Polity Athenians and Lacedaemonians, by Xenophon



Now, as concerning the Polity of the Athenians,1 and the type or manner of constitution which they have chosen,2 I praise it not, in so far as the very choice involves the welfare of the baser folk as opposed to that of the better class. I repeat, I withhold my praise so far; but, given the fact that this is the type agreed upon, I propose to show that they set about its preservation in the right way; and that those other transactions in connection with it, which are looked upon as blunders by the rest of the Hellenic world, are the reverse.

In the first place, I maintain, it is only just that the poorer classes3 and the People of Athens should be better off than the men of birth and wealth, seeing that it is the people who man the fleet,4 and put round the city her girdle of power. The steersman,5 the boatswain, the lieutenant,6 the look-out-man at the prow, the shipright — these are the people who engird the city with power far rather than her heavy infantry7 and men of birth of quality. This being the case, it seems only just that offices of state should be thrown open to every one both in the ballot8 and the show of hands, and that the right of speech should belong to any one who likes, without restriction. For, observe,9 there are many of these offices which, according as they are in good or in bad hands, are a source of safety or of danger to the People, and in these the People prudently abstains from sharing; as, for instance, it does not think it incumbent on itself to share in the functions of the general or of the commander of cavalry.10 The sovereign People recognises the fact that in forgoing the personal exercise of these offices, and leaving them to the control of the more powerful11 citizens, it secures the balance of advantage to itself. It is only those departments of government which bring emolument12 and assist the private estate that the People cares to keep in its own hands.

In the next place, in regard to what some people are puzzled to explain — the fact that everywhere greater consideration is shown to the base, to poor people and to common folk, than to persons of good quality — so far from being a matter of surprise, this, as can be shown, is the keystone of the preservation of the democracy. It is these poor people, this common folk, this riff-raff,13 whose prosperity, combined with the growth of their numbers, enhances the democracy. Whereas, a shifting of fortune to the advantage of the wealthy and the better classes implies the establishment on the part of the commonalty of a strong power in opposition to itself. In fact, all the world over, the cream of society is in opposition to the democracy. Naturally, since the smallest amount of intemperance and injustice, together with the highest scrupulousness in the pursuit of excellence, is to be found in the ranks of the better class, while within the ranks of the People will be found the greatest amount of ignorance, disorderliness, rascality — poverty acting as a stronger incentive to base conduct, not to speak of lack of education and ignorance, traceable to the lack of means which afflicts the average of mankind.14

The objection may be raised that it was a mistake to allow the universal right of speech15 and a seat in council. These should have been reserved for the cleverest, the flower of the community. But here, again, it will be found that they are acting with wise deliberation in granting to16 even the baser sort the right of speech, for supposing only the better people might speak, or sit in council, blessings would fall to the lot of those like themselves, but to the commonalty the reverse of blessings. Whereas now, any one who likes, any base fellow, may get up and discover something to the advantage of himself and his equals. It may be retorted: “And what sort of advantage either for himself or for the People can such a fellow be expected to hit upon?” The answer to which is, that in their judgment the ignorance and baseness of this fellow, together with his goodwill, are worth a great deal more to them than your superior person’s virtue and wisdom, coupled with animosity. What it comes to, therefore, is that a state founded upon such institutions will not be the best state;17 but, given a democracy, these are the right means to procure its preservation. The People, it must be borne in mind, does not demand that the city should be well governed and itself a slave. It desires to be free and to be master.18 As to bad legislation it does not concern itself about that.19 In fact, what you believe to be bad legislation is the very source of the People’s strength and freedom. But if you seek for good legislation, in the first place you will see the cleverest members of the community laying down the laws for the rest. And in the next place, the better class will curb and chastise the lower orders; the better class will deliberate in behalf of the state, and not suffer crack-brained fellows to sit in council, or to speak or vote in Parliament.20 No doubt; but under the weight of such blessings the People will in a very short time be reduced to slavery.

Another point is the extraordinary amount of license21 granted to slaves and resident aliens at Athens, where a blow is illegal, and a slave will not step aside to let you pass him in the street. I will explain the reason of this peculiar custom. Supposing it were legal for a slave to be beaten by a free citizen, or for a resident alien or freedman to be beaten by a citizen, it would frequently happen that an Athenian might be mistaken for a slave or an alien and receive a beating; since the Athenian People is no better clothed than the slave or alien, nor in personal appearance is there any superiority. Or if the fact itself that slaves in Athens are allowed to indulge in luxury, and indeed in some cases to live magnificently, be found astonishing, this too, it can be shown, is done of set purpose. Where you have a naval power22 dependent upon wealth23 we must perforce be slaves to our slaves, in order that we may get in our slave-rents,24 and let the real slave go free. Where you have wealthy slaves it ceases to be advantageous that my slave should stand in awe of you. In Lacedaemon my slave stands in awe of you.25 But if your slave is in awe of me there will be a risk of his giving away his own moneys to avoid running a risk in his own person. It is for this reason then that we have established an equality between our slaves and free men; and again between our resident aliens and full citizens,26 because the city stands in need of her resident aliens to meet the requirements of such a multiplicity of arts and for the purposes of her navy. That is, I repeat, the justification for the equality conferred upon our resident aliens.

Citizens devoting their time to gymnastics and to the cultivation of music are not to be found in Athens;27 the sovereign People has disestablished them,28 not from any disbelief in the beauty and honour of such training, but recognising the fact that these are things the cultivation of which is beyond its power. On the same principle, in the case of the coregia,29 the gymnasiarchy, and the trierarchy, the fact is recognised that it is the rich man who trains the chorus, and the People for whom the chorus is trained; it is the rich man who is trierarch or gymnasiarch, and the People that profits by their labours.30 In fact, what the People looks upon as its right is to pocket the money.31 To sing and run and dance and man the vessels is well enough, but only in order that the People may be the gainer, while the rich are made poorer. And so in the courts of justice,32 justice is not more an object of concern to the jurymen than what touches personal advantage.

To speak next of the allies, and in reference to the point that emissaries33 from Athens come out, and, according to common opinion, calumniate and vent their hatred34 upon the better sort of people, this is done35 on the principle that the ruler cannot help being hated by those whom he rules; but that if wealth and respectability are to wield power in the subject cities the empire of the Athenian People has but a short lease of existence. This explains why the better people are punished with infamy,36 robbed of their money, driven from their homes, and put to death, while the baser sort are promoted to honour. On the other hand, the better Athenians throw their aegis over the better class in the allied cities.37 And why? Because they recognise that it is to the interest of their own class at all times to protect the best element in the cities. It may be urged38 that if it comes to strength and power the real strength of Athens lies in the capacity of her allies to contribute their money quota. But to the democratic mind39 it appears a higher advantage still for the individual Athenian to get hold of the wealth of the allies, leaving them only enough to live upon and to cultivate their estates, but powerless to harbour treacherous designs.

Again,40 it is looked upon as a mistaken policy on the part of the Athenian democracy to compel her allies to voyage to Athens in order to have their cases tried.41 On the other hand, it is easy to reckon up what a number of advantages the Athenian People derive from the practice impugned. In the first place, there is the steady receipt of salaries throughout the year42 derived from the court fees.43 Next, it enables them to manage the affairs of the allied states while seated at home without the expense of naval expeditions. Thirdly, they thus preserve the partisans of the democracy, and ruin her opponents in the law courts. Whereas, supposing the several allied states tried their cases at home, being inspired by hostility to Athens, they would destroy those of their own citizens whose friendship to the Athenian People was most marked. But besides all this the democracy derives the following advantages from hearing the cases of her allies in Athens. In the first place, the one per cent44 levied in Piraeus is increased to the profit of the state; again, the owner of a lodging-house45 does better, and so, too, the owner of a pair of beasts, or of slaves to be let out on hire;46 again, heralds and criers47 are a class of people who fare better owing to the sojourn of foreigners at Athens. Further still, supposing the allies had not to resort to Athens for the hearing of cases, only the official representative of the imperial state would be held in honour, such as the general, or trierarch, or ambassador. Whereas now every single individual among the allies is forced to pay flattery to the People of Athens because he knows that he must betake himself to Athens and win or lose48 his case at the bar, not of any stray set of judges, but of the sovereign People itself, such being the law and custom at Athens. He is compelled to behave as a suppliant49 in the courts of justice, and when some juryman comes into court, to grasp his hand. For this reason, therefore, the allies find themselves more and more in the position of slaves to the people of Athens.

Furthermore, owing to the possession of property beyond the limits of Attica,50 and the exercise of magistracies which take them into regions beyond the frontier, they and their attendants have insensibly acquired the art of navigation.51 A man who is perpetually voyaging is forced to handle the oar, he and his domestics alike, and to learn the terms familiar in seamanship. Hence a stock of skilful mariners is produced, bred upon a wide experience of voyaging and practice. They have learnt their business, some in piloting a small craft, others a merchant vessel, whilst others have been drafted off from these for service on a ship-of-war. So that the majority of them are able to row the moment they set foot on board a vessel, having been in a state of preliminary practice all their lives.

1 See Grote, “H. G.” vi. p. 47 foll.; Thuc. i. 76, 77; viii. 48; Boeckh, “P. E. A.” passim; Hartman, “An. Xen. N.” cap. viii.; Roquette, “Xen. Vit.” S. 26; Newman, “Pol. Arist.” i. 538; and “Xenophontis qui fertur libellus de Republica Atheniensium,” ed. A. Kirchhoff (MDCCCLXXIV), whose text I have chiefly followed.

2 Lit. “I do not praise their choice of the (particular) type, in so far as . . .”

3 Cf. “Mem.” I. ii. 58 foll.

4 Lit. “ply the oar and propel the galleys.”

5 See “Econ.” viii. 14; Pollux, i. 96; Arist. “Knights,” 543 foll.; Plat. “Laws,” v. 707 A; Jowett, “Plat.” v. 278 foll.; Boeckh, “P. E. A.” bk. ii. ch. xxi.

6 Lit. “pentecontarch;” see Dem. “In Pol.” 1212.

7 Aristot. “Pol.” vi. 7; Jowett, “The Politics of Aristotle,” vol. i. p. 109.

8 klerotoi, airetoi.

9 Reading with Kirchhoff, epeo tou, or if epeita, “in the next place.”

10 Hipparch.

11 Cf. “Hipparch.” i. 9; “Econ.” ii. 8.

12 E.g. the dikasteria.

13 Or, “these inferiors,” “these good-for-nothings.”

14 Or, “some of these folk.” The passage is corrupt.

15 Lit. “everybody to speak in turn.”

16 Or, “it is a counsel of perfection on their part to grant to,” etc.

17 Or, “the ideal state.”

18 Or, “and to govern and hold office.”

19 Or, “it will take the risk of that.”

20 See Grote, “H. G.” v. p. 510 note.

21 See Aristot. “Pol.” v. 11 and vi. 4; Jowett, op. cit. vol. i. pp. 179, 196; Welldon, “The Politics of Aristotle,” pp. 394 323; Dem. “Phil.” III. iii. 10; Plaut. “Stich.” III. i. 37.

22 See Diod. xi. 43.

23 Reading, apo khrematon, anagke, or (reading, apo khrematon anagke) “considerations of money force us to be slaves.”

24 See Boeckh, “P. E. A.” I. xiii. (Eng. trans. p. 72). “The rights of property with regard to slaves in no way differed from any other chattel; they could be given or taken as pledges. They laboured either on their master’s account or their own, in consideration of a certain sum to be paid to the master, or they were let out on hire either for the mines or any other kind of labour, and even for other persons’ workshops, or as hired servants for wages (apophora): a similar payment was also exacted by the masters for their slaves serving in the fleet.” Ib. “Dissertation on the Silver Mines of Laurion,” p. 659 (Eng. trans.)

25 See “Pol. Lac.” vi. 3.

26 Or, “we have given to our slaves the right to talk like equals with free men, just as to resident aliens the right of so talking with citizens.” See Jebb, “Theophr. Char.” xiv. 4, note, p. 221. See Demosth. “against Midias,” 529, where the law is cited. “If any one commit a personal outrage upon man, woman, or child, whether free-born or slave, or commit any illegal act against any such person, let any Athenian that chooses” (not being under disability) “indict him before the judges,” etc; and the orator exclaims: “You know, O Athenians, the humanity of the law, which allows not even slaves to be insulted in their persons.”— C. R. Kennedy.

27 For mousike and gumnastike, see Becker’s “Charicles,” Exc. “Education.”

28 See “Revenues,” iv. 52; Arist. “Frogs,” 1069, e xekenosen tas te palaistras, “and the places of exercise vacant and bare.”— Frere.

29 “The duties of the choregia consisted in finding maintenance and instruction for the chorus” (in tragedy, usually of fifteen persons) “as long as they were in training; and in providing the dresses and equipments for the performance.”— Jebb, “Theophr. Char.” xxv. 3. For those of the gymnasiarchy, see “Dict. of Antiq.” “Gymnasium.” For that of the trierarchy, see Jebb, op. cit. xxv. 9; xxix. 16; Boeckh, “P. E. A.” IV. xi.

30 See “Econ.” ii. 6; Thuc. vi. 31.

31 See Boeckh, “P. E. A.” II. xvi. p. 241.

32 For the system of judicature, the dikasteria, and the boards of jurymen or judges, see Aristot. “Constitution of Athens,” ch. lxiii.; “Dict. of Antiq.” s.v.

33 For oi ekpleontes, see Grote, “H. G.” vi. p. 41.

34 Reading misousi; or, if with Kirchhoff, meiousi, “in every way humiliate.”

35 Or, “[they do so] as recognising the fact.”

36 atimia = the loss of civil rights, either total or partial. See C. R. Kennedy, “Select Speeches of Demosthenes,” Note 13, Disenfranchisement.

37 See Thuc. viii. 48.

38 See Grote, “H. G.” vi. 53.

39 Or, “to a thorough democrat.”

40 Grote, “H. G.” vi. 61.

41 See Isocr. “Panath.” 245 D.

42 See Arist. “Clouds,” 1196; Demosth. “c. Timoc.” 730.

43 For the “Prytaneia,” see Aristot. “Pol.” ii. 12, 4. “Ephialtes and Pericles curtailed the privileges of the Areopagus, Pericles converted the Courts of Law into salaried bodies, and so each succeeding demagogue outdid his predecessor in the privileges he conferred upon the commons, until the present democracy was the result” (Welldon). “The writer of this passage clearly intended to class Pericles among the demagogues. He judges him in the same deprecatory spirit as Plato in the ‘Gorgias,’ pp. 515, 516.”— Jowett, “Pol. of Aristot.” vol. ii. p. 101. But see Aristot. “Constitution of Athens,” ch. xxv., a portion of the newly-discovered treatise, which throws light on an obscure period in the history of Athens; and Mr. Kenyon’s note ad loc.; and Mr. Macan’s criticism, “Journal of Hellenic Studies,” vol. xii. No. 1.

44 For the ekatoste, see Thuc. vii. 28, in reference to the year B.C. 416; Arist. “Wasps,” 658; “Frogs,” 363.

45 See Boeckh, “P. E. A.” I. xii. p. 65 (Eng. trans.); I. xxiv. p. 141.

46 See “Revenues,” iv. 20, p. 338; Jebb, “Theophr. Char.” xxvi. 16.

47 For these functionaries, see Jebb, op. cit. xvi. 10.

48 Lit. “pay or get justice.”

49 Se Arist. “Wasps,” 548 foll.; Grote, “H. G.” v. 520 note; Newman, op. cit. i. 383.

50 See “Mem.” II. viii. 1.

51 See “Hell.” VII. i. 4.


As to the heavy infantry, an arm the deficiency of which at Athens is well recognised, this is how the matter stands. They recognise the fact that, in reference to the hostile power, they are themselves inferior, and must be, even if their heavy infantry were more numerous.52 But relatively to the allies, who bring in the tribute, their strength even on land is enormous. And they are persuaded that their heavy infantry is sufficient for all purposes, provided they retain this superiority.53 Apart from all else, to a certain extent fortune must be held responsible for the actual condition. The subjects of a power which is dominant by land have it open to them to form contingents from several small states and to muster in force for battle. But with the subjects of a naval power it is different. As far as they are groups of islanders it is impossible for their states to meet together for united action, for the sea lies between them, and the dominant power is master of the sea. And even if it were possible for them to assemble in some single island unobserved, they would only do so to perish by famine. And as to the states subject to Athens which are not islanders, but situated on the continent, the larger are held in check by need54 and the small ones absolutely by fear, since there is no state in existence which does not depend upon imports and exports, and these she will forfeit if she does not lend a willing ear to those who are masters by sea. In the next place, a power dominant by sea can do certain things which a land power is debarred from doing; as for instance, ravage the territory of a superior, since it is always possible to coast along to some point, where either there is no hostile force to deal with or merely a small body; and in case of an advance in force on the part of the enemy they can take to their ships and sail away. Such a performance is attended with less difficulty than that experienced by the relieving force on land.55 Again, it is open to a power so dominating by sea to leave its own territory and sail off on as long a voyage as you please. Whereas the land power cannot place more than a few days’ journey between itself and its own territory, for marches are slow affairs; and it is not possible for an army on the march to have food supplies to last for any great length of time. Such an army must either march through friendly territory or it must force a way by victory in battle. The voyager meanwhile has it in his power to disembark at any point where he finds himself in superior force, or, at the worst, to coast by until he reaches either a friendly district or an enemy too weak to resist. Again, those diseases to which the fruits of the earth are liable as visitations from heaven fall severely on a land power, but are scarcely felt by the navel power, for such sicknesses do not visit the whole earth everywhere at once. So that the ruler of the sea can get in supplies from a thriving district. And if one may descend to more trifling particulars, it is to this same lordship of the sea that the Athenians owe the discovery, in the first place, of many of the luxuries of life through intercourse with other countries. So that the choice things of Sicily and Italy, of Cyprus and Egypt and Lydia, of Pontus or Peloponnese, or wheresoever else it be, are all swept, as it were, into one centre, and all owing, as I say, to their maritime empire. And again, in process of listening to every form of speech,56 they have selected this from one place and that from another — for themselves. So much so that while the rest of the Hellenes employ57 each pretty much their own peculiar mode of speech, habit of life, and style of dress, the Athenians have adopted a composite type,58 to which all sections of Hellas, and the foreigner alike, have contributed.

As regards sacrifices and temples and festivals and sacred enclosures, the People sees that it is not possible for every poor citizen to do sacrifice and hold festival, or to set up59 temples and to inhabit a large and beautiful city. But it has hit upon a means of meeting the difficulty. They sacrifice — that is, the whole state sacrifices — at the public cost a large number of victims; but it is the People that keeps holiday and distributes the victims by lot amongst its members. Rich men have in some cases private gymnasia and baths with dressing-rooms,60 but the People takes care to have built at the public cost61 a number of palaestras, dressing-rooms, and bathing establishments for its own special use, and the mob gets the benefit of the majority of these, rather than the select few or the well-to-do.

As to wealth, the Athenians are exceptionally placed with regard to Hellenic and foreign communities alike,62 in their ability to hold it. For, given that some state or other is rich in timber for shipbuilding, where is it to find a market63 for the product except by persuading the ruler of the sea? Or, suppose the wealth of some state or other to consist of iron, or may be of bronze,64 or of linen yarn, where will it find a market except by permission of the supreme maritime power? Yet these are the very things, you see, which I need for my ships. Timber I must have from one, and from another iron, from a third bronze, from a fourth linen yarn, from a fifth wax, etc. Besides which they will not suffer their antagonists in those parts65 to carry these products elsewhither, or they will cease to use the sea. Accordingly I, without one stroke of labour, extract from the land and possess all these good things, thanks to my supremacy on the sea; whilst not a single other state possesses the two of them. Not timber, for instance, and yarn together, the same city. But where yarn is abundant, the soil will be light and devoid of timber. And in the same way bronze and iron will not be products of the same city. And so for the rest, never two, or at best three, in one state, but one thing here and another thing there. Moreover, above and beyond what has been said, the coast-line of every mainland presents, either some jutting promontory, or adjacent island, or narrow strait of some sort, so that those who are masters of the sea can come to moorings at one of these points and wreak vengeance66 on the inhabitants of the mainland.

There is just one thing which the Athenians lack. Supposing that they were the inhabitants of an island,67 and were still, as now, rulers of the sea, they would have had it in their power to work whatever mischief they liked, and to suffer no evil in return (as long as they kept command of the sea), neither the ravaging of their territory nor the expectation of an enemy’s approach. Whereas at present the farming portion of the community and the wealthy landowners are ready68 to cringe before the enemy overmuch, whilst the People, knowing full well that, come what may, not one stock or stone of their property will suffer, nothing will be cut down, nothing burnt, lives in freedom from alarm, without fawning at the enemy’s approach. Besides this, there is another fear from which they would have been exempt in an island home — the apprehension of the city being at any time betrayed by their oligarchs69 and the gates thrown open, and an enemy bursting suddenly in. How could incidents like these have taken place if an island had been their home? Again, had they inhabited an island there would have been no stirring of sedition against the people; whereas at present, in the event of faction, those who set it in foot base their hopes of success on the introduction of an enemy by land. But a people inhabiting an island would be free from all anxiety on that score. Since, however, they did not chance to inhabit an island from the first, what they now do is this — they deposit their property in the islands,70 trusting to their command of the sea, and they suffer the soil of Aticca to be ravaged without a sigh. To expend pity on that, they know, would be to deprive themselves of other blessings still more precious.71

Further, states oligarchically governed are forced to ratify their alliances and solemn oaths, and if they fail to abide by their contracts, the offence, by whomsoever committed,72 lies nominally at the door of the oligarchs who entered upon the contract. But in the case of engagements entered into by a democracy it is open to the People to throw the blame on the single individual who spoke in favour of some measure, or put it to the vote, and to maintain to the rest of the world, “I was not present, nor do I approve of the terms of the agreement.” Inquiries are made in a full meeting of the People, and should any of these things be disapproved of, it can at once discover ten thousand excuses to avoid doing whatever they do not wish. And if any mischief should spring out of any resolutions which the People has passed in council, the People can readily shift the blame from its own shoulders. “A handful of oligarchs73 acting against the interests of the People have ruined us.” But if any good result ensue, they, the People, at once take the credit of that to themselves.

In the same spirit it is not allowed to caricature on the comic stage74 or otherwise libel the People, because75 they do not care to hear themselves ill spoken of. But if any one has a desire to satirise his neighbour he has full leave to do so. And this because they are well aware that, as a general rule, this person caricatured76 does not belong to the People, or the masses. He is more likely to be some wealthy or well-born person, or man of means and influence. In fact, but few poor people and of the popular stamp incur the comic lash, or if they do they have brought it on themselves by excessive love of meddling or some covetous self-seeking at the expense of the People, so that no particular annoyance is felt at seeing such folk satirised.

What, then, I venture to assert is, that the People of Athens has no difficulty in recognising which of its citizens are of the better sort and which the opposite.77 And so recognising those who are serviceable and advantageous78 to itself, even though they be base, the People loves them; but the good folk they are disposed rather to hate. This virtue of theirs, the People holds, is not engrained in their nature for any good to itself, but rather for its injury. In direct opposition to this, there are some persons who, being79 born of the People, are yet by natural instinct not commoners. For my part I pardon the People its own democracy, as, indeed, it is pardonable in any one to do good to himself.80 But the man who, not being himself one of the People, prefers to live in a state democratically governed rather than in an oligarchical state may be said to smooth his own path towards iniquity. He knows that a bad man has a better chance of slipping through the fingers of justice in a democratic than in an oligarchical state.

52 Reading after Kirchhoff, ettous ge . . . kan ei meizon en, ton dia k.t.l. See Thuc. i. 143; Isocr. “de Pace,” 169 A; Plut. “Them.” 4 (Clough, i. 235).

53 Lit. “they are superior to their allies.”

54 Reading with Kirchhoff, dia khreian . . . dia deos.

55 Or, “the army marching along the seaboard to the rescue.”

56 Or, “a variety of dialects.”

57 Or, “maintain somewhat more.”

58 Or, “have contracted a mixed style, bearing traces of Hellenic and foreign influence alike.” See Mahaffy, “Hist. of Greek Lit.” vol. ii. ch. x. p. 257 (1st ed.); cf. Walt Whitman, “Preface to” original edition of “Leaves of Grass,” p. 29 —“The English language befriends the grand American expression: it is brawny enough and limber and full enough, on the tough stock of a race, who through all change of circumstances was never without the idea of a political liberty, which is the animus of all liberty; it has attracted the terms of daintier and gayer and subtler and more elegant tongues.”

59 Reading with Kirchhoff, istasthai.

60 See Jebb, “Theophr. Char.” vii. 18, p. 202.

61 Reading with Kirchhoff, demosia.

62 Or, “they have a practical monopoly.”

63 Or, “how is it to dispose of the product?”

64 Or, “coppert.”

65 Reading ekei. For this corrupt passage see L. Dindorf, ad. loc.; also Boeckh, “P. E. A.” I. ix. p. 55. Perhaps (as my friend Mr. J. R. Mozley suggests) the simplest supposition is to suppose that there is an ellipsis before e ou khresontai te thalatte: thus, “Besides which they will not suffer their antagonists to transport goods to countries outside Attica; they must yield, or they shall not have the use of the sea.”

66 lobasthai. This “poetical” word comes to mean “harry,” “pillage,” in the common dialect.

67 See Thuc. i. 143. Pericles says: “Reflect, if we were islanders, who would be more invulnerable? Let us imagine that we are.”

68 Or, “are the more ready to cringe.” See, for the word uperkhontai, “Pol. Lac.” viii. 2; Plat. “Crit.” 53 E; Rutherford, “New Phrynichus,” p. 110.

69 Or, “by the minority”; or, “by a handful of people.”

70 As they did during the Peloponnesian war; and earlier still, before the battle of Salamis, in the case of that one island.

71 Or, “but mean the forfeiture of others.”

72 Reading uph otououn adikeitai onomati upo ton oligon, which I suggest as a less violent emendation of this corrupt passage than any I have seen; or, reading with Sauppe, uph otou adikei anomeitai apo ton oligon, “the illegality lies at the door of.”

73 Or, “a few insignificant fellows.”

74 See Grote, “H. G.” viii. 446, especially p. 449, “growth and development of comedy at Athens”; Curtius, “H. G.” iii. pp. 242, 243; Thirlwall, “H. G.” ch. xviii. vol. iii. p. 42.

75 Or, more lit. “it would not do for the People to hear,” etc.

76 Or, “the butt of comedy.”

77 Or, “and which are good for nothing.”

78 Or,“its own friends and supporters.”

79 Reading ontes or (if gnontes), “who, recognising the nature of the People, have no popular leaning.” Gutschmidt conj. enioi egguoi ontes, i.e. Pericles.

80 On the principle that “the knee is nearer than the shin-bone,” gonu knemes, or, as we say, “charity begins at home.”


I repeat that my position concerning the polity of the Athenians is this: the type81 of polity is not to my taste, but given that a democratic form of government has been agreed upon, they do seem to me to go the right way to preserve the democracy by the adoption of the particular type82 which I have set forth.

But there are other objections brought, as I am aware, against the Athenians, by certain people, and to this effect. It not seldom happens, they tell us, that a man is unable to transact a piece of business with the senate or the People, even if he sit waiting a whole year. Now this does happen at Athens, and for no other reason save that, owing to the immense mass of affairs they are unable to work off all the business on hand, and dismiss the applicants. And how in the world should they be able, considering in the first place, that they, the Athenians, have more festivals83 to celebrate than any other state throughout the length and breadth of Hellas? [During these festivals, of course, the transaction of any sort of affairs of state is still more out of the question.]84 In the next place, only consider the number of cases they have to decide — what with private suits and public causes and scrutinies of accounts, etc., more than the whole of the rest of mankind put together; while the senate has multifarious points to advise upon concerning peace and war,85 concerning ways and means, concerning the framing and passing of laws,86 and concerning the thousand and one matters affecting the state perpetually occurring, and endless questions touching the allies; besides the receipt of the tribute, the superintendence of dockyards and temples, etc. Can, I ask again, any one find it at all surprising that, with all these affairs on their hands, they are unequal to doing business with all the world?

But some people tell us that if the applicant will only address himself to the senate or the People with a fee in his hand he will do a good stroke of business. And for my part I am free to confess to these gainsayers that a good many things may be done at Athens by dint of money; and I will add, that a good many more still might be done, if the money flowed still more freely and from more pockets. One thing, however, I know full well, that as to transacting with every one of these applicants all he wants, the state could not do it, not even if all the gold and silver in the world were the inducement offered.

Here are some of the cases which have to be decided on. Some one fails to fit out a ship: judgement must be given. Another puts up a building on a piece of public land: again judgement must be given. Or, to take another class of cases: adjudication has to be made between the choragi for the Dionysia, the Thargelia, the Panathenaea, year after year. [87 And again in behalf of the gymnasiarchs a similar adjudication for the Panathenaea, the Prometheia, and the Hephaestia, also year after year.] Also as between the trierarchs, four hundred of whom are appointed each year, of these, too, any who choose must have their cases adjudicated on, year after year. But that is not all. There are various magistrates to examine and approve88 and decide between; there are orphans89 whose status must be examined; and guardians of prisoners to appoint. These, be it borne in mind, are all matters of yearly occurrence; while at intervals there are exemptions and abstentions from military service90 which call for adjudication, or in connection with some other extraordinary misdemeanour, some case of outrage and violence of an exceptional character, or some charge of impiety. A whole string of others I simply omit; I am content to have named the most important part with the exception of the assessments of tribute which occur, as a rule, at intervals of five years.91

I put it to you, then: can any one suppose that all, or any, of these may dispense with adjudication?92 If so, will any one say which ought, and which ought not, to be adjudicated on, there and then? If, on the other hand, we are forced to admit that these are all fair cases for adjudication, it follows of necessity that they should be decided during the twelve-month; since even now the boards of judges sitting right through the year are powerless to stay the tide of evildoing by reason of the multitude of the people.

So far so good.93 “But,” some one will say, “try the cases you certainly must, but lessen the number of the judges.” But if so, it follows of necessity that unless the number of courts themselves are diminished in number there will only be a few judges sitting in each court,94 with the further consequence that in dealing with so small a body of judges it will be easier for a litigant to present an invulnerable front95 to the court, and to bribe96 the whole body, to the great detriment of justice.97

But besides this we cannot escape the conclusion that the Athenians have their festivals to keep, during which the courts cannot sit.98 As a matter of fact these festivals are twice as numerous as those of any other people. But I will reckon them as merely equal to those of the state which has the fewest.

This being so, I maintain that it is not possible for business affairs at Athens to stand on any very different footing from the present, except to some slight extent, by adding here and deducting there. Any large modification is out of the question, short of damaging the democracy itself. No doubt many expedients might be discovered for improving the constitution, but if the problem be to discover some adequate means of improving the constitution, while at the same time the democracy is to remain intact, I say it is not easy to do this, except, as I have just stated, to the extent of some trifling addition here or deduction there.

There is another point in which it is sometimes felt that the Athenians are ill advised, in their adoption, namely, of the less respectable party, in a state divided by faction. But if so, they do it advisedly. If they chose the more respectable, they would be adopting those whose views and interests differ from their own, for there is no state in which the best element is friendly to the people. It is the worst element which in every state favours the democracy — on the principle that like favours like.99 It is simple enough then. The Athenians choose what is most akin to themselves. Also on every occasion on which they have attempted to side with the better classes, it has not fared well with them, but within a short interval the democratic party has been enslaved, as for instance in Boeotia;100 or, as when they chose the aristocrats of the Milesians, and within a short time these revolted and cut the people to pieces; or, as when they chose the Lacedaemonians as against the Messenians, and within a short time the Lacedaemonians subjugated the Messenians and went to war against Athens.

I seem to overhear a retort, “No one, of course, is deprived of his civil rights at Athens unjustly.” My answer is, that there are some who are unjustly deprived of their civil rights, though the cases are certainly rare. But it will take more than a few to attack the democracy at Athens, since you may take it as an established fact, it is not the man who has lost his civil rights justly that takes the matter to heart, but the victims, if any, of injustice. But how in the world can any one imagine that many are in a state of civil disability at Athens, where the People and the holders of office are one and the same? It is from iniquitous exercise of office, from iniquity exhibited either in speech or action, and the like circumstances, that citizens are punished with deprivation of civil rights in Athens. Due reflection on these matters will serve to dispel the notion that there is any danger at Athens from persons visited with disenfranchisement.

81 Or, “manner.”

82 Or, “manner.”

83 See Arist. “Wasps,” 661.

84 This sentence is perhaps a gloss.

85 Or, “about the war,” peri tou polemou.

86 See Thirlwall, ch. xxxii. vol. iv. p. 221, note 3.

87 Adopting the emendation of Kirchhoff, who inserts the sentence in brackets. For the festivals in question, see “Dict. of Antiq.” “Lampadephoria”; C. R. Kenney, “Demosth. against Leptines,” etc., App. vi.

88 For the institution called the dokimasia, see Aristot. “Constitution of Athens,” ch. lv.

89 See Dem. “against Midias,” 565, 17; “against Apholus” (1), 814, 20.

90 See Lys. “Or.” xiv. and xv.

91 See Grote, “H. G.” vi. p. 48; Thuc. vii. 78; i. 96; Arist. “Wasps,” 707; Aristot. “Pol.” v. 8.

92 Reading with Kirchhoff. Cf. for oiesthai khre, “Hell.” VI. iv. 23; “Cyr.” IV. ii. 28.

93 See Grote, “H. G.” v. 514, 520; Machiavelli, “Disc. s. Livio,” i. 7.

94 Reading with Sauppe, anagke toinun, ean me [for the vulgate ean men oliga k.t.l.] oliga poiontai dikasteria, oligoi en ekasto esontai to dikasterio. Or, adopting Weiske’s emendation, ean men polla poiontai dikasteria k.t.l. Translate, “Then, if by so doing they manage to multiply the law courts, there will be only a few judges sitting,” etc.

95 Or, as Liddell and Scott, “to prepare all his tricks.”

96 sundekasoi, “to bribe in the lump.” This is Schneider’s happy emendation of the MS. sundikasai; see Demosthenes, 1137, 1.

97 Reading oste, lit. “so as to get a far less just judgment.”

98 Lit. “it is not possible to give judgment”; or, “for juries to sit.”

99 I.e. “birds of a feather.”

100 The references are perhaps (1) to the events of the year 447 B.C., see Thuc. i. 113; cf. Aristot. “Pol.” v. 3, 5; (2) to 440 B.C., Thuc. i. 115; Diod. xii. 27, 28; Plut. “Pericl.” c. 24; (3) to those of 464 B.C., followed by 457 B.C., Thuc. i. 102; Plut. “Cimon,” c. 16; and Thuc. i. 108.


Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 14:12