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The Constitution of the Athenians (or "Athenaion Politeia", or "The Athenians") is the name of either of two texts from Classical antiquity, one probably by Aristotle, the other attributed to Xenophon, but not by him.


Aristotle

The Aristotelian text is unique, because it is not a part of the Corpus Aristotelicum. It was lost until it was discovered in Egypt in 1890 by an American missionary. The British Museum acquired it later that year, and the first edition of it by Frederic G. Kenyon was published in January, 1891. The editions of the Greek text in widest use today are Kenyon's Oxford Classical Text of 1920 and the Teubner edition by Mortimer H. Chambers (1986, second edition 1994). Its authorship is disputed, with some scholars attributing it to Aristotle and others to his students.

If it is a genuine writing of Aristotle, then it is of particular significance, because it is the only one of his extant writings that was actually intended for publication.

Pseudo-Xenophon

Most of the manuscripts of the shorter works of Xenophon include a hostile treatise about the Athenian Constitution. The author, who appears to be an Athenian, regards the Athenian democracy as undesirable, as giving the mob undue voice in the state; but he argues that it is well-designed for its purpose, if you wanted so vile a thing to be done. The author goes on to say that whilst 'the good', a description he uses to cover the rich and the aristocracy of Athens, are better qualified to run the state due to their wealth and education, this would lead to 'the masses' being disenfranchised as the rich would naturally act in their own interests, leading to the supression of the lower classes. The Democracy, he goes on to say, allows the poor to exert their influence, in line with the Thetes crucial role in the Athenian Navy and therefore in Athen's power.

Dating and Authenticity.

In the early twentieth century, evidence against Xenophon's authorship was presented, and has since become the majority view. The author is now usually called pseudo-Xenophon or the Old Oligarch based on the anti-democratic tone of the work. The style is not Xenophon's, who is remarkably clear; this treatise is crabbed and inelegant.

The date can only be estimated. The Old Oligarch says that lengthy land expeditions cannot be supplied against a sea power; since Brasidas marched the length of Greece in 424 BC, when Xenophon was about five, he presumably wrote before that date. On the other hand, he discusses military advantages of democracy at some length, and in listing the business of the Boule puts it first; so it has been argued that he wrote in wartime. There are plausible arguments that this was in fact the Peloponnesian War; but the editor of the Loeb text is not convinced this is certain.

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