Παλαιός τις παραδέδοται λόγος ὅτι τὰς δημοκρατίας οὐχ οἱ τυχόντες τῶν ἀνθρώπων, ἀλλ’ οἱ ταῖς ὑπεροχαῖς προέχοντες καταλύουσι. διὸ καὶ τῶν πόλεων ἔνιαι τοὺς ἰσχύοντας μάλιστα τῶν πολιτευομένων ὑποπτεύουσαι καθαιροῦσιν αὐτῶν τὰς ἐπιφανείας. σύνεγγυς γὰρ ἡ μετάβασις εἶναι δοκεῖ τοῖς ἐν ἐξουσίᾳ μένουσιν ἐπὶ τὴν τῆς πατρίδος καταδούλωσιν καὶ δυσχερὲς ἀποσχέσθαι μοναρχίας τοῖς δι’ ὑπεροχὴν τὰς τοῦ κρατήσειν ἐλπίδας περιπεποιημένοις· ἔμφυτον γὰρ εἶναι τὸ πλεονεκτεῖν τοῖς μειζόνων ὀρεγομένοις καὶ τὰς ἐπιθυμίας ἔχειν ἀτερματίστους. τοιγαροῦν Ἀθηναῖοι μὲν διὰ ταύτας τὰς αἰτίας τοὺς πρωτεύοντας τῶν πολιτῶν ἐφυγάδευσαν, τὸν λεγόμενον παρ᾽ αὐτοῖς ἐξοστρακισμὸν νομοθετήσαντες. καὶ τοῦτ’ ἔπραττον οὐχ ἵνα τῶν προγεγενημένων ἀδικημάτων λάβωσι τιμωρίαν, ἀλλ’ ὅπως τοῖς δυναμένοις παρανομεῖν ἐξουσία μὴ γένηται κατὰ τῆς πατρίδος ἐξαμαρτεῖν. τῆς γὰρ Σόλωνος φωνῆς ὥσπερ χρησμοῦ τινος ἐμνημόνευον, ἐν οἷς περὶ τῆς Πεισιστράτου τυραννίδος προλέγων ἔθηκε τόδε τὸ ἐλεγεῖον·
“ἀνδρῶν δ’ ἐκ μεγάλων πόλις ὄλλυται, εἰς δὲ τυράννου
δῆμος ἀϊδρίῃ δουλοσύνην ἔπεσεν [Solon, fr. 9].”
(Diodorus Siculus, Hist. 19.1.1-4)

An old saying has been handed down that it is not men of average ability but those of outstanding superiority who destroy democracies. For this reason some cities, suspecting those of their public men who are the strongest, take away from them their outward show of power. It seems that the step to the enslavement of the fatherland is a short one for men who continue in positions of power, and that it is difficult for those to abstain from monarchy who through eminence have acquired hopes of ruling; for it is natural that men who thirst for greatness should seek their own aggrandizement and cherish desires that know no bounds. The Athenians, for example, exiled the foremost of their citizens for this reason, having established by law what was known among them as ostracism; and this they did, not to inflict punishment for any injustice previously committed, but in order that those citizens who were strong enough to disregard the laws might not get an opportunity to do wrong at the expense of their fatherland. Indeed, they used to recite as an oracle that saying of Solon in which, while foretelling the tyranny of Peisistratus, he inserts this couplet: “Destruction cometh upon a city from its great men; and through ignorance the people fall into slavery to a tyrant.” (tr. Russel M. Geer)

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