Listen to the Athenian Solon: “Our virtue sticks with us and makes us strong, but money changes owners all day long”

Solon (c. 638 – c. 558 BC) was an Athenian statesman, lawmaker and poet, particularly known for ending exclusive aristocratic control of the government and his efforts to legislate against political, economic, and moral decline in archaic Athens, whose elite was obsessed with wealth, power, and prestige. His first concern was to relieve the immediate distress caused by debt, therefore he forbade mortgages on bodies of the debtor and his family, preventing enslaving them by creditors and landowners, abolished all debts and freed all debt-slaves. Many of his other reforms failed in the short term, yet he is often attributed with having laid the foundations for Athenian democracy.
Poetry was for Solon the instrument of his statesmanship and the medium through which he warned, challenged, counseled the people, and urged them to action. Hereinafter one of his poems, as brought by Greek historian Plutarch in “Solon: The Lawmaker of Athens

The man whose riches satisfy his greed
Is not more rich for all those heaps and hoards
Than some poor man who has enough to feed
And clothe his corpse with such as God affords.

I have no use for men who steal and cheat;
The fruit of evil poisons those who eat.

Some wicked men are rich, some good men poor,
But I would rather trust in what’s secure;
Our virtue sticks with us and makes us strong,
But money changes owners all day long.

Solon defends his laws against criticism from Athenian citizens, painting by Noel Coypel, 1699

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