A Smaller History of Greece
From The Earliest Times To The Roman Conquest
By William Smith D.C.L., LL.D.
THE THIRTY TYRANTS, AND THE DEATH OF SOCRATES, B.C. 404-399.
The fall of Athens brought back a host of exiles, all of them the enemies of her democratical constitution. Of these these most distinguished was Critias, a man of wealth and family, the uncle of Plato, and once the intimate friend of Socrates, distinguished both for his literary and political talents, but of unmeasured ambition and unscrupulous conscience. Critias and his companions soon found a party with which they could co-operate; and supported by Lysander they proposed in the assembly that a committee of thirty should be named to draw up laws for the future government of the city, and to undertake its temporary administration. Among the most prominent of the thirty names were those of Critias and Theramenes.
The proposal was of course carried. Lysander himself addressed the Assembly, and contemptuously told them that they had better take thought for their personal safety, which now lay at his mercy, than for their political constitution. The committee thus appointed soon obtained the title of the Thirty Tyrants, the name by which they have become known in all subsequent time. After naming an entirely new Senate, and appointing fresh magistrates, they proceeded to exterminate their most obnoxious opponents. But Critias, and the more violent party among them, still called for more blood; and with the view of obtaining it, procured a Spartan garrison, under the harmost Callibius, to be installed in the Acropolis. Besides this force, they had an organized band of assassins at their disposal. Blood now flowed on all sides. Many of the leading men of Athens fell, others took to flight.
Thus the reign of terror was completely established. In the bosom of the Thirty, however, there was a party, headed by Theramenes, who disapproved of these proceedings. But his moderation cost him his life. One day as he entered the Senate- house, Critias rose and denounced him as a public enemy, and ordered him to be carried off to instant death. Upon hearing these words Theramenes sprang for refuge to the altar in the Senate-house; but he was dragged away by Satyrus, the cruel and unscrupulous head of the "Eleven," a body of officers who carried into execution the penal sentence of the law. Being conveyed to prison, he was compelled to drink the fatal hemlock. The constancy of his end might have adorned a better life after swallowing the draught, he jerked on the floor a drop which remained in the cup, according to the custom of the game called COTTABOS, exclaiming, "This to the health of the GENTLE Critias!"
Alcibiades had been included by the Thirty in the list of exiles; but the fate which now overtook him seems to have sprung from the fears of the Lacedaemonians, or perhaps from the personal hatred of Agis. After the battle of AEgospotami, Pharnabazus permitted the Athenian exile to live in Phrygia, and assigned him a revenue for his maintenance. But a despatch came out from Sparta, to Lysander, directing that Alcibiades should be put to death. Lysander communicated the order to Pharnabazus, who arranged for carrying it into execution. The house of Alcibiades was surrounded with a band of assassins, and set on fire. He rushed out with drawn sword upon his assailants, who shrank from the attack, but who slew him from a distance with their javelins and arrows. Timandra, a female with whom he lived, performed towards his body the last offices of duty and affection. Thus perished miserably, in the vigour of his age, one of the most remarkable, but not one of the greatest, characters in Grecian history. With qualities which, properly applied, might have rendered him the greatest benefactor of Athens, he contrived to attain the infamous distinction of being that citizen who had inflicted upon her the most signal amount of damage.
Meantime an altered state of feeling was springing up in Greece. Athens had ceased to be an object of fear or jealousy, and those feelings began now to be directed towards Sparta. Lysander had risen to a height of unparalleled power. He was in a manner idolized. Poets showered their praises on him, and even altars were raised in his honour by the Asiatic Greeks. In the name of Sparta he exercised almost uncontrolled authority in the cities he had reduced, including Athens itself. But it was soon discovered that, instead of the freedom promised by the Spartans, only another empire had been established, whilst Lysander was even meditating to extort from the subject cities a yearly tribute of one thousand talents. And all these oppressions were rendered still more intolerable by the overweening pride and harshness of Lysander's demeanour.
Even in Sparta itself the conduct of Lysander was beginning to inspire disgust and jealousy. Pausanias, son of Plistoanax, who was now king with Agis, as well as the new Ephors appointed in September, B.C. 404, disapproved of his proceedings. The Thebans and Corinthians themselves were beginning to sympathise with Athens, and to regard the Thirty as mere instruments for supporting the Spartan dominion; whilst Sparta in her turn looked upon them as the tools of Lysander's ambition. Many of the Athenian exiles had found refuge in Boeotia: and one of them Thrasybulus, with the aid of Ismenias and other Theban citizens, starting from Thebes at the head of a small band of exiles, seized the fortress of Phyle in the passes of Mount Parnes and on the direct road to Athens. The Thirty marched out to attack Thrasybulus, at the head of the Lacedaemonian garrison and a strong Athenian force. But their attack was repulsed with considerable loss.
Shortly afterwards Thrasybulus marched from Phyle to Piraeus which was now an open town, and seized upon it without opposition. When the whole force of the Thirty, including the Lacedaemonians, marched on the following day to attack him, he retired to the hill of Munychia, the citadel of Piraeus, the only approach to which was by a steep ascent. Here he drew up his hoplites in files of ten deep, posting behind them his slingers and dartmen. He exhorted his men to stand patiently till the enemy came within reach of the missiles. At the first discharge the assailing column seemed to waver; and Thrasybulus, taking advantage of their confusion, charged down the hill, and completely routed them, killing seventy, among whom was Critias himself. The loss of their leader had thrown the majority into the hands of the party formerly led by Theramenes, who resolved to depose the Thirty and constitute a new oligarchy of Ten. Some of the Thirty were re-elected into this body; but the more violent colleagues of Critias were deposed and retired for safety to Eleusis. The new government of the Ten sent to Sparta to solicit further aid; and a similar application was made at the same time from the section of the Thirty at Eleusis. Their request was complied with; and Lysander once more entered Athens at the head of a Lacedaemonian force. Fortunately, however, the jealousy of the Lacedaemonians towards Lysander led them at this critical juncture to supersede him in the command. King Pausanias was appointed to conduct an army into Attica, and when he encamped in the Academus he was joined by Lysander and his forces. It was known at Athens that the views of Pausanias were unfavourable to the proceedings of Lysander; and the presence of the Spartan king elicited a vehement reaction against the oligarchy, which fear had hitherto suppressed. All parties sent envoys to Sparta. The Ephors and the Lacedaemonian Assembly referred the question to a committee of fifteen, of whom Pausanias was one. The decision of this board was: That the exiles in Piraeus should be readmitted to Athens, and that there should be an amnesty for all that had passed, except as regarded the Thirty and the Ten.
When these terms were settled and sworn to, the Peloponnesians quitted Attica; and Thrasybulus and the exiles, marching in solemn procession from Piraeus to Athens, ascended to the Acropolis and offered up a solemn sacrifice and thanksgiving. An assembly of the people was then held, and after Thrasybulus had addressed an animated reproof to the oligarchical party, the democracy was unanimously restored. This important counter- revolution took place in the spring of 403 B.C. The archons, the senate of 500, the public assembly, and the dicasteries seem to have been reconstituted in the same form as before the capture of the city.
Thus was terminated, after a sway of eight months, the despotism of the Thirty. The year which contained their rule was not named after the archon, but was termed "the year of anarchy." The first archon drawn after their fall was Euclides, who gave his name to a year ever afterwards memorable among the Athenians.
For the next few years the only memorable event in the history of Athens is the death of Socrates. This celebrated philosopher was born in the year 468 B.C., in the immediate neighbourhood of Athens. His father, Sophroniscus, was a sculptor, and Socrates was brought up to, and for some time practised, the same profession. He was married to Xanthippe, by whom he had three sons; but her bad temper has rendered her name proverbial for a conjugal scold. His physical constitution was healthy, robust, and wonderfully enduring. Indifferent alike to heat and cold the same scanty and homely clothing sufficed him both in summer and winter; and even in the campaign of Potidaea, amidst the snows of a Thracian winter, he went barefooted. But though thus gifted with strength of body and of mind, he was far from being endowed with personal beauty. His thick lips, flat nose, and prominent eyes, gave him the appearance of a Silenus, or satyr. He served with credit as an hoplite at Potidaea (B.C. 432), Delium (B.C. 424), and Amphipolis (B.C. 422); but it was not till late in life, in the year 406 B.C., that he filled any political office. He was one of the Prytanes when, after the battle of Arginusae, Callixenus submitted his proposition respecting the six generals to the public Assembly, and his refusal on that occasion to put an unconstitutional question to the vote has been already recorded. He had a strong persuasion that he was intrusted with a divine mission, and he believed himself to be attended by a daemon, or genius, whose admonitions he frequently heard, not, however, in the way of excitement, but of restraint. He never WROTE anything, but he made oral instruction the great business of his life. Early in the morning he frequented the public walks, the gymnasia, and the schools; whence he adjourned to the market-place at its most crowded hours, and thus spent the whole day in conversing with young and old, rich and poor,--with all in short who felt any desire for his instructions.
That a reformer and destroyer, like Socrates, of ancient prejudices and fallacies which passed current under the name of wisdom should have raised up a host of enemies is only what might be expected; but in his case this feeling was increased by the manner in which he fulfilled his mission. The oracle of Delphi, in response to a question put by his friend Chaerephon, had affirmed that no man was wiser than Socrates. No one was more perplexed at this declaration than Socrates himself, since he was conscious of possessing no wisdom at all. However, he determined to test the accuracy of the priestess, for, though he had little wisdom, others might have still less. He therefore selected an eminent politician who enjoyed a high reputation for wisdom, and soon elicited by his scrutinising method of cross-examination, that this statesman's reputed wisdom was no wisdom at all. But of this he could not convince the subject of his examination; whence Socrates concluded that he was wiser than this politician, inasmuch as he was conscious of his own ignorance, and therefore exempt from the error of believing himself wise when in reality he was not so. The same experiment was tried with the same result on various classes of men; on poets, mechanics, and especially on the rhetors and sophists, the chief of all the pretenders to wisdom.
The first indication of the unpopularity which he had incurred is the attack made upon him by Aristophanes in the 'Clouds' in the year 423 B.C. That attack, however, seems to have evaporated with the laugh, and for many years Socrates continued his teaching without molestation. It was not till B.C. 399 that the indictment was preferred against him which cost him his life. In that year, Meletus, a leather-seller, seconded by Anytus, a poet, and Lycon, a rhetor, accused him of impiety in not worshipping the gods of the city, and in introducing new deities, and also of being a corrupter of youth. With respect to the latter charge, his former intimacy with Alcibiades and Critias may have, weighed against him. Socrates made no preparations for his defence, and seems, indeed, not to have desired an acquittal. But although he addressed the dicasts in a bold uncompromising tone, he was condemned only by a small majority of five or six in a court composed of between five and six hundred dicasts. After the verdict was pronounced, he was entitled, according to the practice of the Athenian courts, to make some counter-proposition in place of the penalty of death, which the accusers had demanded, and if he had done so with any show of submission it is probable that the sentence would have been mitigated. But his tone after the verdict was higher than before. Instead of a fine, he asserted that he ought to be maintained in the Prytaneum at the public expense, as a public benefactor. This seems to have enraged the dicasts and he was condemned to death.
It happened that the vessel which proceeded to Delos on the annual deputation to the festival had sailed the day before his condemnation; and during its absence it was unlawful to put any one to death. Socrates was thus kept in prison during thirty days, till the return of the vessel. He spent the interval in philosophical conversations with his friends. Crito, one of these, arranged a scheme for his escape by bribing the gaoler; but Socrates, as might be expected from the tone of his defence, resolutely refused to save his life by a breach of the law. His last discourse, on the day of his death, turned on the immortality of the soul. With a firm and cheerful countenance he drank the cup of hemlock amidst his sorrowing and weeping friends. His last words were addressed to Crito:--"Crito, we owe a cock to AEsculapius; discharge the debt, and by no means omit it."
Thus perished the greatest and most original of the Grecian philosophers, whose uninspired wisdom made the nearest approach to the divine morality of the Gospel. His teaching forms an epoch in the history of philosophy. From his school sprang Plato, the founder of the Academic philosophy; Euclides, the founder of the Megaric school; Aristippus, the founder of the Cyrenaic school; and many other philosophers of eminence.