August 1, 2011

Setting the Record Queer: Solon of Athens and the Patriarch of Democracy

Some wicked men are rich, some good are poor;
We will not change our virtue for their store:
Virtue's a thing that none can take away,
But money changes owners all the day.

-Solon, translated by John Dryden

The passage of time has a way of of obscuring the truths of the past. Solon lived in Archiac Athens, hundreds of years before scholars would even develop a formalized way of investigating that thing we call history. What we know about Solon is this, that he created legal reform that would later allow for the formation of democracy. At time when Athens faced economic and political problems, he broadened the requirements for public offices in order to allow more people to serve, took measures to increase the competitiveness of Athenian commerce, and prohibited free Athenians from being enslaved, while freeing those that had previously been. In a clever political move, once those reforms were enacted, Solon then went on vacation for 10 years, in order to prevent them from being overturned.

Solon is considered to be one of the Seven Sages of Greece, a group renownd for it's wisdom and made up of Cleobulus of Lindos, Chilon of Sparta, Bias of Priene, Thales of Miletus, Pittacus of Mytilene, and Periander of Corinth.

As for Solon's sexuality, according to Keith Stern in Queers in History Solon was "credited with being the founder of the pederastic educational tradition in Athens. He composed poetry praising the love of boys and instituted legislation to control abuses against free-born boys. His own eromenos (lover boy) was the future tyrant Peisistratus."

The butterfly effect, in technical lingo is the "sensitive dependence on initial conditions" or to put it in laymen's terms, a butterfly flapping it's wings can create a chain reaction that causes a massive hurricane in another part of the world. From a historical perspective, it is difficult to imagine a person quite like Solon (638 BC – 558 BC), who through only a few small changes, such as creating legislation that reformed early Athenian politics, was able to pave the way for democracy in ancient Greece, which has served as a model for other democratic countries ever since.

Sources and Further Reading

Solon by Plutarch at The Internet Classics Archieve
Solon at in2greece
Solon, Wikipedia Entry
Queers in History by Keith Stern, 2009

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