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Table of Contents > 2.2 Thucydides

2.2: Thucydides 6.54.1-4, 6.56.1-59.2

This account of the assassination of Hipparchus, brother of the tyrant Hippias, in 514 BCE, comes as a digression in Thucydides' narrative of events in 415, when many Athenians suspected an oligarchical coup and return to tyranny.

[54] For the exploit of Aristogeiton and Harmodius was undertaken because of a love affair, and by describing it in full I will show that neither other sources nor the Athenians themselves say anything accurate about their own tyrants or about the incident. For after Peisistratus died at an advanced age while holding the tyranny,4 it was not Hipparchus, as widely believed, but Hippias as the oldest who took his place. When Harmodius was conspicuous in his youthful prime, Aristogeiton, an Athenian and a citizen of the middle class, possessed him as a lover. Harmodius, after he was propositioned by Hipparchus and refused him, denounced him to Aristogeiton. And he, with a lover’s outrage, fearing Hipparchus’ rank and a possible abduction by force, immediately plotted, as far as one of his class could, to overthrow the tyranny. Meanwhile, Hipparchus, after he had again propositioned Harmodius with no greater success, was unwilling to use force yet arranged to insult him in a surreptitious way, as though it were quite unconnected. . .

[56] Harmodius, then, who had refused his advances, he insulted just as he had planned; after enlisting his sister, a maiden, to carry a basket in a certain procession,5 they expelled her saving that they had not enlisted her in the first place because of her unworthiness. While Harmodius was resentful, Aristogeiton on his account became very much more enraged as well, and after they had made their other arrangements with those taking part in the deed, they awaited the Great Panathenaia6 which was the only day that those citizens who escorted the procession assembled in arms without becoming suspect. They themselves were to begin, and the others were supposed to join in the attack immediately by attending to the mercenaries. The members of the conspiracy were not many, for reasons of security; they hoped that if even a few acted boldly, those with no advance knowledge, since they even had weapons, would want to take part in their own liberation then and there.

[57] And when the festival came around, Hippias was outside with the bodyguard in what is known as the Kerameikos7 arranging how each part of the procession was to go forth; and Harmodius and Aristogeiton, with their daggers now, were advancing for the deed. And when they saw a member of their own conspiracy talking informally with Hippias (who was approachable to everyone), they were alarmed and thought that they had been informed on and were just on the point of being arrested. Accordingly, they hoped that if possible their revenge would come first, against their tormentor who had caused them to risk everything, and in this state they rushed inside the gates, encountered Hipparchus near what is called the Leokoreion,8 and falling on him immediately, with no hesitation, in all the fury that a man in love and a man humiliated could feel, they stabbed until they killed him. The one, Aristogeiton, escaped the bodyguard for the moment when the crowd was milling around and later, after capture, was dealt with in no gentle way;9 Harmodius was killed right on the spot. [58] When the news reached Hippias in the Kerameikos, he immediately proceeded not toward the incident but toward the hoplites10 in the parade before they found out, since they were some way off, and making his face inscrutable in the presence of the calamity he ordered them to go where he had pointed to a certain spot, without their weapons. They went off, thinking that he was going to tell them something, but he, after a signal to the bodyguard to remove the weapons, picked out those he held responsible, along with anyone caught carrying a dagger; for their practice was to parade with shields and spears.11

[59] It was in this way, because of a lover's grievance, that both the original plot and the heedless daring of Harmodius and Aristogeiton, in the alarm of the moment, came about. After this, the tyranny took on a harsher form for the Athenians, and Hippias, now more under the influence of fear, put many citizens to death and at the same time looked around in foreign parts to see where he could find some place providing him with security if a revolution occurred.
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