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Themistocles,profile

“…he possessed himself of the most kingly and divine appellation of Just…” Plutarch, speaking of Aristides

Some might see reading about great men, especially of the ancient world, as simply a pleasant diversion, or even a kind of escape. Why, one might wonder, should I bother to remember?

Aristides (530-468 BC) certainly gets mentioned in ancient history class. He was one of the greatest of all Athenian statesmen. As a military leader he served with exceptional distinction at Marathon, Salamis, and Plataea. Yet he is far from being a household name, though Western civilization might not be what it is today without him.

What he was most known for was his justice. His incorruptibility while in positions of power was notorious, and this was borne witness by the fact that he lived in near poverty for his whole adult life. His interest was neither power nor wealth; so he wielded the former and avoided the later, for the sake of virtue, and of his people.

Plutarch relates of Aristides:

Of all his virtues, the common people were most affected with his justice, because of its continual and common use; and thus, although of mean fortune and ordinary birth, he possessed himself of the most kingly and divine appellation of ‘Just.’

So the people called him Aristides the Just. His influence then was not restricted to the immediate practical consequences of his leadership. He was a pattern—even while not a perfect one—of what it means to be human.

And he can do for us what he did for his people, when we remember him.

Memory is never simply about the past. To remember who Aristides was, is to begin to imagine who I should be today.

Note: For the next several Wednesdays I will present brief sketches of the life and character of Aristides.

Plutarch (46-120 A.D.), a Boeotian Greek who became a Roman citizen, was especially known as a biographer of famous Greek and Roman men.

Image: This is actually a bust of Themistocles, Aristides’ Athenian contemporary and rival. But it looks much like the bust of Aristides, and I was able to get a better image of this one…

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