This article uses one incident, the Athenian efforts to acquire Salamis from Megara during the sixth century B.C.E., to study what Greeks themselves believed about their own past and why the past was so powerful an argument for them. The nature of the evidence is an important part of the discussion, since the written sources (primarily Aristotle, Strabo, Plutarch, and Diogenes Laertius) date from long after the events and Greek authors' approaches to the past differ from our own. Although only brief fragments of any Megarian historians survive, they are useful in providing a counterbalance to Athenian sources, since their versions of mythological events and portraits of mythological heroes are very different. The archaeological evidence includes inscriptions, vases, and graves; with one possible exception, this material was not exploited either by Solon and the Athenians or by the ancient authors. Sources credited both Solon and Athens with having used five different kinds of arguments to make the Athenian case for Salamis, and this variety indicates that Greeks of later centuries did not really know what happened in the struggle over the island. Hampered by problems of chronography and influenced by cultural attitudes such as a belief in a culture hero, historians, biographers, and travelers wrote accounts which reveal the importance of the past, especially the Trojan War past, to Greeks.

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