A new book, Solon the Thinker: Political Thought in Archaic Athens (London: Duckworth, 2006) deals with the poetry of perhaps the earliest political thinker in history, Solon of Athens. Selected as Chief Official in Athens in 594 BC, he is often credited with laying the groundwork for the political constitution of Classical Athens, through a set of written laws that protected the freedom of the Athenians through a rational, even if ill-defined, legal process. This book considers, on a specialist's, level, Solon's poetry as the first extant political thought from ancient Greece.
About the Book
Solon the Thinker: Political Thought in Archaic Athens presents the hypothesis that Solon (ca. 640-560 BC) saw his beloved Athens as a self-governing, self-supporting system akin to the early Greek conceptions of the cosmos. Solon's polis (city-state) functions neither by divine intervention nor the force of a tyrant, but by its own natural, self-governing internal energy. An orderly, understandable polis is founded on the intellectual health of its people, depends upon their acceptance of justice and moderation as orderly norms of life, and leads to the rejection of tyranny and slavery in favor of freedom under written laws. Solon is the thinker who conceives this ideal for the Athenians, and the teacher who brings it to them.
But Solon's views of order are limited; each person in his own life is subject to the arbitrary foibles of moira, the inscrutable fate that governs human life, and that brings us to an unknowable but inevitable death. Solon represents both the new rational, scientific spirit that was sweeping the Aegean—and a return to the fatalism that permeated Greek cultural life. He deserves credit not only as a poet and a lawgiver, but as a thinker who was at the cutting edge of an intellectual revolution.
"John Lewis's Solon the Thinker contains a careful reading of the poetic fragments of Solon—not as poetry, but as political thought. Lewis's interpretation of these poems provides one with a greater understanding and appreciation of the political views of Solon—arguably the first (and only) Presocratic political philosopher—and his place in the history of ideas. Anyone interested in early Greek discussions of the polis, justice, tyranny, slavery, and freedom should find this book worthwhile reading." —Robert Mayhew, Professor of Philosophy, Seton Hall University
"In contrast to scholars who treat Solon's political reforms and his poetry in isolation from each other, John Lewis demonstrates that Solon's poetry is in fact a fertile source of important political ideas such as order, wisdom, moderation, justice, and law. Solon conceptualized freedom as a political ideal in opposition to tyranny, and he viewed the polis as a haven for human beings against the ravages of unrelenting destiny. Solon the Thinker is a major contribution to our appreciation of Solon as a poet and to our understanding of his pivotal role in the development of ancient Greek political thought." —Fred D. Miller, Jr., Social Philosophy and Policy Center, Bowling Green State University
Select Passages from the Book
From the Introduction:
"The purpose of this book is to examine the poetic fragments of Solon . . .