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Solon: Select Fragments
John Porter, translator

Notice: This translation is the copyrighted property of the author and should not be reproduced without the author's permission.

Throughout this page, links are provided to the relevant discussions in the Course Notes on Solon (Porter).

Fragment 5 (West)

For to the demos I gave so much honor as is sufficient,
neither diminishing their timê nor adding to it in profusion.
As for those who held power and were admired for their wealth,
I saw to it that they, also, had nothing shameful.
I took my stand, covering both in the protection of my mighty shield,
nor did I allow either side to win unjustly.
[Course Notes]

Fragment 36 (West)

Of all the purposes for which I gathered the demos together,
which of them had I not achieved when I quit?
On this point the greatest mother of the
Olympian spirits, black Earth, might best bear
witness in the court of Time, she from whom I once
lifted the boundary stones that had been fixed everywhere:
before she was in slavery, now she is free.
And many Athenians sold into slavery — some justly, some not —
did I bring home to their god-founded land, while others,
having fled their debts under Necessity's compulsion, no longer
spoke the Attic tongue (since they wandered to all parts of the earth),
and others here, bound in shameful servitude and trembling before the harsh
character of their masters, I set free. I achieved these things,
forcefully yoking force and justice together,
and I proceeded on the course that I had promised.
I composed ordinances for base and noble alike,
fitting straight justice for each. But another taking the goad of state in hand
as had I — particularly one who was thoughtless and greedy —
would not have restrained the demos. For if I then had been willing
to effect what was pleasing to one faction,
or, in turn, what their enemies counseled,
this city would have been bereaved of many men.
For this reason, fashioning a defense on all sides,
I wheeled about like a wolf among the hounds.
[Course Notes]

Fragment 7 (West)

In undertakings of great import, it is difficult to please all.
[Course Notes]

Fragment 6 (West)

In this way would the demos best follow the rule of its leaders,
neither being given too free a rein nor subjected to excessive force.
For koros breeds hybris, whenever great olbos should attend
men whose minds are not firm and sound.
[Course Notes: Solon and the Demos]
[Course Notes: Koros-Hybris-Atê]

Fragment 9 (West)

Out of the clouds comes the mighty force of snow and hail,
and thunder arises from the brilliant lightning.
But it is from men of great power that a city perishes, and the demos,
in its mindlessness, falls into slavery beneath a monarch.
It is no easy thing, afterwards, to restrain a man once you have exalted him
too high — rather, take all these thoughts to heart now.
[Course Notes]

Fragment 4 (West)

Our city never will perish according to the decree of Zeus
or the will of the blessed gods immortal.
For such a great-spirited guard holds her hands protectingly above it,
Pallas Athena, she of the mighty father.
Rather, the townsmen themselves, in their folly, wish to destroy
our great city, persuaded by wealth,
and unjust is the mind of the leaders of the demos: for them
many grievous sufferings are certain, the fruit of their great hybris.
For they do not know how to suppress koros or how to conduct the present
joys of their feasting in decorous fashion,
but instead they grow rich, putting their trust in unjust deeds.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

. . . sparing not at all either the sacred possessions or those
of the demos, they plunder rapaciously, one here, one there,
nor do they beware the sacred ordinances of Dikê,
who silently notes events as they happen, as well as those that came before,
and, in time, comes, surely, bringing retribution.
This ineluctable wound comes now against the entire city,
and she has come quickly into wretched slavery —
slavery, which rouses from their sleep internal strife and war —
war, which brings an end for the lovely youth of many.
For by its enemies this lovely city quickly is being
destroyed, amid the cabals dear to the unjust.
Such are the evils that roam among the demos, while, as regards the poor,
many have arrived in foreign lands
sold into slavery, bound in shameful fetters.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

In this way does the misfortune of the demos come to each man's house:
doors no longer suffice to keep it out,
it leaps above the outer wall and finds a man in any case,
even if he, fleeing, should cower in the recesses of the inner chamber.
These things my spirit bids me teach the men of Athens:
that Ill-governance brings evils a thousand-fold for the polis,
but Noble-governance [Eunomia] yields a city where all things are decorous and sound,
thickly enfolding in fetters those who are unjust:
it smoothes those things that are rough, it stops koros short, it sentences hybris to obscurity;
it causes the burgeoning flowers of atê to whither,
and straightens crooked judgments; calms the
deeds of arrogance and stops the deeds of faction;
it stops the bilious anger of harsh strife and in its control
are all things proper and thoughtful among men.
[Course Notes: Solon and the Demos]
[Course Notes: Koros-Hybris-Ate]

Fragment 13.1-32, 65-76 (West)

Glorious children of Memory and Olympian Zeus,
Pierian Muses, hear me as I pray:
grant me olbos from the blessed gods, and from all
men a noble reputation always.
With these may I be sweet to my friends, bitter to my enemies,
an object of reverence to the former, to the latter a dreadful vision to see.
Indeed, I long to have wealth, but I do not wish to acquire it
unjustly: for dike is certain to come afterward.
Ploutos which the gods grant stays beside a man
enduring and sound from its uttermost foundation to its pinnacle.
But that ploutos which men revere through hybris does not come
in decorous fashion but, persuaded by their unjust deeds,
it attends them against its will and quickly comes to be mingled with atê.
This latter grows from a small beginning, like a fire,
trivial at first, but a grievous evil in the end.
For the deeds of hybris do not prosper long for mortals:
rather, Zeus oversees the end of all things. Suddenly,
as the wind quickly scatters the clouds
in spring when it whips up the depths of the weariless
sea with its teaming waves and over the grain-bearing earth
it destroys the noble works of men, arriving at last at the lofty seat of the gods,
the heavens, and leaving behind a sparkling clear sky for all to see —
the might of the sun shines brightly over the good rich earth
and no trace of clouds is any longer to be seen:
in such fashion comes the punishment of Zeus. Nor does he indulge his wrath
at each transgression, as would a mortal man,
and yet never does it escape his eye forever just who possesses
a criminal spirit: such a one stands revealed altogether in the end.
But while some pay the penalty immediately, others do so later. And others still
themselves escape, nor does the allotted wrath of the gods come upon them,
yet it comes with dread certainty in later times: the innocent pay for their deeds,
either their children or the family line thereafter.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Indeed, there is danger involved in every undertaking, nor does one know,
at the time some project is being undertaken, how things will turn out for him.
Instead, one who attempts to act nobly and well with no warning
falls into great atê, grievous to bear,
yet to another who acts out of wickedness god gives good fortune
in all things, a lucky escape from his thoughtless folly.
Of ploutos no bound lies clearly marked for men:
those of us who now possess the richest livings
seek to double their goods. Who might satisfy them all?
The immortals have granted mortals means of profit,
but atê arises therefrom. The latter, when Zeus sends it as an agent
of punishment, besets now one man, now another.
[Course Notes: Solon and Zeus]
[Course Notes: Inherited Guilt]

Fragment 17 (West)

The mind of the gods is inscrutable to men in every way.
[Course Notes]

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Copyright John Porter, University of Saskatchewan, 1995.
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