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date: 21 March 2023

Old Oligarchlocked

Old Oligarchlocked

  • Simon Hornblower


Old Oligarch is the modern name given to a short pamphlet about 5th-cent. bce Athens, preserved among the works of *Xenophon(1) and sometimes referred to as ps.-Xenophon, Constitution of the Athenians. There are three chapters.The work aims to show that the *demos (people) or lower classes at Athens run affairs in their own interests, and it takes the curious form of a salute from an anti-democratic viewpoint. See oligarchy. The author stresses the importance of the link between *sea power and *democracy: ‘it is right that the poor and the demos have more power there than the noble and rich because it is the demos which mans the fleet’ (1. 2).The ostensible date is disputed (440s or—the more usual dating—mid-420s?). See however below.It is hard to know what to make of the treatise: nothing else quite like it survives from the 5th cent. and it had little influence on later anti-democratic thought in antiquity (no contemporary author quotes it). It may belong in the category of *symposium literature, note the second person singular at 1.


  • Greek Literature

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