Pictures from Greek Life and Story - Alfred J. Church

A Famous Marriage

The earliest form of government that we hear of in Greece is what we may call "Constitutional Monarchy." The chiefs who led the Homeric hosts into battle were, to adopt the phrase of Thucydides, "hereditary kings with fixed prerogatives." The time of their predominance was before the dawn of history; so was the time of their fall. When we begin to see something like light in the story of the Greek states, i.e.  in the seventh century B.C., we find ourselves again in an age of monarchy; but the rulers are not of a constitutional kind. Their prerogatives are not fixed. They are usurpers, or, to use the Greek word, used without any intention of imputing cruelty, "tyrants."

One of the most famous and, it may be added, most respectable of the class, was Cleisthenes of Sicyon, a small Doric city on the southern coast of the Corinthian gulf, which claimed to take precedence in point of antiquity of all the Greek communities, whether on the mainland or the islands. The first of the line was Orthagoras, who raised himself to supreme power from the humble station—so tradition had it—of a cook, about the year 670 B.C. He represented—so much seems clear—the non-Dorian element in Sicyon, i.e.  the revolt of the subject class against the domination of an intruding race. He was, in fact, a despot who raised himself to the throne by the help of democratic support, and was probably not the first as he was certainly not the last of his kind. Myron, possibly his son, more probably his grandson, gained distinction for his city by winning a chariot-race at Olympia. All the family were well known as just and clement rulers. Cleisthenes came to the throne about 600 B.C. He was one of the most powerful princes of his time, taking a leading part in the war which, at the suggestion of Solon, was enjoined by the general council of the tribes, the Amphictyons, for the purpose of punishing the impiety of the people of Cirrha.

But what I am concerned with at present is the curious story of how the wealth of Cleisthenes, who was the last as well as the greatest of his house, came into the possession of an Athenian family, and while contributing to its rise, indirectly affected the history of the most important states in Greece. This story will be best told in the actual words of Herodotus so far as I am able to give them an appropriate English dress.

"Cleisthenes had a daughter whose name was Agaristé. Her he desired to give in marriage to the best husband whom he could find in all the land of Greece. It was the year of the Olympic festival, and he, having won the prize for the race of four-horse chariots, caused this proclamation to be made: 'Whosoever of the Greeks deems himself worthy to be the son-in-law of Cleisthenes, let him come to Sicyon on the sixtieth day from this present, or, if he will, before, for Cleisthenes will, in the space of a year from the said sixtieth day, take order concerning the marriage of his daughter.' Thereupon such of the Greeks as had a high esteem either of themselves or of their country came as suitors for the maiden Agaristé. And the aforesaid Cleisthenes caused a running course and a wrestling ring to be made for the trial of them. From Italy came Smindyrides, son of Hippocrates, a citizen of Sybaris, a man that reached such a height of luxury as never did any other; and indeed this city of Sybaris was then at its very greatest prosperity. From Siris there came Damasus, son of that Amyris that was surnamed the Wise. These two and none other came from Italy. From the Ionian Gulf (the Adriatic Sea) came Amphimnestus, son of Epistrophus, a man of Epidamnus; he only came from the Ionian Gulf. From Ætolia came Males, brother of Titormus. This Titormus excelled all the Greeks in strength, and flying from the face of men dwelt in the extremest parts of the Ætolian land. From the Peloponnesus came Leocedes, son to Pheidon, despot of Argos. This Pheidon was he that established weights and measures for the dwellers in the Peloponnesus, and behaved himself more arrogantly than all the other Greeks, driving out the men of Elis from being masters of the Great Games, and making himself master.

"Also there came Amiantus, son of Lycurgus, an Arcadian of Trapezus, and Laphanes, an Azenian, of the city of Pæus, son to that Euphorion, who received in his house—so they say in Arcadia—the Twin Brethren, and after that showed hospitality to all men. From Elis came Onomastus, son of Agæus. These were they that came from the Peloponnesus. From Athens came two, Megacles, son of Alcmæon, the same that visited Crœsus was, one. Another suitor from Athens was Hippocleides, son of Tisander, than whom no Athenian was richer or more comely. From Eretria, which was at this time a prosperous city, came Lysanias. None other came from Eubœa. From Thessaly came Diactorides, son of Cranon, one of the family of Scopas, and from the Molossians, Alcon. So many were the suitors.

"These, then, having come on the appointed day, Cleisthenes first enquired of each his country and lineage; and then, keeping them with him for a whole year, made trial of their courage and temper and education and manners, consorting with them singly and in company. The younger sort he would take to the gymnasium. But most of all did he make experiment of them at the banquet, living with them for the whole of this time and entertaining them sumptuously. Of all the suitors none pleased him so well as those that came from Athens; and of these two he was the more inclined to Hippocleides, both on account of his courage, and because he was of kin to the family of Cypselus of Corinth. When, therefore, the day came for the settling of the marriage and for Cleisthenes to declare whom he had chosen out of all, he sacrificed a hundred oxen, and entertained the suitors and, at the same time, all the inhabitants of Sicyon. And when the banquet was ended, the suitors had a contest among themselves in music and in speaking, some subject being given. As the drinking went on, Hippocleides, who had now a mastery over the rest, bade the piper play him a tune, and when the piper did so, he danced. And dancing he pleased himself mightily; but Cleisthenes looking on liked the whole business but little. Then Hippocleides, halting awhile, bade a servant bring a table. Thereon he mounted, and danced several figures, first Spartan, then Athenian. Last of all, he put his head on the table, and made a great show with his legs. Now Cleisthenes, during the first dance and during the second also, though he was loathing that Hippocleides should be his son-in-law, by reason of this shameless dancing of his, nevertheless restrained himself, not wishing to break out upon him. But when he beheld him making this show with his legs, he could restrain himself no longer, but cried out, 'Son of Tisander, thou hast danced away thy wife;' to which the other answered, 'Hippocleides doesn't care.' And these words became a proverb.

Then Cleisthenes calling for silence, spake as follows, 'Suitors of my daughter, I commend you all, and willingly would I favour you all were it possible, not choosing one from among you and rejecting all the others. But seeing that, having but one daughter, I may not please you all, I do this. To you that go away disappointed of their hope, I give one talent of silver to each man. This is both for the honour you have done me in seeking this marriage and also for you long absence from home. But my daughter Agaristé I betroth to Megacles, son of Alcmæon, of Athens, according to Athenian laws.'

"Thereupon, Megacles giving his consent, the marriage followed in due course."

Whatever the details of this story may be worth, it is clear that the family of the Alcmæonidae made an alliance with the daughter of a foreign potentate, and that by this alliance it was greatly aggrandized. Cleisthenes, the author of the democratic constitution of Athens, and Pericles, the ablest of Athenian statesmen some generations later, were descendants of the Sicyonian princess.