(Oh yes, oh yes. Another potable portion from a chapter of A Republic of Books, the novel in progress to be found elsewhere on this site.)
And while we are at it, consider Cleisthenes, the father of Athenian democracy and thus a father to us all, dead and white though he was. His moment was in 507 BC, you understand. Just a while back. About two thousand and five hundred years ago. A mere 84 generations. I emphasize this for those maven who want to think of their world as it is today as the only way it has ever been.
It was Harmodius and Aristogeiton who made the revolution possible by killing the Peisistratid tyrant Hipparchus, though they were both then put to death for their trouble. But it was Cleisthenes who, recalled from exile and given the tyrant’s power in turn, fulfilled what promise there was in this dictatorship by first establishing a democracy in the Athenian state. Not for any ideal, you understand. For practical reasons. The ancient system they had was failing. For inspiration, he could have looked to the everyday practices of the landowning hoplite farmers who organized themselves willingly into a citizens army in time of war. But for a time he must have been something of a tyrant himself, for he set about his task by deposing those four clans who had ruled Athens by family partisanship since pre-history and established rule instead through individual citizenship in the 139 ‘demes,’ those geographic areas that were much like counties dividing ancient Attica. Instead of the age-old patronage, the new government positions under Cleisthenes were filled by a more random ‘sortition.’ The city council, the Boule, was increased in size, as were the courts of law, known as Dikasteria, and both were first required to have representation from each and every tribe. Just a matter of history, you see. Of no other importance than that it was to change everything that followed, and all the rest of history that we now know.
Cleisthenes disappears from history soon after his accomplishment, and what is know was written down by his enemies, but I have studied what little is said about the man by Aristotle, Herodotus, and Plutarch, with the thought that I might one day go to Greece and write something set in that place and time. For having altered history so dramatically, Cleisthenes deserves more attention. A novel, at least.
None of that matters to most of you, perhaps. To some it will be dismissed out of hand because the Greeks also kept slaves in thrall. To others it is unimportant because women did not share in this division of power. But as a fellow human being, I am much impressed that one individual was capable of such a change of heart. If this had not been done, and just then, the great Athenian victory at Marathon and the heroic stand of the Spartans at Thermopylae would not have occurred, or have mattered very little in the scheme of things, for the Persians would have ruled, and our Western culture would have ended there. Likely, Socrates would never have been born, much less Plato, or Aristotle. More likely than not, women would still be treated here today as they are yet in much of the Middle East, and there would be slavery in America and the West, as there still is in the Muslim world, as well as China and India, much as it was two thousand five hundred and twenty three years ago.
Where do I stand in that tradition? What part do I play?