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Saturday, 26 November 2011

600 BCE.



The only parts of Draco's code that Solon kept were the laws regarding homicide. The constitution was written as poetry, and as soon as it was introduced, Solon went into self-imposed exile for 10 years so he would not be tempted to take power as a tyrant.
Solon "The lawmaker of Athens" died in 559 BCE and serves as an icon of 'The Archaic Age', the time period during which Greece developed cities, philosophy, theater. T

he time of Hesiod and of Greek colonies spreading out into unknown territory.

As Draco (of the draconian laws) had preceded Solon, even without Solon's own brand of anti-materialism, Solon would have been hard pressed to have been a less popular ruler than Draco.

Both Plutarch and Herodotus tell us about Solon; his 'cast a cold eye on on life on death' attitude; his insistence that getting married, having children, loving any one person above another were irrational and sure ways to suffering; and about death in a noble cause being better than dying of old age.

Solon was a man of his time, Orphic religions, ultimately based on Pythagorean notions of a material universe as a projection from an immaterial (perfect and other) universe began to spread especially around this time, and this 'new' philosophy probably altered the Eleusinian mysteries, changing the focus from one of celebration for the mysteries of harvest, to Eleusis as a promise of redemption.

Women's lives, it is said by many, worsened in the Archaic Age. With city life came Solon's laws for women: marriage was the one and only 'noble' choice for a daughter of  'respectable' family. The home of course was the only proper place for a wife and Solon ruled that a woman could not leave town with more than three garments or carry more than an obol's worth of food and drink, or a basket more than a cubit in size least she got up to no good. If women must travel at night, it was only legal if the woman remained hidden within a carriage which must be proceeded by a torch bearer. No doubt all this was couched in terms of 'it is for your own safety, my dear' nevertheless it is hard to feel grateful for such laws.

City life brings with it a new set of anxiety, one no longer knows one's neighbours and they could be foreigners and practitioners of strange cults. This notion of cults as leading to out of control riots, begins to appear with a distaste for emotional display- emotion as a sign of weakness. Women are considered particularly vulnerable to cults, blaming them for wanting something different after being shut up all day waiting for a husband they never actually saw sober, or who didn't actually like them, was less distasteful than admitting the truth. Lurid tales of what the women followers Dionysus got up to...were axiomatic of the misogyny of that time.

But the fear of emotion and in particular of women as prone to possession by frenzy required law to make it 'safe'. Solon's laws included a stipulation about how much one could cry at a funeral, basically women could fall foul of the law should they cry too much at a funeral, crying for anyone at a funeral unless it be your husband, was suspect- it could be considered as false, an affected lamentation.

Marriage was the best way to 'control' women as the carriers of emotion and chaos. Hesiod advises:  "Marry a virgin so you can teach her thrifty ways".

The usual age for marrying was sixteen for a girl and thirty for a man.

But Hesiod was being, I suppose prosaic and sensible, clinging  to a farming mentality he would value lots of children to help bring in the harvest, even as city life began to change everything. The demands of the city, it's need for every man to do his military service would mitigate against early marriage for a man.

For women though, marriage was ultimately a kind of 'Descent', a katabasis or at least a shutting away. Persephone's lot was a familiar one to them. Society provided two roles for women, either you were a wife or you made your own way as a whore. Prostitution was seen as a solution to a problem of excess passion Solon, in 594 BCE ordered the building of a state brothel in answer to a plea that men may be allowed to 'indulge' without causing the disruption falling in love with another woman, or harassment by pimps could cause to their family life.

Meanwhile marriage was portrayed by poets such as Simonides and Hipponax as less than satisfactory.

Simonides for instance names ten kinds of women to sum up the whole range of femininity available to men: the pig, the fox, the dog, the one made of mud, one made of sea, the ass, the polecat, the mare, the monkey and the bee (the bee is the only one recommended).

Religion was the traditional means of controlling or regulating 'dangerous' (chaotic ) trends. A view of the past had peasants engaging in their odd rustic customs 'elsewhere' in the countryside, on mountain tops and in caves. Now, in the present time of 600 BCE, those same goat skin clad rustics had wandered into town and put on the clothing of civilised men, but were still celebrating cults of Dionysus and Artemis.

Euripides explains that the gods will have their place in his play the Bacchai, but the mix of new cults with the requirement that people behave in socially acceptable ways begins to feed the energy of anxiety into the art, literature and philosophy of that time in a attempt to make sense.

Orphism starts to appear at this time. On one hand it is a deeply middle class phenomenon- a rejection of this world. Material reality is seen as flawed, better is elsewhere- of there being no chance or hope of finding satisfaction in this earthly life- better is available only after death.

On the other it is an inversion of the cult of Dionysus (to which it belongs). Where the cult of Dionysos demands wine and wildness, Orpheus preaches blood-guilt (his followers were vegetarian) and simplicity, and order as represented by the perfect music he played.

It is possible that the Orphic philosophy may have reflected a 'Metal Age' experience, of toiling underground, the image of the soul lost in the darkness of the earth and desiring release into the light.

Most likley it is related to Zoroatrean ideas of emanation.

One thing remains true, what ever their origin, the city had to find ways to integrate, control and direct these new ideas.

Before the Orphic 'teachings' began to take root, the mysteries at Eleusis had centered on how Demeter through Triptolemos, gave mankind the gift of agriculture. But under Orphic influence, the loss and return of Persephone became the redemption of the individual soul from evil and a promise of immortality.

The true Orphics would probably have looked down on Eleusis as an 'experience' and experience is ephemeral- only an intellectual understanding could free one of the bonds of this earthly life, if Plato is representative of the Orphics...