three pairs of lovers with space

PLUTARCH’S LIFE OF SOLON

 

Solon (ca. 639-559 BC) was an Athenian renowned in the classical age for his wisdom. As archon in 594-3, he instituted broad and enduring reforms in Athenian law.

The Greek biographer and essayist Plutarch wrote a biography of him at the beginning of the second century AD, as one of his Parallel Lives. Here follows the only passage in it relating to pederasty.

The translation is by Bernadotte Perrin in the Loeb Classical Library volume XLVI (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1914), with two amendments explained in a footnote. Latinised names have been replaced by romanisations of the Greek.

 

I ii-iv

Solon's mother, according to Herakleides Pontikos, was a cousin of the mother of Peisistratos.[1] And they[2] were at first great friends, much because of their kinship, and much[3] because of the youthful beauty of Peisistratos, with whom, as some say, Solon was passionately in love. And this may be the reason why, in later years, when they were at variance about matters of state, their enmity did not bring with it any harsh or savage feelings, but their former amenities lingered in their spirits, and preserved there,  
    smouldering with a lingering flame of Zeus-sent fire,[4]
the grateful memory of their love.

And that Solon was not proof against beauty in a youth, and made not so bold with Love as ‘to confront him like a boxer, hand to hand,’ may be inferred from his poems. He also wrote a law forbidding a slave to practise gymnastics or have a boy lover, thus putting the matter in the category of honorable and dignified practices, and in a way inciting the worthy to that which he forbade the unworthy.

And it is said that Peisistratos also had a boy lover, Charmos,[5] and that he dedicated the statue of Love in the Academy, where the runners in the sacred torch race light their torches.

"Solon, the wise lawgiver of Athens" from The Story of Greece by Mary Macgregor
Solon (bust in the Farnese collection of the National Archaeological Museum, Naples)

[2] τὴν δὲ μητέρα τοῦ Σόλωνος Ἡρακλείδης ὁ Ποντικὸς ἱστορεῖ τῆς Πεισιστράτου μητρὸς ἀνεψιὰν γενέσθαι. καὶ φιλία τὸ πρῶτον ἦν αὐτοῖς πολλὴ μὲν διὰ τὴν συγγένειαν, πολλὴ δὲ διὰ τὴν εὐφυΐαν καὶ ὥραν, ὡς ἔνιοί φασιν, ἐρωτικῶς τὸν Πεισίστρατον ἀσπαζομένου τοῦ Σόλωνος. ὅθεν ὕστερον, ὡς ἔοικεν, εἰς διαφορὰν αὐτῶν ἐν τῇ πολιτείᾳ καταστάντων οὐδὲν ἤνεγκεν ἡ ἔχθρα σκληρὸν οὐδ᾿ ἄγριον πάθος, ἀλλὰ παρέμεινεν ἐκεῖνα τὰ δίκαια ταῖς ψυχαῖς, καὶ παρεφύλαξε,
     Τυφόμενα Δίου πυρὸς ἔτι ζῶσαν φλόγα,
τὴν ἐρωτικὴν μνήμην καὶ χάριν.

[3] ὅτι δὲ πρὸς τοὺς καλοὺς οὐκ ἦν ἐχυρὸς ὁ Σόλων οὐδ᾿ Ἔρωτι θαρραλέος “ἀνταναστῆναι πύκτης ὅπως ἐς χεῖρας,”[6] ἔκ τε τῶν ποιημάτων αὐτοῦ λαβεῖν ἔστι, και νόμον ἔγραψε διαγορεύοντα δοῦλον μὴ ξηραλοιφεῖν μηδὲ παιδεραστεῖν, εἰς τὴν τῶν καλῶν μερίδα καὶ σεμνῶν ἐπιτηδευμάτων τιθέμενος τὸ πρᾶγμα, καὶ τρόπον τινὰ τοὺς ἀξίους προκαλούμενος ὧν τοὺς ἀναξίους ἀπήλαυνε.

[4] λέγεται δὲ καὶ Πεισίστρατος ἐραστὴς Χάρμου γενέσθαι, καὶ τὸ ἄγαλμα τοῦ Ἔρωτος ἐν Ἀκαδημείᾳ καθιερῶσαι, ὅπου τὸ πῦρ ἀνάπτουσιν οἱ τὴν ἱερὰν λαμπάδα διαθέοντες.

 

[1] Peisistratos was an aristocrat who seized power in Athens as tyrant in 561 BC with support from the poor, and held it with two interruptions until his death in 528/7 BC.  Despite unsuccessfully opposing his former loved boy’s tyranny, Solon also acted as his counsellor.

[2] Perrin has “two men” instead of “they”, but there are no such two words in the Greek.

[3] Perrin twice in this sentence translates “πολλὴ” as “largely”, but “much” makes better sense.

[4] [Footnote by the translator:] Euripides, Bakchai, 8.

[5] As an interesting indication of how the bonds forged through Greek love were sometimes perpetuated, it is noteworthy that Charmos in turn became the lover of Peisistratos’s son and eventual successor, Hippias, who went on to marry his old lover’s daughter (Athenaios, The Learned Banqueters, 609d). Charmos may well also have married the daughter of his lover Peisistratos, since his son Hipparchos was described as a kinsman of Peisistratos (Aristotle, Athenian Constitution XXII).

[6] [Footnote by the translator:] Ἔρωτι μέν νυν ὅστις ἀντανίσταται πύκτης ὅπως ἐς χεῖρας, οὐ καλῶς φρονεῖ. (Sophokles, Trachiniai, 441 f.)