ElAnt v6n1 - Solon's Forgotten Genealogy

Volume 6, Number 1
July 2001

Solon's Forgotten Genealogy

Michael Bakaoukas
University of Piraeus, Greece

It is not widely known that according to Diodorus Siculus (1st century BC), as well as Diogenes Laërtius (3rd century AD), Solon was Salaminian: tes patridos autou (sc. Solonos) [Salaminos] (Diogenes Laërtius, 46). The philological research (given the lack of archaeological findings) has not thoroughly examined this issue, and as a result there is no exact appreciation of the extent to which Solon's Salaminian descent has a historical basis. Indicative of this situation is the fact that from 1924 to at least 2001 L' Année Philologique gives no specific study on Solon's potential Salaminian descent.1 Since Solon is not present to defend his descent, it is only fair that we should not consider his Athenian origin as a fact and let the earliest and most reliable sources provide evidence of his Athenian or Salaminian descent.

The earliest of the testimonia that support Solon's Athenian descent is that of Herodotus (5th century BC), who seems to consider Solon an Athenian, because he legislated for the Athenians (I 29) and was a fellow-citizen of Tellus the Athenian in the 6th century BC (I 30). Herodotus' source was Hecataeus of Miletus (6th century BC), who wrote a non-extant book about the earliest history of Greece. This book (called Genealogiae or Historiai) was a mythical heroic genealogy, where Hecataeus treated the myths of Hercules, Deucalion, and their offspring, as well as the heroic divine clans.2 It is possible that, in a mythical heroic genealogy like that of Hecataeus, only the mythical heroic descent of Solon - and not his real birthplace - would be stated. In other words, according to the mythical heroic genealogy, Solon simply belongs to the heroic Athenian clan of the Codrides. So, it is possible that Herodotus contented himself with the mythical genealogical information provided by Hecataeus, according to which Solon was an Athenian. In this case, Herodotus refers to the mythical, not the historical descent of Solon. This is underpinned by the fact that Herodotus collected in general oral Athenian traditions, which are far from being the most reliable and safe information source. Therefore, we must be cautious about Herodotus' testimony, all the more because several specific studies have shown that the Herodotian Solon does not correspond to the real Solon. That is, we should not take it for granted that Herodotus checked his sources concerning Solon. On the contrary, as Truesdell and Myles put it, he had not visited Athens when he wrote about Solon. The entire story of Solon was worked up by Herodotus, perhaps as lecture material, and this was certainly done long before he first visited Athens. Also, Herodotus is not always accurate, since the Solon and Croesus meeting is impossible on chronological grounds: Solon cannot be put later than 570 BC or Croesus earlier than 560. Thus Herodotus contents himself with the oral, mythical, heroic tradition and does not offer more illuminating information on Solon's historical descent.3

Plutarch, the par excellence biographer of Solon who often provides such details, does not categorically call Solon Athenian. Genealogising Solon at the beginning of his biography (Solon, I 7), he mentions that his father was Execestides and that he belonged to the lineage of the last king of Athens, Codrus. In other words, Plutarch, just like Herodotus, depends on oral Athenian tradition. He implicitly - and not explicitly - calls Solon Athenian, because he was a fellow citizen of Tellus and belonged to the Athenian clan of the Codrides (I 7, 27-28).4 In any case, it must be noted that an ancient Greek belonging to the clan of the Codrides could very well have been born in Salamis, which, after all, is located close to Athens. There is a historical precedent. The tragic dramatist Euripides was born in Salamis, although his parents belonged - as is known - to the ancient Athenian municipality of Flia (modern-day Chalandri) and he was an Athenian citizen himself, just like Solon. As to Euripides' Salaminian descent, scholars agree that Euripides was born in Salamis. This conclusion is largely based on the following: a) according to an ancient biography, Euripides' parents lived in Salamis where Euripides had his sanctuary (found in 1998) and b) his works are full of references to Salamis. This is the case for Solon as well, for his parents lived in Salamis, and Solon wrote a poem about the island: kai ta peri Salaminos epe pentakischilia (Diogenes Laërtius 61).5

The Hellenistic commentators of Plato's Republic and Timaeus (559 e, 20 d - fr.5)6 consider Solon an Athenian. But Plato himself never does explicitly call Solon Athenian. Of course, in Protagoras (343a) he calls him Solon ho hemeteros (our own Solon), but this designation refers to the mythical heroic Athenian tradition, according to which Solon belonged to the Codrides. Also, this may be a familial reference, since Plato's mother Perictione also came from the Codrides through Solon's brother, Dropides.

The rest of the testimonia referring to Solon as an Athenian are clearly much later and thus most probably get their information from the earlier testimonia which preserve solely the Athenian tradition (see Solonian fr. 8; Judean historian Josephus, 1st century AD / fr. 12; bishop of Antiocheia Theophilos, 2nd century AD; the Souda, 10th century AD). Three inscriptions that present him as an Athenian (fr. 52, 53, 55) cannot be considered a completely reliable source, since they are not included either in the inscriptions of the Athenian Agora or the inscriptions of the archaic and classical period.7

The above mentioned testimonia and sources can lead us to the logical conclusion that Solon's genealogy, even though Athenian by tradition, cannot exclude, once and for all, the possibility of Solon having been born in Salamis. Actually, this possibility is further reinforced by the fact that there are ancient testimonia certifying such descent.

Diodorus Siculus says: en de kai Solon patros men Exekestidou, to genos ek Salaminos tes Attikes (IX, 1, 1- fr.6). Even though he mentions that Solon is a Salaminian, Diodorus also calls him Athenian (egeneto en Athenais IX 17, Solona ton Athenaion I 36, 1). However, is it logically possible that Solon was to genos ek Salaminos (of Salaminian descent) and at the same time an Athenian? Indeed, this could have been possible, if Solon had been born in Salamis, and had lived and been active in Athens, just like Euripides. Under this logic, Solon is, as Diogenes Laërtius calls him (Solon, 47), Attikos, that is, an Athenian citizen speaking the Attic dialect but coming from (or living in) the countryside, unlike the Athenians. Consequently, Diodorus is right in calling him Athenian and Salaminian, for these two terms are not contradictory.

As to the reliability of Diodorus' testimony, he retrieves his information from early authentic sources, such as Hellanicus of Lesbos (5th century BC), the cornerstone of the historiographic tradition of the Greeks. Hellanicus wrote a non-extant chronicle of Attica's history, in which facts are related in a rational and chronological order based on the annual archons from 683-2 BC on [up to 404 BC]. This book, called Attike Xyggraphe, recorded the Athenian tradition for the first time ever. Given that Solon lived from 640 to circa 560 BC and was chief archon in 594 BC, it is certain that Hellanicus would have mentioned the life and the work of Solon as a milestone in Attic history. Hence, Hellanicus serves as a reliable information source to Diodorus (as regards Solon).8

Even though in antiquity it was not common to name one's sources, it is certain that amongst Diodorus' reliable sources is annalist (graosyllektria) Timaeus of Tauromenium, who also originated from Sicily. Not only was Timaeus largely used by later historians, particularly by Diodorus, his history was also recognised as a source of information by such Alexandrian scholars and poets as Apollonius, Lycophron, Callimachus and Eratosthenes.9 Thus, the sources of Diodorus' Historical Library are so early and genuine that can attest to the authenticity and the reliability of the ancient tradition preserved by Diodorus, according to which Solon is Salaminian.10

Nonetheless, besides Diodorus Siculus, the tradition that wants Solon to be Salaminian is also corroborated by Diogenes Laërtius: "on (Solon's) statue were inscribed the following: tonde teknoi Salamis thesmotheten hieron, "Salamis that halted the Medes' attack also gave birth to Solon, the divine legislator" (Diogenes Laërtius 62). Diogenes (45) considers Solon an Athenian and the son of Execestides (a common name both in ancient Athens and in ancient Salamis, as proven by extant Salaminian inscriptions).11 The question is whether this ancient tradition has a logical historical basis. It is most probable that it does have a historical basis, for only if Salamis had been his homeland would Solon have risked his life for it. Indeed, according to Diogenes Laërtius, that is exactly what he did, when a Salaminian messenger encouraged the Athenians to fight for his homeland: tes patridos autou [Salaminos] amphisbetoumenes hypo te Athenaion kai Megareon (Diogenes Laërtius, 46). As is known, the Athenians had been so devastated by the war that they had voted a law under which anyone who would talk of war against the Megarians would be sentenced to death.12 However, Solon, feigning madness, dared to encourage them to wage war against the Megarians one more time with the following elegiac lines: "If only I could exchange my fatherland for Folegandros or Sicinos, so as not to be accused as an abandoner of Salamis" (Diogenes Laërtius, 47). These elegiac lines are revealing of Solon's native land. Solon says that, as the Athenians will become Salaminaphetai, i.e. they will relinquish Salamis, he would rather have been born in Folegandros or Sicinos. The choice of islands as hypothetical birthplaces is not accidental. It means that Solon, as an Athenian citizen (Attikos, Diogenes Laërtius, 47), does not come from the islands of Folegandros or Sicinos, but from another island, namely Salamis. Otherwise, he would not have chosen an island as a hypothetical homeland. The meaning of his words is that he did not want to be called a traitor of his native land, Salamis (Salaminaphetes, Diogenes Laërtius, 47). For patriotic reasons, therefore, he risks his own life.

In addition, there are other indirect testimonia that point towards Solon's Salaminian descent by connecting him with the island. First, there is Diogenes Laërtius' testimony that Solon died in Cyprus and then, following his wishes, his family transferred his bones to Salamis; there they were incinerated and his ashes were dispersed across Ajax's island:

Eteleutese d' en Kypro bious ete ogdoekonta, touton episkepsas tois idiois ton tropon, apokomisai autou ta osta eis Salamina kai tephrosantas eis ten choran speirai [62] Oste' exei Salamis, hon konis astachyes

(Diogenes Laërtius, 62, 63)

The fact that Solon had told his family that he wished to be buried in Salamis bears out his Salaminian origin. As attested by Euripides (Helen: 123 ff.), the aforementioned burial custom was a regular practice in ancient Greece.13 The dispersal of Solon's ashes in Salamis, according to Plutarch, is mentioned by other remarkable men: anagegraptai d' hypo t' allon andron axiologon (XXXII 16-20). The most important of them is the Athenian comedian Cratinus (5th century BC). In his non-extant comedy Cheirones, he has Solon say the following: oiko de neson, hos men anthropon logos, esparmenos kata pasan Aiantos chora, "I live in this island, scattered, according to tradition, across Ajax's country" (Diogenes Laërtius A 62).14 Cratinus' testimony is one of the most reliable, for it is one of the earliest. Cratinus was a carrier of Athenian tradition, therefore his testimony, which directly links Solon to Salamis, cannot easily be called into question. All the more so because we know that Cratinus had specifically dealt with Solon: kai Kratinos … komikos eireke pou pros tou Solonos … (Plutarch, V 6-8).

The above mentioned testimonia and sources can lead us to the logical conclusion that Solon's genealogy is Athenian and Salaminian by tradition. That is, as shown, there is not any strong evidence that the Salaminian tradition should not be accepted. As Popper put it: "gross departures from the historical tradition must only be accepted when the evidence for them is extremely strong. This, in fact, is a universal principle of historiography. Without it history would be impossible".15


1 The only paper dealing with the issue is Bakaoukas, "Understanding Ancient Greek Biographies", POMOERIUM Studia et commentarii ad orbem classicum spectantia, Bochum (http://www.pomoerium.com), VOLS. 4-5 (to be printed in English in 2002).
2 Modern historians argue that we should adopt a highly critical stance concerning ancient narrative histories like Hecataeus' history, whose literary sources are labeled historiai. Is this history? Do they represent "what really happened" in ancient Greece? It is argued that modern history and ancient narrative or biographical histories cannot be compared. Thus, there are immense difficulties in ever presenting a narrative biographical history as the "reality" of an ancient society. According to Finley, what affected the ancient Greek historians like Hecataeus, Herodotus, Diodorus Siculus were 'authority' and 'tradition', i.e. all those traditions, precepts, exempla and modes of operation handed down from his predecessors. For a discussion of this topic see John Bagnell Bury, The Ancient Greek Historians, Harvard Lectures, 1908, translated into Greek by Phan. Boros, Papademas, Athens, 1984, 27-28, 58; Moses Finley, The Use and Abuse of History, collection of essays, Penguin, 1975, 76; Carol G. Thomas, "Myth Becomes History: Pre-Classical Greece," Publications of the Association of Ancient Historians 4 (1993), 1-82; Terry Buckley, Aspects of Greek History, 750-323 B.C.: A Source-Based Approach, London and New York: Routledge, 1996, especially the two introductory chapters; John Marincola, Authority and Tradition in Ancient Historiography, Cambridge: University Press, 1997.
3 For Herodotus see F. Jacoby, "Herodotus", RE Supplbd. II, 7, 225-229; J. L. Myres, Herodotus, Father of History, Oxford, 1953, 11; Bury 1984, 58; C.C. Chiasson, "The Herodotean Solon", GRBS 27 (1986), 249-262; Truesdell S. Brown, "Herodotus I", AncW 17 (1988), 12; Truesdell S. Brown, "Solon and Croesus (Hdt. 1.29)", AHB 3.1 (1989), 1-2, notes 4, 6, 7; Reinhold Bichler, Robert Rollinger, Herodot. Studienbücher Antike, Band 3. Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 2000, especially the final section. Herodotus' text is that of W. W. How and J. Wells, A Commentary on Herodotus, I-II, Oxford, 1964.
4 For Plutarch on Solon and for a discussion of Plutarch's histories and biographies see F. E. Adcock, "The Source of Plutarch: Solon XX-XXIV" CR 28 (1914), 38-40; Alan E. Samuel, "Plutarch's Account of Solon's Reforms" GRBS 4 (1963), 231-36; C. P. Jones, "The Teacher of Plutarch," Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 71 (1966), 203-213; R. H. Barrow, Plutarch and His Times, Indiana University Press, 1967; R. M. Aguilar, "Las Citas de Solon en Plutarco," Fortunatae 2 (1991), 11-21; B. Scardigli, Essays on Plutarch's Lives, Clarendon Press Oxford, 1995; J. Dillon, "Plutarch and the end of history," in J. Mossman (ed.), Plutarch and his Intellectual World, London, Duckworth, 1997, 235-240. Plutarch' s text is that of K. Ziegler (ed), Plutarchus Vitae Parallelae, Tuebner, Leipzig, 1970.
5 For Euripides' ancient biography and descent see Ed. Schwartz, Scholia in Euripidem, Berlin, 1891, 1,1; J. Kirchner, Prosopographia Attica, Berlin, 1901-3, 1. 386, n. 5953; P.T. Stevens, "Euripides and the Athenians", JHS 76 (1956), 88; W. N. Bates, Euripides: A Student of Human Nature, New York, 1961 (2nd ed), 13-14 - D.W. Lucas, The Oxford Classical Dictionary, 2nd ed., 1970, 418 - Pierre Sauzeau, "La Grece entiere est le tombeau d' Euripide: Vie, mort et immortalite des poetes tragiques: quelques reflexions sur l' imaginaire biographique et sur la caverned d' Euripide", La tradition Creatrice du Theatre Antique, I. En Grece Ancienne, Cahiers du GITA, No. 11, Univesite Paul valery, Montpellier, 1998, 59-101; Giannos Lolos, "Euripides' Sanctuary at Salamis. The Excavation 1994-2000", Archaeological-Philological Journal Eptakyklos, Athens (http://www.eptakyklos.gr), 15 (2000), 9-65.
6 The Solonian fragments are those of Antonius Martin, SOLON. Testimonia Veterum, Roma, 1968.
7 See W. Dittenberger, Sylloge Inscriptiorum Graecorum, vol. tertium, Germany, 1960; D.W. Bradeen, The Athenian Agora. Vol. XVI. Inscriptions. The Funerary Monuments. Results of Excavation conducted by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, New Jersey, 1974; B.D. Meritt, J.S. Trail, The Athenian Agora, Vol. XV. Inscriptions. The Athenian Councillors. Results of Excavation conducted by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, New Jersey, 1974.
8 For Hellanicus see F. Jacoby, Atthis, the Local Chronicles of Ancient Athens, Oxford, 1949, 68-69, 152-3, 216 on; F. Jacoby, Die Fragmente der griechischen Historiker, C, Leiden, Brill, 1958 (FgrHist) - P. J. Rhodes, 'The Atthidographers', in H. Verdin, G. Schepens, E. de Keyer (edd.), Purposes of History, Louvain, 1981, 73-81, 111-23; Bury, 1984, 28-29, 36, 161, note 32; Christopher Joyce, "Was Hellanicus the First Chronicler of Athens?", Histos 3 (1999). Hellanicus was an 'Atthidographer'. An 'Atthidographer', as opposed to an antiquarian, recorded history with a vested scientific and political interest. The seven as it were 'canonical' Atthidographers, in turn, are: Hellanikos (FGrHist 323a), Kleidemos (FGrHist323), Androtion (FGrHist 324), Phanodemos (FGrHist 325), Melanthios (FGrHist 326), Demon (FGrHist 327), and Philochoros (FGrHist 328). Cf. C.S. Kraus (ed.), The Limits of Historiography: Genre and Narrative in Ancient Historical Texts, Leiden 1999.
9 See H.R. Bloch, "Studies in the Historical Literature of the Fourth Century BC", Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, supp. vol. 1 (1940), 303-376; T.S. Brown, Timaeus of Tauromenium, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1958; Bury 1984, 47, 142, 155.
10 For Diodorus Siculus' reliability see A. Andrewes, "Diodorus and Ephorus. One Source of Misunderstanding," in J.W. Eadie and J. Ober (ed.) The Craft of the Ancient Historian: Essays in Honor of Chester G. Starr, Lanham, 1985, 189; Kenneth S.Sacks, Diodorus Siculus and the First Century, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990. According to Sacks, far from being the uncritical compiler of common scholarly esteem, Diodorus was a writer of considerable originality.
11 The inscription EXECESTIDES is recorded at D.W. Bradeen, The Athenian Agora. Vol. XVI. Inscriptions. The Funerary Monuments. Results of Excavation conducted by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, New Jersey, 1974. I wish to thank the Salaminian archaeologist Panagiotis Parthenis (former mayor of Salamis) who suggested to me the Salaminian inscription HELIS EXECESTIDOY which is recorded at the catalogue of the archaeological museum of Salamis (stored and not yet exhibited). Cf. Antonios Chatzis, "An Inscription from Salamis. The ancient names of Salamis", The Archaeological Journal of the Athenian Archaeological Society, 1930-31, 59-73 (in Greek) - I. Dekoulakou, "A Metrological Relief in Salamis", AJA 94, 1990, 447ff.
12 See Albin Lesky, Geschichte der griechischen Literatur [Bern, 1958], translated into Greek by G. Tsopanaki, Thessaloniki, 1990, 193.
13 J. W. Longhorne, Plutarch's Lifes, translation with critical and historical notes, London, 1825, 72; J. Boardman,; C.D. Kurtz, Greek Burial Customs, London, 1971, 257-258.
14 Augustus Meineke, Fragmenta Comicorum Graecorum, II, Berolini, 1847, fr. 5, 149.
15 Karl R. Popper, "Back to the Pre-Socratics", in A. Petersen (ed), The World of Parmenides, Routledge, London-New York, 1998, 20.
by Kaavya Giridhar