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Solon of Athens

Poet, Philosopher, Soldier, Statesman

Ron Owens Owens is a Conjoint Lecturer and Honorary Associate with the School of Humanities and Social Science, at Australia's University of Newcastle. His academic interests are the beginnings of philosophy and the origins of moral concepts in early Greek thought. He holds a doctorate in Philosophy from the Australian National University and puts his academic training in moral philosophy to practical use by serving as the Deputy Chair of the Human Research Ethics Committee of the local area Health Authority.

This book addresses the historical, social and political contexts within which Solon of Athens instituted wide-ranging reforms to the Athenian constitution (594-93 BCE), the impact of those reforms on the growing political self-awareness of the archaic Athenians themselves, and the developing ethical and political philosophies that drove reform. It also provides, for the first time in 90 years, a detailed and comprehensive commentary on each of the 43 extant fragments of Solon's poetry.

In the light of modern scholarship, Ron Owens sets out the story of Solon's life, and examines the nature of the entrenched and threatening political and economic crisis which led to his appointment to high political office; he discusses the manner and consequences of his appointment; seeks to identify both the underlying causes of the crisis and the general outlines of the reform measures adopted by Solon; and explores both the philosophy and the concept of “justice” that appears to have underpinned his reform agenda.

The work fills a significant gap in archaic Greek scholarship, both nationally and in the wider academic world, in terms of historical analysis, political development and the beginnings of philosophy in the Greek archaic period generally, and at Athens in particular. Solon was an historical figure of great significance, quoted by some 115 classical and post-classical authors, yet in terms of recent scholarship no one since Woodhouse (1938) has written exclusively on him and not since Linforth (1919) has there been a commentary on each individual fragment of Solon's poetry.

While recent scholarship has emphasised particular aspects of Solon's works, or particular developments at Athens in which Solon is said to have played a part, this book sets out in full his political and social achievements in the context of the philosophical underpinnings that appear to have privileged the socio-political changes initiated by Solon.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-403-1
Hardback Price: £79.95 / $99.95
Release Date: June 2010
Page Extent / Format: 400 pp. / 246 x 171 mm
Illustrated: Yes


List of Illustrations

PART ONE: Solon and History

Chapter One – Introduction
Greek Terms
Texts and Translations

Chapter Two – Politics, Money and Justice
The ‘Political’
The ‘Economic’

Chapter Three – Political History
The Dark Ages and before
The Unification of Attika
Origins of ‘Political Power’

Chapter Four – The Crisis
The Family
The Land
Collapsing Power Structures

Chapter Five – Early Life, Appointment and Commission
Solon’s Family
The Appointment of Solon
Solon’s Commission

Chapter Six – Poetry, Morality and Philosophy
Solon’s Philosophy

Chapter Seven – Solon’s Reforms
The ‘Mean’
Solon’s Reforms
Political and Economic Reform
Economic Reform
Political Reforms
A Moral Grounding
Justice and the Law Code
Economic Reforms and Justice
Political Reforms and Justice
Justice and Reform
Did Solon fail?
The Axones

PART TWO: The Fragments and Commentary
The Fragments of Solon’s Poetry
Section 1: Elegies – Fragments 1-30
Section 2: Dactylic Hexameters – Fragment 31
Section 3: Trochaic Tetrameters – Fragments 32-34
Section 4: Iambic Trimeters – Fragments 36-40
Section 5: Various – Fragments 41 and 43
Additional Fragments
A Vocabulary
Fragment Concordances
Concordance 1 – West
Concordance 2 – Deihls
Concordance 3 – Linforth

Appendix A – Ancient References
Appendix B – Classical Authors Cited
Appendix C – Glossary of Greek Terms

Bibliography of Classical and Post-Classical Authors
Bibliography of Modern Authors

Greek Index
Name and Place Index
General Index

The figure of Solon is central to all accounts of the very birth of western democracy. He was also an accomplished thinker and poet, important to any account of the birth of Greek intellectual life and culture. His life was complex, and his name legendary within a very short time.
... Politically, Solon was a figure to whose authority every Athenian democrat wanted to be able to appeal. The technique of making spurious reference to Solon’s democratic thought became a part of the new political armory in late fifth century Athens, and is mocked by Aristophanes in the Clouds, when reintroducing Pheidippides after his sophistic studies. He is selected, alongside Lycurgus, at the high-point of Plato’s Symposium as somebody who engendered laws far finer than any human progeny could. While there was considerable debate about how natural or artificial law of any kind might be, lawgiving was in any case highly thought of, often as a supremely rational or god-given activity.
... As a poet his early impact is attested again by Plato, when his character ‘Critias’ introduces the Atlantis story. Critias’ grandfather had supposedly said that ‘because they were new at that time many of us boys (scere at the feast of the Apaturia) recited the poems of Solon’ (21b). Chronology remains hazy, as the identity of Plato’s ‘Critias’ and the dramatic date of the dialogue itself remain hazy, but one message is still clear: the admiration for, and classic status of, Solon’s poetry came early. As a result of this classic status, at least at Athens, he would become a central part of Athenian consciousness and cultural identity.
A poet’s status in ancient Greece was generally bound up with the perception that they had something valuable to say, either for the individual or for the community at large. Solon therefore played a part in moral and intellectual life for several generations. The artificial divisions that have separated him off from the Presocratic Philosophers have more to do with Aristotle than with any lack of perceived connection between moral principles and universal forces, either on Solon’s part or on the part of the canonical Presocratics. Political and cosmic forces were repeatedly joined together in the same discourse, and in classical Athens neither were seen as beyond the reach of the common man. Hence, in spite of the much-discussed ‘ancient quarrel between philosophy and poetry’ Solon’s poetry had a special part to play in the development of philosophy at Athens.
... Dr. Ron Owens has, for many years, persisted with the study of all aspects of this remarkable man, and his dedication has been rewarded by numerous and important insights that help one to read the poems through the history and the man through the poems. I am delighted, therefore, that this useful volume presents to us a biography in several chapters, an edition of the poems in Greek and English, and a wealth of additional material, including vocabulary, concordance, glossary of Greek terms, bibliography, and index. This makes it an exceptionally well-equipped piece of work, and shows the seriousness with which the task has been taken. I see a wide range of uses for this volume, and it deserves a correspondingly wide readership.
From the Foreword by Prof. Harold Tarrant, School of Humanities and Social Science, University of Newcastle, Australia

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