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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsAthens: Its Rise And Fall - Vol 1 - Book 1 - Chapter 4
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Athens: Its Rise And Fall - Vol 1 - Book 1 - Chapter 4 Post by :imported_n/a Category :Nonfictions Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :1934

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Athens: Its Rise And Fall - Vol 1 - Book 1 - Chapter 4

VOL I BOOK I CHAPTER IV

The Successors of Theseus.--The Fate of Codrus.--The Emigration of Nileus.--The Archons.--Draco.


I. The reputed period of the Trojan war follows close on the age of Hercules and Theseus; and Menestheus, who succeeded the latter hero on the throne of Athens, led his countrymen to the immortal war. Plutarch and succeeding historians have not failed to notice the expression of Homer, in which he applies the word demus or "people" to the Athenians, as a proof of the popular government established in that state. But while the line has been considered an interpolation, as late at least as the time of Solon, we may observe that it was never used by Homer in the popular and political sense it afterward received. And he applies it not only to the state of Athens, but to that of Ithaca, certainly no democracy. (94)

The demagogue king appears to have been a man of much warlike renown and skill, and is mentioned as the first who marshalled an army in rank and file. Returning from Troy, he died in the Isle of Melos, and was succeeded by Demophoon, one of the sons of Theseus, who had also fought with the Grecian army in the Trojan siege. In his time a dispute between the Athenians and Argives was referred to fifty arbiters of each nation, called Ephetae, the origin of the court so styled, and afterward re-established with new powers by Draco.

To Demophoon succeeded his son Oxyntes, and to Oxyntes, Aphidas, murdered by his bastard brother Thymaetes. Thymaetes was the last of the race of Theseus who reigned in Athens. A dispute arose between the Boeotians and the Athenians respecting the confines of their several territories; it was proposed to decide the difference by a single combat between Thymaetes and the King of the Boeotians. Thymaetes declined the contest. A Messenian exile, named Melanthus, accepted it, slew his antagonist by a stratagem, and, deposing the cowardly Athenian, obtained the sovereignty of Athens. With Melanthus, who was of the race of Nestor, passed into Athens two nobles of the same house, Paeon and Alcmaeon, who were the founders of the Paeonids and Alcmaeonids, two powerful families, whose names often occur in the subsequent history of Athens, and who, if they did not create a new order of nobility, at least sought to confine to their own families the chief privileges of that which was established.

II. Melanthus was succeeded by his son Codrus, a man whose fame finds more competitors in Roman than Grecian history. During his reign the Dorians invaded Attica. They were assured of success by the Delphian oracle, on condition that they did not slay the Athenian king. Informed of the response, Codrus disguised himself as a peasant, and, repairing to the hostile force, sought a quarrel with some of the soldiers, and was slain by them not far from the banks of the Ilissus (95). The Athenians sent to demand the body of their king; and the Dorians, no longer hoping of success, since the condition of the oracle was thus violated, broke up their encampment and relinquished their design. Some of the Dorians had already by night secretly entered the city and concealed themselves within its walls; but, as the day dawned, and they found themselves abandoned by their associates and surrounded by the foe, they fled to the Areopagus and the altars of the Furies; the refuge was deemed inviolable, and the Dorians were dismissed unscathed--a proof of the awe already attached to the rites of sanctuary (96). Still, however, this invasion was attended with the success of what might have been the principal object of the invaders. Megara (97), which had hitherto been associated with Attica, was now seized by the Dorians, and became afterward a colony of Corinth. This gallant but petty state had considerable influence on some of the earlier events of Athenian history.

III. Codrus was the last of the Athenian kings. The Athenians affected the motives of reverence to his memory as an excuse for forbidding to the illustrious martyr the chance of an unworthy successor. But the aristocratic constitution had been morally strengthened by the extinction of the race of Theseus and the jealousy of a foreign line; and the abolition of the monarchy was rather caused by the ambition of the nobles than the popular veneration for the patriotism of Codrus. The name of king was changed into that of archon (magistrate or governor); the succession was still made hereditary, but the power of the ruler was placed under new limits, and he was obliged to render to the people, or rather to the eupatrids, an account of his government whenever they deemed it advisable to demand it.

IV. Medon, the son of Codrus, was the first of these perpetual archons. In that age bodily strength was still deemed an essential virtue in a chief; and Nileus, a younger brother of Medon, attempted to depose the archon on no other pretence than that of his lameness.

A large portion of the people took advantage of the quarrel between the brothers to assert that they would have no king but Jupiter. At length Medon had recourse to the oracle, which decided in his favour; and Nileus, with all the younger sons of Codrus, and accompanied by a numerous force, departed from Athens, and colonized that part of Asia Minor celebrated in history under the name of Ionia. The rise, power, and influence of these Asiatic colonies we shall find a more convenient opportunity to notice. Medon's reign, thus freed from the more stirring spirits of his time, appears to have been prosperous and popular; it was an era in the ancient world, when the lameness of a ruler was discovered to be unconnected with his intellect! Then follows a long train of archons--peaceable and obscure. During a period estimated at three hundred years, the Athenians performed little that has descended to posterity--brief notices of petty skirmishes, and trivial dissensions with their neighbours, alone diversify that great interval. Meanwhile, the Ionian colonies rise rapidly into eminence and power. At length, on the death of Alcmaeon --the thirteenth and last perpetual archon--a new and more popular change was introduced into the government. The sway of the archon was limited to ten years. This change slowly prepared the way to changes still more important. Hitherto the office had been confined to the two Neleid houses of Codrus and Alcmaeon;--in the archonship of Hippomenes it was thrown open to other distinguished families; and at length, on the death of Eryxias, the last of the race of Codrus, the failure of that ancient house in its direct line (indirectly it still continued, and the blood of Codrus flowed through the veins of Solon) probably gave excuse and occasion for abolishing the investment of the supreme power in one magistrate; nine were appointed, each with the title of archon (though the name was more emphatically given to the chief of the number), and each with separate functions. This institution continued to the last days of Athenian freedom. This change took place in the 24th Olympiad.

V. In the 39th Olympiad, Draco, being chief archon, was deputed to institute new laws in B. C. 621. He was a man concerning whom history is singularly brief; we know only that he was of a virtuous and austere renown--that he wrote a great number of verses, as little durable as his laws (98). As for the latter--when we learn that they were stern and bloody beyond precedent--we have little difficulty in believing that they were inefficient.

VI. I have hastened over this ambiguous and uninteresting period with a rapidity I trust all but antiquaries will forgive. Hitherto we have been in the land of shadow--we approach the light. The empty names of apocryphal beings which we have enumerated are for the most part as spectres, so dimly seen as to be probably delusions--invoked to please a fanciful curiosity, but without an object to satisfy the reason or excuse the apparition. If I am blamed for not imitating those who have sought, by weaving together disconnected hints and subtle conjectures, to make a history from legends, to overturn what has been popularly believed, by systems equally contradictory, though more learnedly fabricated;--if I am told that I might have made the chronicle thus briefly given extend to a greater space, and sparkle with more novel speculation, I answer that I am writing the history of men and not of names--to the people and not to scholars--and that no researches however elaborate, no conjectures however ingenious, could draw any real or solid moral from records which leave us ignorant both of the characters of men and the causes of events. What matters who was Ion, or whence the first worship of Apollo? what matter revolutions or dynasties, ten or twelve centuries before Athens emerged from a deserved obscurity?--they had no influence upon her after greatness; enigmas impossible to solve--if solved, but scholastic frivolities.

Fortunately, as we desire the history of a people, so it is when the Athenians become a people, that we pass at once from tradition into history.

I pause to take a brief survey of the condition of the rest of Greece prior to the age of Solon.

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