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William Davis, A Day in Old Athens

 

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Page 3

Aristocracy and Wealth. Their Status and Burdens

 

    True, there are old noble families in Athens,—like the Alcmæonidæ whereof Pericles sprang, and the Eumolpidæ who supply the priests to Demeter, the Earth Mother. But these great houses have long since ceased to claim anything but social preëminence. Even then one must take pains not to assume airs, or the next time one is litigant before the dicastery, the insinuation of "an undemocratic, oligarchic manner of life" will win very many adverse votes among the jury. Nobility and wealth are only allowed to assert themselves in Athens when justified by an extraordinary amount of public service and public generosity.

    Xenophon in his "Memorabilia" makes Socrates tell Critobulus, a wealthy and self-important individual, that he is really so hampered by his high position as to be decidedly poor. "You are obliged," says Socrates, "to offer numerous and magnificent sacrifices; you have to receive and entertain sumptuously a great many strangers, and to feast [your fellow] citizens. You have to pay heavy contributions towards the public service, keeping horses and furnishing choruses in peace times and in war bearing the expense of maintaining triremes and paying the special war taxes; and if you fail to do all this, they will punish you with as much severity as if you were caught stealing their money."

 

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