Pittacus of Mytilene was a statesman
of Ancient Greece
. He was born sometime on the island of Lesbos
in the 600s BCE
and died in 570 BCE. His most notable undertaking during his life as a politician
was the leading of a force to war with Athens
over the possession of the strategically imporant port city Sigeum
. During battle he is said to have killed one of Athens' great generals, Phrynon
, in single combat.
The political career of Pittacus was somewhat more mundane. He had a hand in overthrowing the previous government of Mytilene in a coup d'etat and was elected by the people of the city as a ten-year dictator. He took several measures to restore order such as legal reform. An extremely distant kindred-spirit with the folks of MADD, he instituted new laws that proscribed twice the punishment for crimes committed under the influence of alcohol. Once his term ended Pittacus handed over power peacefully.
Much of what is known of Pittacus has been told through a younger poet named Alcaeus who had served with Pittacus during the war with Athens. The young man did not hold Pittacus in the highest esteem, charging him with abandoning his old friends in favor of the corrupt politicians of government inner-circle. Alcaeus was a noble exiled from the city for treasonous activities, so take this bitterness with a grain of salt. Despite negative testimony, Pittacus was still included by many later Greek commentators and poets as one of the Seven Sages of the Hellenic world; a leader of great wisdom and power. Like the other sages, Pittacus has a few pithy sayings attributed to him such as the answer to the question, "What is best?": "To do the present thing well."
Howatson, M. C. The Oxford Companion to Classical Literature. Oxford University Press: Oxford, 1989