Superphysics Superphysics
Section 1b

The Athenian Constitution

by Xenophon Icon
5 minutes  • 923 words

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 from the fact that they are 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;

The rich man is the trierarch or gymnasiarch. The People that profit 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 emissaries (33) from Athens come out, and, according to common opinion, calumniate and vent their hatred (34) upon the better sort of people, this is done (35) 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)

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 urged (38) 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 mind (39) 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 year (42) 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 cent (44) levied in Piraeus is increased to the profit of the state; again, the owner of a lodging-house (45) 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 criers (47) 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 lose (48) 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 suppliant (49) 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.

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