time to come to the battle. When they did arrive, it was in small groups, not en masse.

The first Persians to engage were the mounted archers, who rained arrows on the Spartans. The Spartans did not fight back or even protect themselves because Pausanias had commanded them not to do anything until the omens from the sacrifices were no longer unfavorable. Callicrates, the best Spartan warrior, died, exclaiming that it was not the loss of his life that grieved him, but the shame of coming all the way from Sparta to die without doing anything. Spartan discipline did not break, however, and they patiently suffered the Persian arrows until Pausanias, after getting good omens from a later sacrifice, finally gave the order to fight.

All at once the Spartans raised their long spears, and the Spartan army looked like a big beast bristling for combat. Now the Persians realized that this would be a hot fight with determined men who had no fear of death, so they kept their distance and shot clouds of arrows at the Spartans from behind a barricade of wicker shields. The Spartans formed their phalanx and jogged in a compact mass through the enemy. The Persians fought bravely, but the momentum of the Spartan phalanx was irresistible.

The Athenians heard the noise of the battle and went toward it. On the way, they encountered some Greeks who had joined with the Persians. 6 Aristides pleaded with these Greeks not to stand in the way, but they would not step aside. The Athenians had to fight their way through. However, as soon as they lost their commanders, the traitors ran away because they had no heart for the war. They were only there because they were forced to go by the rich men who had surrendered to the barbarians. After killing 300, the Athenians moved on.

Meanwhile, the Spartans had cut through the Persians and killed Mardonius. The Persians gave up and retreated into their camp, which was fortified by walls of wood. The Spartans prowled around trying to find a way in, but they had no experience in attacking fortifications. The Athenians came and added their men and expertise. They broke into the camp, and then there was a massacre. Of the 300,000 Persians that came with Mardonius, only 40,000 escaped. Greek losses totalled only 1,360 killed. 7

The Athenians and the Spartans quarrelled over who would have the honor of a victory monument, and they were about to start killing each other when Aristides stepped in to mediate. Aristides persuaded both sides to let the rest of the Greeks decide who deserved the honor.

Cleocritus of Corinth then stood up to give his opinion. Everyone expected that Cleocritus would claim the honor for Corinth, which was the third most famous city of Greece [after Sparta and Athens] but he proposed that the honor should go to Plataea, which had suffered the most from the war. Aristides, speaking for the Athenians, agreed, and so did Pausanias for the Spartans, and thus the matter was settled.

Word came from the oracle at Delphi that the presence of the barbarians had polluted the country, so now the Greeks would have to put out all fires and light them again with pure flame from the temple of Apollo. Euchidas ran from Plataea to Delphi to bring back fire for the Greeks. He ran all the way there, then he washed in clean water, put a crown of laurel leaves on his head, and entered the temple to take fire from the altar. Once he had the fire, he ran back to Plataea, arriving before the sun set, then saluted the citizens, delivered the fire from the temple, and fell down dead. In one day, Euchidas had run 125 miles.

* * *

Total democracy became inevitable in Athens after Plataea. The people were more proud than ever, and the poor demanded to be treated the same as the rich. Aristides decided to lead democracy rather than be run over by it, so he proposed that all citizens be considered eligible to hold office and to vote, regardless of their property.

Themistocles told the Athenians that he had an idea that would be of the greatest benefit to Athens, but which he could not speak of openly. The Athenians decided that Themistocles should tell it to Aristides. Themistocles' idea was to burn the ships of all the Greek allies and thus make Athens the ruler of the sea and the greatest city in all of Greece. Aristides did not disclose the details, but he reported that nothing could be more beneficial than what Themistocles proposed, and nothing could be more dishonorable. The Athenians ordered Themistocles to abandon his plan, whatever it might be.

There was still a war to finish against the Persians and their Greek allies, so Aristides returned with the Athenians to the camp of the Greeks. The Spartan general, Pausanias, had stirred up resentment among the allied soldiers by what they perceived to be unnecessarily harsh discipline. Soldiers would be whipped for the smallest offense, or forced to stand for a whole day with an anchor on their shoulders. Pausanias was considered abusive and overbearing by his subordinates.

The justice and virtue of Aristides, and the courtesy and mildness of the other Athenian general, Cimon, compared favorably with Pausanias. So gradually, the allies began to look to Athens rather than Sparta for leadership.

Some of the allies came to Aristides and urged him to take command, and Aristides told them to do something that would make it impossible for them to change their minds. So one day, as Pausanias was inspecting the fleet, two ships rowed up out of the line to the ship he was on. Pausanias went into one of his tirades and let them know that what they did had put not only themselves in danger but also their cities. The offenders answered Pausanias, so that all the rest of the Greeks could hear, that he should thank the gods for giving the Greeks victory at Plataea, since that was the only reason they had refrained so long from giving him the punishment he deserved for his arrogance.

Here the Spartans showed how noble they were. When they saw that their commander had been perverted by power and had lost the respect of the allies, the Spartans surrendered their position as the leader of the Greek alliance and let the Athenians take over. They remembered what Lycurgus had taught them, that it was more important to keep their own integrity than to lord it over the rest of the world.

The allies asked the Athenians to give Aristides the job of deciding how much each one of them had to pay toward maintaining the war. For his justice in discharging this responsibility, Aristides became the most famous man in all of Greece. He went into this job poor and came out even poorer. Later, the Greeks looked back on the stewardship of Aristides as a golden age 8 of honesty and fairness. Aristides' successors doubled and tripled the taxes arbitrarily, then spent the money on buildings, art, and welfare for the people of Athens -- not on the purposes for which these funds had been raised.

* * *

Aristides was always proud to be poor. Voluntary poverty was for him a badge of honor, especially for an executive. Despite all the trophies he won, he was most proud of the fact that he did not make any profit out of public service.

At a full age, Aristides died, so beloved by the Athenians that they provided for his funeral and gave his descendants enough property to be comfortable for the rest of their lives. Plato says that of all the great men of Athens, Aristides was the only one that could be admired. Themistocles, Cimon, and Pericles filled the city with wealth and power, but only Aristides guided his public life by the rule of justice. 9

NOTES:

1. Plutarch's life of Themistocles is not included in this collection. Some of the historical narrative from that life has been incorporated here.

2. The Persians outnumbered the Athenians, but Aristides and Miltiades persuaded the Athenians to risk a battle at Marathon. The strategy of Miltiades at Marathon was to retreat in the middle of the line, so as to entice the Persians to charge forward and mass there. Then the Athenians would close in around them and hit both flanks. The Athenian flanks were protected by rivers and high ground. Success depended on Aristides and the soldiers in the center being able to fall back uphill and then hold the Persians until the two wings could completed the encirclement. This strategy worked. The Persians believed that the Athenians were running away, so they eagerly followed up on the pursuit, each trying to get ahead of the others in order to get first pick of the spoils. Then the Athenians stood firm, while the Persians in the back jammed forward until the Persian army was packed so close together that they could not use their weapons. The Athenian wings closed in and began the slaughter of this panicked crowd. Some Persians managed to get to their ships and escape, but they left behind many of their comrades and all of their camp.
There is a legend that a runner named Phidippides ran to Athens with news of the victory at Marathon (a distance of approximately 26 miles) and immediately died. The leading authority, Herodotus, says that the whole Athenian army, in full war gear, ran that 26 miles after fighting a battle that same day. From this battle we get the name of the modern long-distance race. The Spartans arrived a day late for the Battle of Marathon (490 B.C.).

3. Plutarch's account of the Battle of Salamis (480 B.C.) and preceding events is contained in his life of Themistocles. The most complete account is that of Herodotus in his History. Briefly, here is what happened:

The Spartans joined with the Athenians to resist the barbarian invasion, and sent Leonidas with 300 hoplites to delay the Persians at the pass of Thermopylae. These men held their ground until finally a traitor showed the Persians a secret trail around the Spartan roadblock. Surrounded, the Spartans all died fighting after killing many more than their own number. This delay of the Persian march, however, gave the Greeks enough time to put together an army and a navy. It also discouraged the Persians, who, despite their numbers, began to doubt victory.

The Spartans took command of the army, but the Athenians, with Themistocles as their commander-in-chief, insisted on commanding the navy, which was mostly their own ships. The Greeks decided not to try to defend the city of Athens, and they retreated to the nearby island of Salamis. The Persians burned Athens, then brought up their huge fleet of warships to surround Salamis, where the Greek army and the refugees from Athens were. The Greek leaders debated whether to use the ships to transport everybody and their baggage out of danger or to use them as warships to fight the Persian fleet. They did not know that they had no choice but to fight, since the Persians had cut off their retreat. The Greeks were about to put women and children instead of soldiers on their ships when Aristides slipped through the blockade and brought them the news that Salamis was surrounded, so they would have to risk a vaval battle. The Greek navy attacked and won a major victory over a much larger fleet.

4. A hoplite was a heavily armored soldier who fought on foot. His panoply consisted of greaves (metal armor covering the shins and knees), a cuirass (metal armor covering the front and back of the body), a helmet with a large plume of horsehair or feathers, a large round shield, a sword, and two spears. It was in this gear that they ran 26 miles back to Athens after the battle of Marathon. Lightly armored troops were called peltasts. They fought with javelins, arrows, or rocks. We are not informed how many peltasts went along with the hoplites of Athens.

5. Herodotus tells us that the combined force of the loyal Greeks amounted to just over 100,000 soldiers, both hoplites and peltasts. Sparta sent 5,000 hoplites and 35,000 peltasts.

6. There were many of these "Medizing Greeks," so called because they allied themselves with the Medes, or barbarians west of the Persians. The cities of Thebes, Argos, Achaia, all of Northern Greece except the Ambraciots and Corcyrians, and all of the islanders except the Melians, gave Xerxes earth and water as a token of submission.

7. Herodotus, the first historian in western literature, is the best reference for the Battle of Plataea (479 B.C.), and all of the foregoing events. After the battle, the Spartan general Pausanias looked at the spendid banquet prepared for the Persian officers and remarked: "When they already had such food, what greedy pigs those Persians were to come fight us for our barley bread."

8. When the gods decided to make creatures in their own image -- rather than the fifty-headed monsters and the cyclops they had made before -- they created mortal men who were idle and happy like themselves. Although their bodies died, their spirits lived on as benevolent guardians. Angels ruled, and the land produced abundant crops without work. This was the Golden Age. Then Zeus (Jupiter) created Pandora, the first woman, and the Silver Age began. Instead of perpetual springtime and peace, there were seasons, and people hurt each other and themselves. The earth did not produce, so men had to work. When they died, their spirit did not survive. Then came the Bronze Age, when men were still honest and good-hearted, but became addicted to killing and plunder. This was the age of great adventurers and fighters, such as Achilles and Jason. Finally, there came the Iron Age. Men became corrupt and sharp to each other. They no longer shared. Greed and crime overwhelmed civilization, and even the earth itself was polluted and plundered. See Hesiod's Theogony and Ovid's Metamorphoses for further information on Greek mythology.

9. Justice, to the Greeks, was more than mere obedience to law. The standard for behavior was a divinely inspired inner morality, an internal compass that was spiritual, rather than intellectual. The Greek word for this concept is D I K H (dike) [pronounced "dee' kay"], roughly comparable to what is known to the Hindus as karma or to the English as righteousness. When dike was subordinated to partisan passion, and morality became a matter of votes, Athens began its decline and fall.

Citing certain statues and pottery fragments, the argument is sometimes made that the root credo of Western Civilization is the saying of the Athenian sophist Protagoras that "man is the measure of all things." This battlecry of moral relativists was despised by Socrates, at least. See Plato, Cratylus 386; Theatetus, 170; Laws IV, 716c. The Greeks abhorred hubris, or the way of the savage -- the wanton violence and insolence that inevitably result when a man believes that he is at liberty to flout justice because he is the measure of all things. The recurring theme of Greek tragedy is the punishment of hubris. An excellent illustration of hubris is the conduct of Agammemnon in book one of the Iliad. The character of Aristides illustrates the essentially Greek ideal that goes by the name of S W F R O S U N H (sophrosyne) [so fro' see ney], the principle of balance, moderation, discretion, and sobriety. There is no English word for it, but we can say that the opposite of sophrosyne is arrogant egotism and addiction. The maxims inscribed at the temple of Apollo at Delphi (where Plutarch served as priest for many years) -- "Know Yourself" and "Nothing to Excess" -- express this ideal.


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