Born into the rich and aristocratic Alcmaeonid clan around 570 BC, Cleisthenes was raised as a nobleman at a time when the city was deeply divided between ordinary commoners and their wealthy noble rulers.
Named after his grandfather, the young boy had a great deal to live up to. His grandfather had ruled the city of Sicyon, won the Olympics as a chariot racer, and become famous all over Greece for the year long competition he held for suitors seeking to marry his daughter. The eventual winner of the contest was an Athenian nobleman called Megacles - the younger Cleisthenes' father - but all the other participants received generous consolation prizes.
Megacles became one of Athens' most important statesmen and would have brought up his son to embrace the traditional heroic virtues embodied in the works of Homer. To be a leader and to achieve glory and fame were what counted in life, only through individual deeds could a man hope to achieve immortality.
But there was another important influence at work in the city, one that the highly intelligent young boy was almost certainly aware of...
The Alcmaeonids And How They Acquired Their Wealth
The Origin of the Olympic Games
Who was Homer?
The Rest of the World at the time of Classical Greece