SOLON 638 BC – 558 BC
SOOO AWESOME! This Herodotus reading is getting really FUN! Here's why:
For the last several years I have been teaching people about the true definition of happiness as defined by the ancient philosophers, the American Founders and modern proponents of the liberal arts like Mortimer Adler. I've had my students read Adler's article "Education and the Pursuit of Happiness" so that they could begin to see the real meaning of happiness especially as stated in the Declaration of Independence.
Well, today Solon came into the story. I've studied him and his life so this really piqued my interest. It was after he had put the new laws in place in Athens and then left to travel the world. During his travels, he came to visit Croesus, the king of Lydia that I've been reading about. Croesus shows his hospitality to Solon and then he has his servants show him around the treasury to impress Solon with his riches. This is where it really gets good.
Once Solon has seen how wealthy Croesus is, Croesus calls Solon in and asks him, "...whom, of all the men that thou hast seen, thou deemest the most happy." Herodotus then explains that, "This he asked because he thought himself the happiest of mortals: but Solon answered him without flattery, according to his true sentiments. 'Tellus of Athens, sire,'" was Solon's reply.
Solon then proceeds to tell Croesus why Tellus was the happiest of all men. He explains that Tellus raised a good family of "sons both beautiful and good, and he lived to see children born to each of them." He also had financial means to make him comfortable and then he died a glorious death in battle, "he came to the assistance of his countrymen, routed the foe, and died upon the field most gallantly." This was a happy life!
Croesus then asks him who the second most happy person would be. Solon then tells the story of two brothers Cloebis and Bito whose "fortune was enough for their wants, and they were besides endowed with so much bodily strength that they had both gained prizes at the Games." Then Solon explains that there was to be a great festival and Cloebis and Bito's mother needed to be taken there in a car (a vehicle drawn by oxen). But the oxen didn't come in from the fields in time so these two sons put the yoke on their own necks and carried their mother on their own backs for the long trip to the temple. When they arrived everyone extolled them for what they had done and their mother prayed that God would give them the reward they deserved. That evening, after the festivities, they fell asleep in the temple and died (a glorious death to die at the height of their virtue, in the temple). They were considered the best of men and statues were erected to them.
Solon goes on to explain to the king the elements necessary to true happiness that the lives of these three happy people had exemplified.
- They each had money to meet their needs and be comfortable. Croesus had been angry that Solon didn't consider that his wealth should make him the happiest man on earth but Solon replies, "...assuredly he who possesses great store of riches is no nearer happiness than he who has what suffices for his daily needs." According to the true definition of happiness, money and material things have nothing to do with a happy life. Having more money and more things won't bring happiness.
- Each of these individuals put family first in their lives. Goodness was as important as beauty, or more so and they made sacrifices to have a successful family.
- All of them had virtue, meaning that they lived according to natural laws and their conscience. They each made sacrifices they didn't have to make for others and for their country.
Solon concludes, "...no single human being is complete in every respect--something is always lacking. He who unites the greatest number of advantages, and retaining them to the day of his death, then dies peaceably, that man alone, sire, is in my judgment, entitled to bear the name of happy."
SO BE HAPPY!!