Solon was born into a well-to-do family of Athens. He worked as a merchant in the export-import trade, and he considered himself relatively poor. He did not worship money, as is evident from some poems of his.
Poetry was for Solon a way to entertain himself, and he also used poetry to give his ideas easy access to the minds of the Athenians.
The seven wise men of Greece were well-known, both to each other and to the general public. 1 Anacharsis, who was one of these wise men, came to visit Solon in Athens. When Anacharsis saw Athenian democracy at work, he remarked that it was strange that in Athens wise men spoke and fools decided. Solon admired this man's ready wit and he entertained Anacharsis as his guest for a long time. Solon showed Anacharsis some laws that he was drafting for the Athenians. Anacharsis laughed at Solon for imagining that the dishonesty and greed of the Athenians could be restrained by written laws. Such laws, said Anacharsis, are like spiderwebs: they catch the weak and poor, but the rich can rip right through them.
When Solon went to visit another of the seven wise men, Thales of Miletus, Solon asked why Thales did not get married and have children. Thales gave no reply, but he hired an actor, who a few days later pretended to have just arrived from Athens. Solon asked this actor for the latest news, and the actor replied as he had been instructed by Thales. He said that nothing important had happened, except there was a funeral of some young man who had died while his famous father happened to be away. "Poor man," said Solon, "but what is his name?" With every question and answer, Solon got more and more worried, until finally he mentioned his own name. "That's the man!" said the actor, and Solon went into all of the usual expressions of grief while Thales watched impassively. After a while, Thales said to Solon: "You asked why I did not marry and have children. You now see the reason. Such a loss is too much for even your brave spirit to bear. But don't worry, it was all nothing but a lie."
Nevertheless, it shows a lack of judgment and courage to avoid having good things because we are afraid of losing them. Even our virtue, which is by far our most valuable possession, can be lost through sickness or drugs. The soul has an innate tendency of affection, and when it cannot fix itself on a child it seeks some other object, and grief comes just the same. When a dog dies, or a horse, smug bachelors collapse in sorrow, but some fathers can bear the loss even of a child without extravagant grief.
It is not affection, but weakness, that brings a man -- unarmed against fortune by reason -- into these endless pains and terrors. Because they are always worrying about what might go wrong, most are unable to enjoy their present opportunities for happiness.
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