I, Nikomedes, son of Eutychides, was once but a simple priest of Asclepius. I tried to be enthusiastic about helping others in such a mundane way, but I always felt that I was mean for something greater in life. During the war against Sparta, I saw my share of wounded men pass away or hobble away, crippled for life. The sight of each one of those wounded men cut at me like the weapons that had slashed at them. I realized that there was no glory in battle! Only pain, hatred, regret, and other such evils can be spawned from the wicked path of destruction that is known as war. At this point, I knew that it was my job to ensure that such atrocities were never committed again, at least not during my life time.
I was inspired to wander and discover the best path for Athens. In order to take on this endeavor, I have vowed to share my finding with all of Athens and to make it last for generations to come. With a thirst for knowledge and my newfound disgust for violence, I set out to observe many different styles of government, and to find the failings and strengths of each one.
As I traveled, I realized that the heart of Athens yearns for democracy, but that I could not let our polis become an ochlocracy. The power of government cannot be trusted in the hands of those who are incompetent and lead Athens astray. Once I decided that a semi-democratic system would be best for Athens, I returned home so that I could convince others of this plan. I began attending the Ekklesia whenever I could so that I could gain supporter and get to know the opponents of my plan better.
Over the past few months, I have taken it upon myself to record the events that have transpired in the Ekklesia of our beloved city Athens so that even the most minute detail will be remembered for all time. As my history unfolds, I will make a point to identify those who worked to save our city, and those who attempted to drag it further into degradation.
The deeds of the Thirty Tyrants, inflicted upon us by Sparta in order to maintain a firm grip on Athens, can only be classified at outright atrocities. I begin my account as the evil regime of the Thirty comes to a close, though the horrors, as well as the pain that they have caused Athens, will no doubt take years-if not decades- to heal. Unsurprisingly, one of the first ordeals of the newly restored Ekklesia was to debate the fate of these terrible men. It was at this point that Thrasybulus, son of Lycus, began to pour his venom into the ears of the men of Athens.
At this point, I will pause to give a brief statement on the character of Thrasybulus. During this whole ordeal, Thrasybulus was the natural enemy to all my endeavors. With every breath he drew, he tried to poison the masses with the sweet lure of isonomia. All the while, he viciously attacked the ideas of others, marginalizing those who do not support him. It is fortunate that many of my compatriots were able to see through his lies and maintain a rational mind. But that is a story which I will tell later.
The first proposal of the new Ekklesia was as follows:
If anyone should call to mind or make public mention of the the past wrongs of the Thirty, or bring a charge against any of their alleged supporters for actions during their rule, let anyone who wishes, of those Athenians who are entitled, submit a graphe [charge, indictment] to the themothetai. Whoever finds guilty, let it immediately assess whatever fine seems right for him to suffer or pay.”–Diodoros, son of Aristonicus, of the Deme Sounion.
Thrasybulus quickly ran to speak on this matter, “It is important that we distinguish between democracy and its extreme opposite, tyranny. Indeed, why should we give amnesty to these tyrants in the first place, when they showed little mercy to us? Should we create a blanket of trust for civil stability? Is letting these crimes go unpunished worth it?”
I admit, after this speech, I saw truth in Thrasybulus’ words. But his words reveal one truth that he never learned: the opposite of radical democracy is not always tyranny. Several more citizens came to speak again, and then Sophodoros, son of Phaidros, came up to the podium.
Once more, I must pause to address the character of Sophodoros. Sophodoros is a man of enormous valor and of high ambition. He is a self-proclaimed follower of the man Socrates, whom I recently had the great pleasure to hear speak. I- and indeed, the entirety of Athens- owe Sophodoros a great boon for being the voice of my ideas. But again, I am getting ahead of myself.
Sophodoros spoke thusly, “We cannot forgive the Thirty- we know who they are. But the 3,000 were never identified; it was a number to keep us guessing. We need to be more forward, to band together in out anger. Ambition is not necessarily our enemy. We still need to embrace it, perhaps through trade, and not war. We still, however, need to ensure that the Thirty are punished.”
As brashly as always, Thrasybulus replied, “If this proposition is passed, no harm will come to anyone. The Thirty are still alive! We cannot always be peaceful. We need to guarantee that the Thirty will not harm us again. When it is proved that the Thirty will not be dangerous, I will back this proposal.”
After much more debate, it looked like the men of the Ekklesia intended to vote the proposal down. Nicolaus, son of Themistocles, took charge, declaring, “We have already have spent so much time discussing this matter. Why should we vote it down? We should instead pass it, and then move on to restoring Athens to the powerful polis it once was.”
Despite Nicolaus’ words, the resolution failed. Near the end of the session, one more resolution was proposed, which was passed:
All members of the 30 will be subject to all applicable laws of Athens. All citizens will swear an oath on the glory of Athena, and all the gods, to Athens, to the polis, and to the sovereignty of the Ekklesia
–Praxitleles, son of Demetrios.
The next meeting of the Ekklesia was focused on getting Athens’ government back on its feet. Unsurprisingly, Thrasybulus insisted, “All power should go to the Ekklesia. The Boule, an elitist remnant of our old system, is like a plague. The members of the Boule are traitors to the sacred isonomia of Athens, as are the oligarchs. We must insure that the power of our government does not end up in the hands of one. The system of oligarchy may be stable, but it is treasonous to Athens, and will lay the foundations for a coup. In order to avoid the corrupting allure of power, we must sortition, not elect our officials.”
At this point, rally, I approached the podium myself. In spite of my dislike of public speaking, I knew that my words and ideas would stir the hearts of Athens, and so I proclaimed, “I, Nikomedes son of Eutychides, come before you today because I have witnessed that Athens is in dire need of a change. Although I am but a humble priest of Asclepius, and not a philosopher, or a (something else), I believe that I have found the solution to Athens’ chaos. My plan may seem a bit outlandish at first, but please hear me out.
I have observed that Athens, at its heart, needs a democracy. But, after having tended to the wounds of many during the war with Sparta, I could not bear to see more people dying. I believe that we need to make sure that people in certain possessions are qualified to hold these positions. This is why I propose that we create an aptitude test, which must be taken by men who wish to hold certain positions of power in the Athenian government, namely the Boule and the archonships. I understand that this proposal seems elitist at first glance; it is not meant to be.
This is why I also propose that Athens should establish an institution of learning for all young men of Athens. In order to be in the keeping with a democracy, this institution, if created, will be free to all Athenian boys, so that they might be educated properly and learn from the mistakes of our past. Perhaps you are now asking yourself ‘How will we fund such an institution, now that we have lost our empire?’ Perhaps, while we rebuild, we can set aside some tax money in order to found this school. When all the minds of the Athenian citizens have been united by educated, we will be able to pull Athens out of the darkness. When all men can properly use their rational mind to run our democracy, only then can we can we be assured of Athens’ bright future.”
Sophodoros rallied to my cause, announcing, “We need not go to extremes. As long as checks and balances are in place, no one can seize power. What Athens truly needs is a system of philosopher-kings and the Ekklesia should guide these men. We need to take the middle road between oligarchy and democracy, so that, unlike Icarus, we do not fall into the sea by flying too low, or become burned by the sun by flying too high.”
Insistent as always, Thrasybulus rebutted, “The middle route is the passive route. Tyranny and citizens do not mix, since they are mutually exclusive. In a tyranny, people only benefit when the tyrant says so. Your ‘philosopher-kings’ might as well be the Thirty. We cannot create a hierarchy that excludes the people. This is the wrong route!”
Sophodoros spoke again, “When does acting rashly suit anyone? Inordinate action is not the best way-we need to unify! To address your points, the philosopher-kings will NOT be tyrants, because the Ekklesia must have the power to deny him!”
At this point, Thrasybulus, through Diogenes, son of Phaedrus, attempted to muscle through a proposition:
The Boule of 500 ought to be chosen every year by sortition from all citizens. Powers included are:
1. Primary goal: setting agenda for the Ekklesia 2. 50 (who rotate in and out of the Boule) will always reside at Athens, fed by Athens, etc. 3. All actions taken by 50 will have to be retroactively approved by Ekklesia.
Thankfully, the proposal failed. Praxiteles then proposed:
There will be two bodies: the Ekklesia (all male adult citizens), and the Boule which will arise from the Ekklesia and will set the agenda for the Ekklesia. The Boule will be composed of some part chosen by sortition and some part chosen by election
This resolution passed, but was struck down at the beginning of the next meeting of the Ekklesia. Praxiteles then put forth a resolution:
The Boule is composed of 500, selected by sortition, 50 from each tribe. A group of 50 [the Prytaneis] from within the Boule will be present in Athens at all times, which will rotate every 1/10th of a year to lead in times of crisis. Sovereignty lies in the Ekklesia.
This proposal passed. A few fellows, whom I now call my friends, including Xanthippos, son of Polycarpus; my kinsman, Alexandros, son of Diokles; Andokides, son of Nicias; Nicolaus, son of Themistocles; and Aristomachos, son of Photios attempted to pass a counter-resolution, stating:
Several members of the Assembly propose the creation of a governing council of 10 within the Boule to respond to unexpected, sudden events in Athens.
Unfortunately, this resolution failed, which concluded the Ekklesia session for that day. The next session, Nicolaus, the great man that he is, set forth the proposal:
Boule will consist of 250 men elected by the Ekklesia after having passed an aptitude test. Each member will serve for one 10-year term. 25 members elected each year so that the elections will be staggered. All offices will be elected.
Enraged, Thrasybulus stormed the podium, declaring, “Tyrants! We were defeated in the Peloponnesian War because individuals in the government acted against the will of the democracy! The form of government you are proposing does not work! In an oligarchy, the number of people in power will only grow smaller. Our progress will be set back years if this resolution is passed.” A vote was then taken, and, since Thrasybulus had spread his poison, the proposal failed.
Next, Sophodoros, the wisest of us all, proposed that Athens should build an Academy. I take great joy in the fact that this idea was originally proposed by me, but even as the Ekklesia members laughed at me and scoffed, Sophodoros saw through my poor oration and became the champion of my plan. Sophodoros proclaimed, “It’s time for the wealthy to give back and found this institution! I have found a few men, including myself, who are willing to pay out of our pockets for a school that will be open to all citizen of our great polis!” Sophodoros then submitted the resolution:
The establishment of the Athenian Academy, a tuition-free institution open to all Athenian men, will be founded to instruct the future generations of Athens in the arts of justice, war, wisdom, and rhetoric.
Thrasybulus, enemy to all who would wish to learn, spat, “This proposal is elitist! I would not
want to place education into the hands of the Socratics, traitors that they are. If passed, this resolution would restrict and smother democracy.” Again, the venomous words of Thrasybulus took hold in the hearts of the men of the Ekklesia. The resolution failed with a margin of 3,200 to 3,600 against. I felt betrayed by my fellow Athenians, that they could not see the Academy for what it would be: a gift to enlighten our sons so that true democracy can again be trusted in the hands of the many.
Next, a proposal was put forth stating:
The community of metics will help fund the boule. They will provide 30,000 drachmas per year to fund an increase in pay for Bouletai. 30 seats will be reserved for metics in the Boule. These seats are subject to the same rules and regulations as the rest. These seats will not be discriminated against and their voices will be considered in the same way as any other Athenian citizen.
Immediately after, the resolution was put to a vote, and then failed. Agathon, son of Tisamenos, another man whom I consider my friend and a supporter of my values, proposed:
The members of the Boule will be no less than 30 years of age.”–Agathon, son of Tisamenos
Thrasybulus cried, “This is just another aptitude test. It’s trying to narrow democracy into
oligarchy!” Thrasybulus was obviously not clever enough to remember that the age of thirty had been the lower limit of members of the Boule in the past. In addition, Thrasybulus was also not clear-sighted enough to see that Athens need those who are experienced running the government. In spite of Thrasybulus’ disapproval, the resolution passed. Sophodoros, who had sensibly reworded his resolution, proposed:
The Athenian Academy, a tuition-free school, to instruct the future generations of Athens in the necessary arts of justice, war, and wisdom and rhetoric is established. The school will be funded by rich Athenians (Sophodoros included), and will be taught during the part of the year, which is not detrimental to one’s family occupation, thus in shifts throughout the year.
The proposition was quickly put to a vote, and it passed. Imagine how jubilant I was to have my idea passed! Since I have no children of my own, I consider the plan to found the Academy of Athens my child. I am ecstatic that my creation will live on to help shape Athens for many years. When next the Ekklesia held a session, Thrasybulus was quick to jump up to the podium.
With a vicious gleam in his eyes, he stated, “This is how education is run in Sparta. By age seven, boys are placed into a public education system. The goal of this education is obedience through psychological discipline. The Socratics, who are akin to the Spartan educators, will push through their agenda to corrupt the minds of our children if we do not stop them now! Vote to rescind this educational system!” I could not believe how low that Thrasybulus had stooped, accusing his fellow Athenians of treason and dragging their names through the mud.
To this attack, Sophodoros calmly replied, “Am I a Spartan? I was born and raised in Athens. I am not trying to make secondary citizens. I am trying to raise us above and beyond Sparta. I am not trying to make subservient minions. The Ekklesia will set every standard for this school! Indoctrination is not going to happen! Each one of use is different and has his own perspectives. We will not make our population homogonous. But democracy does not mean we must hold to the lot in life that we are given. This school aims to create a more efficient Athens. Is that so wrong? ”
At this point, was wont to jump to my feet an applaud Sophodoros, but I knew that the battle to convince the people to keep the Academy had not yet been won. Thrasybulus, fuming, mumbled that this resolution still seemed Spartan. I am convinced that Thrasybulus was just bitter that the Ekklesia did not have quorum, so he could not force us to vote down the Academy.
The Ekklesia moved on to more pressing matters, albeit they were no more important than the Academy. Both Agathons briefly spoke about an economic plan, but the day ended before anything could be formally proposed.
At the next meeting of the Ekklesia, we were asked to think on the question “What is an Athenian?” Thrasybulus eagerly spouted, “We must define what it means to be an Athenian citizen. We cannot survive without the help of the metics. We wouldn’t not have Athens as it is today without them. Someone who shows loyalty and fights for their polis should be entitled to citizenship. Metics should be citizens.” While there is no denying the metics’ service to Athens, I became worried that the inclusion of these metics would put a strain on the Academy, since they would become entitled to attend the school.
Sophodoros echoed my complaints, saying, “We’ve managed cooperation with them until now. Why change the system when it is working now? ”
A vague proposal was set forth, stating: We propose to include the metics in the electoriate.
The resolution was swiftly shot down. Another resolution, stating:
Metics who have lived in Athens their entire life will be granted citizenship and be taxed and represented as all other citizens
was then hastily passed, but not before Thrasybulus, full of his usual venom, declared, “All those who would vote against this resolution are Socratics, who aspire to divide us into oligarchy.” Yet again, Thrasybulus misunderstood the aim of the Socratics. The Socratics seek the betterment of self and the society through justice, not through division. In any case, the resolution passed. At the very ending of that particular session of the Ekklesia, we voted to hold an ostracism at the next meeting. I left the meeting a very happy man, hoping that the ostracism would spell the end of Thrasybulus’ lies and slanders.
The next session opened with the intention to vote on a play. We were treated to a few lines from each of the proposed plays. Agathon, son of Tisamenos, and a known playwright, shamed Thrasybulus by discretely calling him an oligarch, the term which Thrasybulus so hates. I almost fell out of my seat, laughing, as Thrasybulus stormed off the stage! The next , written by an aspiring playwright, was about two gods who had forsaken Athens. The votes were cast and the second play had won. I was a bit saddened that Agathon’s play will not be preformed, although I will enjoy watching the other play nonetheless.
Suddenly, a messenger appeared! The people of Piraeus, driven mad by their state of hunger, were threatening to revolt! Thrasybulus urged us to “send troops to quell the riots and hand out grain”.
All the while, Thrasybulus aimed to bleed money from the Academy for this cause. Sophodoros pointed out what Thrasybulus’ statement truly was: a veiled threat.
Nicolaus, in all his wisdom, beseeched the Ekklesia to let him go to Ionia to by grain from his friends across the sea. We permitted him to do so, and he immediately set off.
Next, Thrasybulus attempted to get rid of his enemies by proposing the resolution:
Sophodoros, Diodotus, Agathon (son of Tisamenos), Menexus, and Andokides shall have their property and assets seized in order to restore Athens to prosperity. In this manner, we will also be taking money from the supporters of the Thirty.
This proposal failed quite spectacularly. In retrospect, I must laugh, because this proposal cost Thrasybulus all his supporters. Next, we came to the ordeal of the ostracism. Several men spoke for and against the ostracism of Thrasybulus, who was the most likely candidate to be ostracized. To my surprise, there were enough pieces of pottery incriminating Thrasybulus to ostracize him.
During the last session of the Ekklesia that I will detail, we held a trial against Socrates. Without Thrasybulus to spread his lies, the Socratics were allowed to speak in defense of their teacher. Sophodoros, in particular, proclaimed, “Socrates is trying to return us to faith in the gods and humility. We have lost Athens’ foundation. Socrates teaches us to be good, not rich. He was following his piety, not showing his impiety”.
Thracymachus, the spearhead of the radical democrats after Thrasybulus’ ostracism, told us that “Socrates will bring down Athens lower than its current state” and he urged the Ekklesia, “to nip this problem in the bud”. A bit more debate occurred, and then the matter was put to a vote. Socrates was declared guilty. In a strange turn of events, an equal number of people voted to put Socrates to death as did to spare him, so Socrates’ punishment is to be fed like an Olympic victor for the rest of his life! I am glad that such an amazing mind was not silenced before the gods allowed him eternal sleep.
As this matter was being decided, I heard a bustle outside. As soon as we had finished counting the votes, Nicolaus burst into the Ekklesia, infuriated, declared, “I return from Ionia to find that instead of fixing the city’s foundation and mending economic fences you all are prosecuting my friend, Socrates! Once again you all ignore the bigger problems of Athens! I will stand for it no longer. I am the one feeding the people of Pireaus, warding off another revolt. I have several thousand Persian soldiers at my call. I control our port and I have an army. From now on you all will be answering to me.
You point your finger at Socrates and claim he is corrupting our youth when in fact he is strengthening them. You say he is casting doubts on what justice is and making our children amoral, but this is not his goal. He does not allow his students to be content with accepting everything they hear as simple truth. He expands their minds; he makes them think for themselves. This is an asset for Athens. You want your children to do what you did, you want to keep Athens in stasis. Athens must change and grow if she is to survive. Is there any other city that is so against change? Oh yes, Sparta. Spartan children are taught to be good soldiers and follow orders. Is this how you want your children raised, because I did not sign up for that.
Well now I have something to say. I am going to stop waiting for democracy to prove itself; I am going to stop waiting for others to decide the fate of this city. I stand before you a changed man. A more determined man. I went to Ionia to get grain and a got so much more. I realized that if Athens is ever going to be a great city again it needs a leader, a leader willing to do whatever needs to be done needs to take over. I am more than willing to take that role.”
Later on, my good friend Sophodoros gave a grand speech on the current affairs. It was a quite lengthy speech, and regrettably I do not remember it all, but I will attempt to paraphrase it- “Even though we extolled the virtues of democracy, I believe that tyranny is not evil or completely negative if only existing as a state of transition to another government. Also, I believe that my fellow outraged Athenians should consider the failings of democracy that allowed the tyranny to be achieved. And so, if both these forms of governments are not satisfactory, I will endeavor to set before you today a new type of government that we can all, tyrant and Athenian, work towards and capitalize on our current predicament. Tyranny is not necessarily bad and democracy is not necessarily good.
Why do I say this? Am I just a toady trying to suck up to our newly self-appointed leader? No. Although the government has changed, what I say now was as true as when we had a democracy, oligarchy, and tyrannies. However, in a democracy, selfishness the primary good; one does not say that the democracy is the best form of government for any reason besides wanting to be able to guide the government towards one’s own interest. I firmly believe that if we allowed justice and virtue to lead us in daily life as well as politics, there would be no problem in being led by a small group, and that oligarchy under these conditions would not prove offensive.
But coming back to the circumstances at hand, I must return to the matters of tyranny. Because I am sure that there are those of you still opposed to my ambivalence to both democracy and tyranny, I think it prudent to recall that the tyranny of Peisistratus actually benefited the city of Athens; he dictated the specialization of Athenian farmers’ crops that maximized our profit and promoted Athenian pottery making, which undoubtedly brought us much renown and glory.
However, let it also be remembered that tyranny is not a sustainable type of government in the long run due to a couple of key weaknesses and negative practices. The most pressing is that of the character of the tyrant; if the tyrant is unjust and self-serving, then we Athenians are presented with danger to our persons, liberty, and possessions, but since I believe Nicolaus to be an Athenian of good character, albeit one frustrated with our inability to solve necessary problems, I do not believe he will commit such trespasses against us, so I will move on. The second weakness of tyranny is the keeping of power by the establishing tyrant, but in this case, Nicolaus seems to have that issue firmly in hand.
And so Nicolaus and fellow Athenians, I would encourage that we think of the current tyranny as merely a transition period to another form of government and thus plan accordingly. If we are wise, then we will use this transition government to build the philosopher-ruled government, of which vision I have received from the great philosopher Socrates.
I am still committed to the Athenian Academy, and while I welcome the goodwill of our new tyrant Nicolaus, I am here to remind the people that this school is not just an institution of a tyranny, but was established under a democracy, and that its purpose is independent of whoever rules Athens at any given time because its vocation is larger than the current figures of power; the Athenian Academy stands for the education of our youth, so that they may all become great citizens, more intelligent and proficient in the key areas of virtue, justice, and wisdom, which can and will only improve us. I expect it to aid in the bringing about of the better, more virtuous government born of philosophy of which I advocate here today.”
It heartened me greatly to hear that Sophodoros was still planning on running the Academy! I have believed from the beginning that if Athens is to pull itself from its current state, the masses need to be educated in order that they do not become a brainless mob. Perhaps if everyone had the level of educated that I was fortunate enough to have received, they would now see that this tyranny will not be anywhere near as bad as they suppose it will be.
Nicolaus has finally managed something that we have been trying to accomplish without success for a very long time- he has unified Athens at last! We should no longer need to spitefully call each other “oligarchs” or “radical democrats”. We are all the same under Nicolaus’ reign. It was because of these divisions that we were beaten by the Spartans. Now that we are whole again, Athens will be able to regain the power it once held. The riots are settling down and Ionia is once again allied with us. Once again, we have food to put on our tables and money in our pockets. I hear that we even have a fleet again!
Since Nicolaus established his rule, we have begun taking our first steps as a strong, whole polis. For the first time in history, Athens is allied with Persia. There is no doubt that Athens and it new group of allies could beat Sparta if it came to that, but we must first focus on restoring Athens, rather than exacting revenge. Athens power needs to be based on reasoning, first and foremost. We have lost so many good men in the last war.
There should be no more need or cause for more bloodshed between Athenians and the Spartans. I admit, I say this due to my own distaste for war and bloodlust, but I must stress that now is the time for Athens needs to build, rather than to destroy. New alliances must be made! New ships must be built! The Long Walls need to be refortified! And the minds of Athens must be fortified by the strong foundation of learning and thought! Only when Athens, as a whole, can stop and think before acting will we prosper beyond doubt.
I will wrap up my work by admitting that although the recent turn of events in Athens was rather unexpected, and many of those who had so loudly cried for democracy are unhappy, I am pleased that Nicolaus has gained control. Although I feel that Athens will eventually need to revert to a democracy, what we need now is someone to organize and strengthen our polis. I only hope that the people of Athens can put aside their hatred of tyranny so that we can continue to make progress in reviving the city. Trying to revolt against Nicolaus would only cause more bloodshed and destruction. As long as Nicolaus remains being the upright man that he is currently, Athens will thrive under his rule.
I admit that in the beginning, I was a bit wary of the tyranny that Nicolaus established, mainly because he seized power with a gigantic army, and I feared that he would bring doom down upon our people. But Sophodoros has convinced me that Nicolaus has the potential to be a good leader, and since I had previously assessed Nicolaus to be a man of honor, and I believe that he is just might be the leader that we need to bring Athens back to its former glory. With Sophodoros continuing to back the Academy and Nicolaus organizing the state’s rebirth and rebuilding, I am confident that Athens has finally been set onto its true, proper path- one where Athens can walk in logic, and, hopefully, in peace.
May the praises of Nicolaus and Sophodoros be sung for many, many years!
-Nikomedes, son of Eutychides