Solon on the importance of state justice and lawfulness

Translated by Steven Willett


Ignoto _c.d._solone _replica_del_90_dc_ca_da_orig._greco_del_110_ac._ca _6143


Demosthenes 19.254~56

Solon Fragment 4

Note: Solon c. 630~c. 560BC was an Athenian statesman, lawmaker and poet. He is often credited with having laid the foundations of Athenian democracy.


Our city will never perish under the dispensation of Zeus

   and the heart of the blessed immortal gods;

for such a great-hearted guardian born of a mighty father,

   Pallas Athena, extends her hands over it;

But it’s by thoughtless acts to destroy a great city

   that citizens desire subservience to money,

and the mind of the people’s leaders is unjust, they’re sure

   to suffer much pain from their great insolence;

for they don’t know how to check excess or prepare

   in peace the jollity of a coming banquet


   they grow wealthy trusting in unjust deeds


   neither sacred nor public properties

sparing, they steal rapaciously from here and there,

   and don’t defend the sacred foundations of Justice,

who is silent as she witnesses the past and present,

   but in her time always comes to pay retribution.

This inevitable wound is now coming to the whole city

    as it has swiftly approached evil slavery,

which arouses civil discord and drowsing war,

   war that destroys the lovely youth of many;

for from its enemies the much-loved city is swiftly

    corroded in conspiracies dear to the unjust.

These are evils that distort the people; and of the poor

    many are going to a foreign land

having been sold and bound in shameful fetters


thus public evil comes homewards to each man

   and street gates no longer want to hold it,

but having leapt over a high barrier surely finds him,

   even if fleeing to the innermost nook of a room.

This is what my heart urges me to teach Athenians,

   that Lawlessness brings the city to greatest evils,

but Lawfulness displays all things orderly and perfect,

   and often runs shackles around the unjust;

she smooths the rough, stops surfeit, obscures insolence,

   parches blossoming flowers of ruin,

straightens twisted judgements, mollifies deeds

   of arrogance, stops acts of sedition,

stops the wrath of painful strife, and under her

   all things among men are perfect and wise.

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15 Responses to Solon on the importance of state justice and lawfulness

  1. richard barber says:

    We are currently too close to Athenian democracy, which I am not sure that any serious student of it would endorse. It’s a great subject for stupid-ass sloganeering and mischaracterization, but it makes our current shit show look positively well thought out and wise.

  2. Barbara Ann says:

    A 2,600 year old description of the swamp, a very timely post.

    they steal rapaciously from here and there,
    and don’t defend the sacred foundations of Justice,
    who is silent as she witnesses the past and present,
    but in her time always comes to pay retribution.

    Yes, the silence of Justice should not infer that her retribution is not coming, it surely is.

  3. nick webley says:

    In 1979 I often went to a grocery shop in Swansea Wales that was run by Manuel and his Swansea wife. It was the only place to buy Italian pasta and Indian spices. Manuel told stories of his time fighting on the Republican side of the Spanish Civil War.
    In our conversations, he heaped praise upon Solon and even sold an olive oil branded Solon.
    Reading your excerpt I now appreciate why Manuel liked Solon. The truthful messages are timeless and appropriate for any era.
    Keep safe

  4. lux says:

    Our city will never perish under the dispensation of Zeus
    Forgive my laziness. Dispensation was what word exactly in the orginal text?

  5. lux says:

    Posted by: richard barber | 30 December 2020 at 10:05 AM
    I haven’t quite digested it yet, but it sounds as if Gordon Hahn is quite close to a lot of people around here at points, including Deap and to some extend Eric too, with the exception of Eric’s more specific ACA experience from inside the insurance industry, maybe?
    WORKING PAPER: The Authoritarianization (Putinization?) of America

  6. Fred says:

    are you trying to misatribute your comments to richard barber as none of what you have included is what he posted, unless you and he are the same. As for Gordon Hahn he’s a political science phd who’s an adjunct professor at some college in CA. Never heard of him before now.

  7. blue peacock says:

    IMO, the most influential Americans have abandoned “Americanism” i.e. the founding principles – the natural rights of citizens and distrust of the power of the state and large centralized organizations like political parties & corporations. We can’t generalize to all Americans as Gordon Hahn does.
    We can understand why the powerful have abandoned Americanism. They benefit from consolidation and concentration of economic & political power. Why the bottom 90% have ignored or even acquiesced is a good question and there is much to debate?

  8. Ishmael Zechariah says:

    Fellow Pilgrims,
    Reminds me of how Tacitus described the Romans through his Agricola:
    “Robbers of the world, having by their universal plunder exhausted the land, they ransack the sea. If the enemy be rich, they are rapacious; if he be poor, they lust for dominion; neither the east nor the west has been able to satisfy them. They are unique in being as violently tempted to attack the poor as the wealthy. To robbery, slaughter, rapine, they give the lying name of empire; they make a desolation and call it peace.”
    ( )
    Seems to be an excellent description of the neocons and their lackeys. No wonder they would like to ban classical authors.
    Happy New Year. May righteousness prevail…
    Ishmael Zechariah

  9. O.B. says:

    Dear all,
    This is where Stephen Zarlenga misses but Michael Hudson steps in (I do have other reference, but not written in english):
    It was Cleisthenes that later expanded the limited reforms of Solon. All this was done to ensure that the city-state of Athens could function, i.e. to serve the interests of a significant percentage of its people; how much, that would be an both exciting and hard quantitative task. But they did restored the Jubilee year financial pardon of Ancient Eastern civilizations.

  10. O.B. says:

    Dear all,
    Sorry, my bad – they DID NOT restaured it.

  11. Deap says:

    ….”they lust for dominion“…. You mean they had crooked voting systems back then too?

  12. vig says:

    are you trying to misatribute your comments to richard barber as none of what you have included is what he posted, …
    Posted by: Fred | 30 December 2020 at 04:06 PM

    fair question. She may have alluded to richard barber’s comment more indirectly, maybe?

  13. Fred says:

    A fair question is why you and she didn’t bother with quotation marks but cut and past comments, which you put into italics, instead.

  14. richard barber says:

    OK, to be clear and continue with the Athens metaphor: Trump came in to town with a tall, attractive woman dressed as Athena. Enough people bought that shit to give him power and now, when confronted with evidence that the accompanying woman is just a woman and not The Goddess, those same supporters go through incredible mental gymnastics, contradict themselves unselfconsciously, and fall all over themselves to defend the fraud.
    Don’t get me wrong; there are plenty of people who think that Biden is the savior…and he’s quite unlikely to prove to be that.
    Hillary Clinton was the only person in the world shitty enough to lose to La Trompe. La Trompe is the only person shitty enough to lose to Biden.

  15. Deap says:

    lux, thanks for the link to that very powerful read – yes, very lengthy and dense and deserves to be printed out for slow and careful digestion.
    Highly recommended for all to undertake as well. (See above WORKING PAPR: The Authoritarianization of (Putinizaton) America.)
    Leaving with only the last two paragraphs which appropriately send out the article’s final warnings to us all – the bulk of the article underscores how we got there – inch, by inch, as indeed I have watched from both the inside, as a 20 year elected official (’93-’12), and the outside in California over much of the same time, accelerated in the past ten of one-party super-majority ststus:
    ………..”Finally, the American crisis has global implications. By tainting the democratic image of America as the ‘shining city on the hill’ or as a model for others to follow without coercion or even excessive proselytizing, the potential for spontaneous global democratization is being profoundly eroded.
    The decline of democracy in America deprives the world of the passive model for democracy-promotion that the founding fathers saw in the new system to which their revolution gave birth and the phrase ‘shining city on a hill’ invoked.
    The American experiment’s waning may be the last blow to the overly exceptionalist model that drives today’s excessively ambitious, activist, messianic democracy-promotion missions and color revolutions abroad. This comes at a time when a truly disinterested shining city on the hill is desparately needed in order to combat the threats to human liberty posed by artificial intelligence and human-technological singularity.
    In years to come, eyes across the world may strain to see and may not find that shining city built by men named Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Mason.
    They may ask: How did it wither at the very height of its triumph? Centuries from now historians may answer: by elite hubris, imperial overstretch, delusions of grandeur but perhaps most of all by its abandonment of the American ideal.
    They will note that at the Cold War’s end the United States of America had the opportunity to win the world for democracy by setting an ever improving example of republicanism and in their victory demonstrating magnanimity and generosity. Instead, America lost herself.”

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