Old Oligarch

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Is a modern name for a pamphlet about 5th‐cent. bc Athens, preserved among the works of Xenophon, but better referred to as The Constitution of the Athenians.

The pamphlet aims to show that the demos (common people) 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 the poor and the demos have more power there than the noble and rich because it is the demos which mans the fleet’. The date lies somewhere between 431 bc and 413.

It is hard to know what to make of the pamphlet. There are passages which would be valuable evidence for Classical Athens if they were straightforwardly usable (and they are often so used), e.g. on the licence allowed to slaves (see slavery), on the use of the law‐courts for the maintenance of the democracy (see law and procedure, athenian), on sea power generally, on the refusal of the people to let comic poets mock the demos (something less than outright censorship may be meant; but see intolerance, intellectual and religious). The usual view sees the pamphlet as good evidence for facts and attitudes about Athenian democracy and the Athenian empire.

Subjects: Classical Studies.

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