Gateway to the Classics: Greek Gods, Heroes, and Men by Caroline H. and Samuel B. Harding
Greek Gods, Heroes, and Men by  Caroline H. and Samuel B. Harding

Aristides the Just

A MONG the Athenians who fought at Salamis was one named Aristides, who was called "the Just." He is as famous as Themistocles, but for a different reason He was not so quick-witted as Themistocles, nor so good a general; but he was so fair and honest in all that he did, that men said, "There is not in all Athens a man so worthy or so just as he."


An Athenian Gentleman

Even when they were boys, he and Themistocles could never get along together. Themistocles was a bright lad, but he was so full of tricks and so fond of fun that he was always getting into mischief. Aristides could not approve of this, so he and Themistocles were always disagreeing. When they grew up they took different sides in politics, and continued the disputes which they had begun as boys. Whenever Themistocles would propose anything to the Athenians, Aristides would object to it because, as he said, it was too rash, or because it was not fair to their neighbors, or for some other reason. And Themistocles, too, would object to everything that Aristides proposed.

Now, the Athenians had a law which they had made for just such cases as this. Whenever two leaders could not get along in the city, the law said that the people should meet and decide which of the two should be sent away. Each person was to write a name on a bit of shell, and then the shells were put into a large vase. When all the people had voted, the votes were to be counted, and the man whose name was on the greatest number of shells was to go away and stay for ten years.

This was the law which the people used to settle the troubles between Themistocles and Aristides. While the Athenians were writing the names on the shells, a stupid fellow who could not write came up to Aristides and asked him to write the name "Aristides" on his shell for him. Aristides was surprised at this, and asked,—

"Why, what has Aristides ever done to you that you should want to send him away?"

"Oh! He hasn't done anything," said the man; "in fact, I don't even know him. But I am tired of hearing everybody call him 'the Just' ".

Aristides took the shell without saying another word, and wrote his own name on it. When the shells were counted, it was found that Aristides was the one that had to go

This happened several years before Xerxes marched against Athens. When the Persians came, the Athenians passed a law by which Aristides could return, although the ten years had not yet passed. This Aristides did; and just before the battle of Salamis he went to Themistocles and said,—

"Themistocles, you and I have quarreled with each other for a long time. Let us now cease our quarrel, and only see which of us can do the most good to Athens"

To this Themistocles agreed; and in the battle, while Themistocles commanded the Athenian fleet, Aristides, too, fought bravely against the Persians.

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