Shortly after the death of Cylon and the murder of his followers, a great many troubles came upon the city of Athens. The people were frightened, and soon the friends of Cylon began to whisper that the gods were surely punishing the Athenians, and especially Megacles, for breaking his promise.
This report spread throughout the city. The terrified people assembled, and voted to exile Megacles and all his family, the Alcmaeonidae. Such was the fury of the Athenians against the archon whose crime had brought misfortunes upon them, that they even dug up the bones of his ancestors, and had them carried beyond the boundary of Attica.
The city had been defiled by the crime which Megacles had committed, and the people felt that they would never be prosperous again until Athens had been purified; but the great question was to find a man holy enough to perform the ceremony.
After much talking, they decided to send for Epimenides, and to ask him to purify the city. This man, when a mere lad, once went into a cave near his native town, and there laid himself down to sleep. Instead of taking an ordinary nap, however, he slept fiftyeight years, without awakening or undergoing any change. When he came out of the cave, where he fancied he had spent only a few hours, he was surprised to find everything new and strange to him.
His relatives had all died, no one knew him, and it was only after some time had passed that he found out that he had slept fiftyeight years at a stretch. This man was a poet of note, and, as he had enjoyed so long a sleep, the people thought that he was a favorite of the gods.
When the Athenians asked him to purify the town, he came to do so; but when the ceremonies were ended, he refused to accept any of the rich gifts which the people offered him as reward. Instead, he humbly begged them to give him a twig of the sacred olive tree which they said Athene herself had planted on the Acropolis.