When I was a young lad, I was fascinated by the Greek myths. I especially loved the fabulous accounts of the gods told by Herodotus who could tell the amazing tales in a way that brought them almost to life. However, as I grew older, I began to see the world through more critical eyes and rejected the stories I once loved so much as foolishness. It was during these adolescent years that I came upon a manuscript by the great historian Thucydides who cut away any nonsense in his writing. To Thucydides, the past was something worthy of being seriously studied.
His work the History of the Peloponnesian War is a masterpiece. Unfortunately, his account of the war, which began in 431, has only been completed up to the year 411. He may get a bit further in his old age, but it is highly unlikely he makes it all the way to the current day in 403 B. C. where history is surely to be made. This is my opportunity to make something of myself. I have been aimlessly travelling the world with my father on his grain ships, avoiding my duty as a soldier and observing different systems of government throughout Greece and the surrounding countries.
I have talked with countless democrats, oligarchs, and tyrants, yet I am still ot sure which system will be the best for our beloved Athens. History is going to be made in the next few months, and I plan to follow in the footsteps of the great Thucydides and write a story that will last for years to come. (Merchant Son 1) It was an eerily quiet morning for the first Assembly in Athens since the war ended. As I walked through the streets to the Pnyx, citizens of Athens could be seen in groups talking amongst themselves. The next few months could change Athens forever.
Momentous decisions would be made, and I was still not sure what I thought was best. As I reached the Pnyx, I looked at the pen semicircular area and then over at the Acropolis the Spartans had occupied just a week before. (Pnyx) I looked down upon the city of Athens and wondered what would become of the city and its citizens. Only time could tell, and I stepped into the room. The Pnyx was abuzz with the voices of the many members of the Assembly who had gathered to decide the future of Athens. You could clearly see the different factions that had formed in Athens.
They all had different ideas of what was the best form of government for Athens and its people. Near the podium, you could see the Radical Democrats. They looked exhausted; their lothes were dirty and covered in blood, for they had recently returned from battle. Sitting not far from them were the Moderate Democrats. Across the room from the democrats, the Oligarchs and Socratics had congregated. The Oligarchs were draped with jewelry and sipping fine wine. The sons of rich Athenian citizens and wise old men formed the Socratic faction. Many of them were wearing grungy tunics and did not have sandals on their feet.
Athenian citizens made up the rest of the Assembly. The farmer and the fishmonger were making small talk while directing the occasional glare at my good friend who happens to be a metic. I also spotted a rich athlete, retired sailor, and a bearded artisan scattered around the room. I made my way around the room exchanging greetings with my fellow citizens and then took a seat in the back of the room, awaiting the start of the Assembly. As the sun rose in the sky, the Herald and President of the Assembly approached the podium. The Herald was a Moderate Democrat, and she prayed for the betterment of everyone.
When she was done sacrificing the pig, her fellow Moderate Democrat poured the wine, and the President, a Radical Democrat, took the stand. She decided that the Reconciliation Agreement was of upmost importance to discuss. The Reconciliation Agreement would grant amnesty to those who supported the Thirty Tyrant. Under the agreement, Athenians could also not mention the wrongs that the Thirty Tyrants’ supporters had done in the past. (Carawan 59) Thrasybulus, a Radical Democrat and the valiant leader of the rebellion against the Thirty Tyrants approached the podium.
With his sword still covered in blood in his hand, he argued that the Reconciliation Agreement was a terrible idea, and that a slap on the wrist is not what Athens is about. One of Socrates’s students disagreed and said that the Assembly should forgive and forget. They did not want a decision based on anger and a future based on the past. This statement brought much cheering from his fellow Socratics. The Moderate Democrats agreed that we need to forget in order to move on, but the Radical Democrats responded, “Do we want to let people who killed our family back in? which drew many jeers from the crowd. (Fogarty 1)
Despite the discontent from the crowd, they continued by saying we need to remember what happened and learn from our mistakes. The Socratics countered asking, “Are we really better than the Thirty Tyrants if we kill like they did? ” (Fogarty 1) The rgument continued for some time before the Retired Sailor took the stand. He proceeded to tell his life story which was a long, horrendous tale. At the conclusion of his story, he said that he wanted to die in peace and did not want to participate in politics.
Therefore, he was not going to participate further until very strongly swayed. The discussion of the Reconciliation Agreement continued. A short while later, the Retired Sailor returned to the stand and questioned who was responsible for the Sicilian Expedition which killed many of his friends. A hush fell over the room, for no one wanted to take responsibility for hat had happened on that failure of an expedition. A cry from somewhere in the crowd blamed my good friend the Metic, though I am still not sure why one would think that. The Socratics wished to lay the blame upon the Democrats.
An argument erupted between the two factions and was only silenced when the Farmer approached the podium. All eyes turned toward the podium, curious as to what the Farmer would have to say on the topic. However, the Farmer had something else on his mind. He wished to propose that all citizens who serve on a trial should be paid to do so. This statement brought any cheers from the crowd, even though it had almost zero relevance to the matter at hand. The President excused the Farmer and declared that we were getting away from the task at hand. It was decided that the time had come to put the Reconciliation Agreement to a vote.
The voting pebbles were handed out – clear meant yes and gold meant no. One by one, the members of the Assembly approached the voting urns and cast their vote. The Reconciliation Agreement was passed, and the Assembly had made the first of several important decisions to be made in the months to come. Though the Radical Democrats did not get their way with the irst vote, the President redistributed the marbles and decided we were now going to move on to the matter of the Metics and their rights to citizenship. The factions whispered amongst themselves deciding how they felt about this proposition.
The Farmer could be seen glaring at the Metic while other members of the Assembly had private conversations about him. It appeared as if maybe the Oligarchs and the Socratics were up to something fishy; perhaps they made a deal. After several minutes had passed, the President called everyone back in to the Pnyx and began the discussion of the Metics and citizenship. He started by commenting that he personally thinks the Metics should be allowed to vote because they are such a large part of our society. The debate of Metic citizenship went on for quite some time with no real progress.
Each faction and some of the other citizens of Athens had very strong opinions on the subject. Since the argument went in circles for quite some time, the same points were being made by the different groups over and over. Therefore, for the sake of not boring all those reading this account of these historical Assemblies, I have summarized the arguments as follows. The Farmer and the Fishmonger both ad a very strong hatred for my good friend the Metic. When he was at the podium, the Farmer asked the Assembly to think about what would happen if they gave citizenship to the Metics.
Citizenship was basically all the poor Farmer had. He was impoverished, and his future did not look bright. His main concern was that giving the Metic citizenship would cause him to lose the land on which he farmed. Without this land, the Farmer would have no means in which to provide for his family, and they would all starve to death. The Fishmonger’s main concern was that the Metics would take away jobs and money from urrent Athenian citizens like himself. He stated that he is a hard-worker and is willing to do several jobs in order to provide for his family as long as the Metics do not take these jobs away from him.
The factions that were also against my friend’s citizenship were the Oligarchs and the Socratics. The Socratics made the point that Athens only has so many resources and thinks those resources need to go to Athenian citizens such as the Farmer and the Fishmonger. They argued that giving 10,000 Metics citizenship took away 10,000 jobs the citizens of Athens deserved. They thought it best to worry about helping the urrent citizens flourish and grow and concluded that the Metics could go somewhere else if they did not like that decision.
That is just absurd! Many of my Metic friends were born and raised in Athens and are third or fourth generation Metics. I am not sure how that can still be considered a “foreign-born. ” Despite my concerns, I kept my mouth shut and continued to watch the events unfold. Though the Oligarchs appeared confused as to who a Metic was at the beginning of the discussion, they quickly took the side of the Socratics. They argued that the Metics do not pay taxes, which is false, they do. However, they do not pay as high of taxes as actual citizens of Athens.
The Oligarchs over all were very quiet during this debate. On the side of the Metics were both groups of Democrats. The Radical Democrats thought the Metics could help the Athenians. Giving them citizenship would help the economy grow because it would gain all their tax money. They also argued that the Metics were productive members of the society and were being punished just because their parents were not born in Athens. In the grand scheme of things, most of them had done nothing differently than the rest of the members of the Assembly.
The Moderate Democrats tried to come up with a compromise and suggest we grant them the right to vote but not become citizens. This suggestion, however, was quickly shot down by the Socratics. The Metic present at the Assembly fought hard for his citizenship. He stood before the Assembly and said making him and his fellow Metics citizens would help the economy and military. As mentioned earlier, this argument went on for quite some time before the sun began to set in the sky and the first Assembly drew to a close. As of then, a verdict had not been reached on the fate of my poor friend the Metic.