Persia 14: Aristides Compared with James the Just

When reading the Life of “Aristides the Just” by Plutarch, one cannot help but to make a comparison with 1st Century James the Just. His partnership with Cimon and rivalry with Pausanias/Themistocles also parallels the relationships of James with Simon Peter and Paul.

Excerpts below from: Plutarch’s Lives The Dryden Translation (public domain)

>> Aristides the Just, His Famed Poverty and Integrity:

As to his wealth, statements differ; some say he passed his life in extreme poverty.

There was none who heard ... that went not away desirous rather to be poor like Aristides, than rich.

But Aristides walked, so to say, alone on his own path in politics.

He was cautious; being of opinion that the integrity of his words and actions was the only right security for a good citizen.

The constancy he showed was admirable, not being elated with honors, and demeaning himself tranquilly and sedately in adversity ... to the service of his country ... irrespectively of any reward, not only of riches, but even of glory itself.

He was a most determined champion for justice.

... a person that is temperate, industrious, just, and valiant, and who uses all his virtues for the public good, it shows a great and lofty mind.

ambition ... the greatest fomenter of envy; from which Aristides was wholly exempt

temperance ... Aristides preserved truly pure and untainted

>> His Rivalry with Themistocles:

They [Aristides and Themistocles] were rivals for the affection of the beautiful Stesilaus of Ceos.

Aristides also was necessitated to set himself against all Themistocles did.

At Marathon ... Themistocles and Aristides being ranged together, fought valiantly; the one being of the tribe Leontis, the other of the Antiochis.

Those [exploits] of Aristides are the noblest, most splendid, and distinguished actions the Grecians ever did.

Aristides yielded to none, though he left the glory, and the laurels, like the wealth and money, to those who needed and thirsted more greedily after them: because he was superior to those also.

Aristides, immediately after this [Battle of Marathon], was archon.

He [Aristides] possessed himself of the most kingly and divine appellation of Just.

People would seem to think him [Aristides] blest and happy for his exemption from death and corruption ... to love, honor, and adore him for his justice.

Aristides ... at first ... beloved for this surname, but at length envied.

Themistocles spread a rumor [that Aristides] was secretly making way for a monarchy in his own person, without the assistance of guards.

They banished Aristides by the ostracism.

[A citizen reportedly said:] “I am tired of hearing him everywhere called the Just.”

Themistocles, Cimon, and Pericles filled the city with porticoes, treasure, and many other vain things, but Aristides guided his public life by the rule of justice.

Three years after, when Xerxes marched through Thessaly and Bœotia into the country of Attica [leading up to the Battle of Salamis], repealing the law, they decreed the return of the banished … much mistaking the man, who, already before the decree, was exerting himself to excite and encourage the Greeks to the defence of their liberty. And afterwards, when Themistocles was general with absolute power, he assisted him in all ways both in action and counsel.

Aristides, moreover, made all the people of Greece swear to keep the league, and himself took the oath in the name of the Athenians.

Themistocles associating several persons against Aristides, and impeaching him when he gave in his accounts, caused him to be condemned of robbing the public.

He [Aristides] was not only exempted from the fine imposed upon him, but likewise again called to the same employment.

... and proceeding to expose the thefts that had been committed ... [Aristides] gained real and true commendation from the best men.

He showed his moderation very plainly in his conduct towards Themistocles himself. For though Themistocles had been his adversary in all his undertakings, and was the cause of his banishment, yet when he afforded a similar opportunity of revenge, being accused to the city, Aristides bore him no malice; but while Alcmæon, Cimon, and many others, were prosecuting and impeaching him, Aristides alone, neither did, nor said any ill against him, and no more triumphed over his enemy in his adversity, than he had envied him his prosperity.

>> Aristides and Cimon Also Prevail Over Pausanias of Sparta:

Being sent in joint commission with Cimon to the war, he took notice that Pausanias and the other Spartan captains made themselves offensive by imperiousness and harshness to the confederates; and by being himself gentle and considerate with them and by the courtesy and disinterested temper which Cimon after his example, manifested in the expeditions, he stole away the chief command from the Lacedæmonians, neither by weapons, ships, or horses, but by equity and wise policy. For the Athenians being endeared to the Greeks by the justice of Aristides and by Cimon’s moderation, the tyranny and selfishness of Pausanias rendered them yet more desirable.

>> Duplicity/Expediency of Aristides:

Pretending now to repent him of his former practice, and carrying himself with more remissness, he became acceptable to such as pillaged the treasury by not detecting or calling them to an exact account.

But Aristides, who was the principal man of Greece, through extreme poverty reduced some of his to get their living by juggler’s tricks, others, for want, to hold out their hands for public alms; leaving none means to perform any noble action, or worthy his dignity.

... in his own private affairs, and those of his fellow-citizens, rigorously just, but that in public matters he acted often in accordance with his country’s policy, which demanded, sometimes, not a little injustice. It is reported of him that he said in a debate, upon the motion of the Samians for removing the treasure from Delos to Athens, contrary to the league, that the thing indeed was not just, but was expedient.

>> Death of Aristides:

Some say Aristides died in Pontus, during a voyage upon the affairs of the public. Others that he died of old age at Athens, being in great honor and veneration amongst his fellow-citizens. But Craterus, the Macedonian relates his death as follows. After the banishment of Themistocles, he says, the people growing insolent, there sprung up a number of false and frivolous accusers, impeaching the best and most influential men and exposing them to the envy of the multitude, whom their good fortune and power had filled with self-conceit. Amongst these, Aristides was condemned of bribery, upon the accusation of Diophantus of Amphitrope, for taking money from the Ionians when he was collector of the tribute; and being unable to pay the fine, which was fifty minæ, sailed to Ionia, and died there.

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