Front Page Titles (by Subject) The Uses of a Political Myth - Literature of Liberty, October/December 1979, vol. 2, No. 4
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The Uses of a Political Myth - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, October/December 1979, vol. 2, No. 4 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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The Uses of a Political Myth
“Comment s'élabore un myth politique: Solon, ‘père fondateur’ de la démocratie athenienne.” (“The Development of a Political Myth: Solon, Founding Father of Athenian Democracy”). Annales (May- June 1979): 425–437.
Historians and social scientists have paid increasing attention to the image which past societies have held of themselves, to the various ways in which they have reconstructed their own history, and to how this self-concept affected their subsequent development. In this vein, Prof. Mossé attempts to reconstruct the image which ancient Greeks held of Solon, archon of Athens during the first years of the sixth century B.C. Revered as the founder of democracy in the Athenian city-state, Solon was invoked by Greeks in succeeding centuries as an exemplor and authority to legitimize existing institutions or to bolster reforms. The figure of Solon looms particularly large in the fourth century B.C., the age of democracy's full flowering in Athens.
Fourth-century orators honored Solon as the author of the mikté politeia, the mixed aristocratic/popular constitution which respected the sovereignty of the demos, but contained it within strict limits. Indeed, Solon praises himself for his wisely balanced policies in the fragments of his poetry which still survive. He abolished the horoi (property markers) without indiscriminately parcelling out land to the demos, and he established one written law for all citizens of Athens regardless of rank. These stand (even in Solon's eyes) as his major achievements. However, later political thinkers and orators of the fourth century, including Aristotle in his Constitution of Athens, attributed to him a series of measures which comprised the hallowed patrios politeia, the ancestral Athenian political tradition. Those who, like Aristotle, feared the rise of unbridled democracy appealed to the authority of the patrios politeia to strengthen their defense of aristocratic power, the power of the “best” in Athens. Since Solon's democratic credentials were revered, use of his memory lent an aura of historical sanctity to opposing the further extension of democracy.
Aristotle attributed three essential achievements to Solon: the establishment of the four enfranchised classes, the organization of the city's judiciary, and the creation of boulè (the assembly of the 400). In a later century, Plutarch ascribed to Solon such measures as the first official coinage of money and the founding of the Areopagus court triband. Prof. Mossé scrutinizes each of these attributions and finds them either to be later extrapolations of prototype policies of Solon or totally unconnected with Solon's achievements.
The evolved mythology reflected in the writings of Aristotle and Plutarch places Solon in the company of other legendary legislators whose variegated images have been passed down to us by Antiquity: Hammurabi, Moses, Servius Tullius, Lycurgus. The legends surrounding these men served the vital purpose of fortifying great legal and political traditions.
The myth of Solon exhibited enormous vitality, surving, as it did, down to Plutarch and beyond. Today, we find the elements of the myth in writings admittedly intended for an elite. Nevertheless, these same elements fired imaginations for centuries in the popular assemblies of Athens and in the courts of law. The longevity of the Solonian tradition testifies to the richness with which Athenians endowed it during the two centuries in which they were masters of their own destiny.