Bryn Mawr Classical Review 3.5.7


John J. Keaney, The Composition of Aristotle's Athenaion Politeia: Observation and Explanation. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. Pp. xii + 191. ISBN 0-19-507032-1.

Reviewed by Mabel L. Lang, Bryn Mawr College.

The aim and at least partial result of this literary analysis is to show the way in which the AP, exemplifying a new genre invented by Aristotle, develops the thesis that in Athens full democracy was achieved through the demos' serial appropriation of powers from other bodies. Less certain is Keaney's division of the work into four parts: I - power taken from the archons (beginning - chapter 3); II - from the Areopagus (5 - 41); III - from the Council (42 - 62); IV - how those powers were exercised in the law courts (63 - 69).

The first chapter's evidence and rationale for Aristotelian authorship of all the politeiai, echoed in the last chapter with special reference to the other politeiai, comprise not only an examination of possible forms of collaboration in the provably extended period of polteiai-composition (334-322), but also consideration of the AP's use of characteristic Aristotelian phraseology (particularly in the Historia Animalium).

In Chapter 2 (The "Cultural" Origin of the politeiai) the AP is seen as exemplifying in the development of democracy a pattern noted by Else in various Aristotelian works which parallels that of tragedy in the Poetics: a small beginning gradually augmented and growing into something large. But in the political application of the pattern the growth is largely by arrogation of powers and is not simply progressive, since the rule of the Areopagus, the sixth of the eleven stages toward full democracy listed in AP 41, marks a midcourse "correction" in the development, after which democratic impetus increases. Although K. does not make the comparison, surely not only the tyranny of Peisistratos as the fourth stage, but also both the oligarchy of the 400 and the tyranny of the Thirty, as the eighth and tenth stages, have the same effect. At the same time, AP's differentiation between the intentions of Solon and Kleisthenes recognizes both the former's contribution to democracy and the latter's responsibility for its origin. Basic also to the composition of AP are Peripatetic principles emphasizing universals over particulars in the estimation of source materials.

"The politeia Genre and its Origin" shows the extent to which Plato's Laws was a necessary forerunner of Aristotle's politeiai despite their different interests in comparative and historical law. But it was in Politics 2 with its contrast of Spartan and Athenian law-givers and constitutions that Aristotle presages the collection of politeiai while merely adumbrating AP's account of Athenian constitutional history.

In "The Unity of the Athpol" K. counters the usual division of the work into two distinct parts (1-41 and 42-69) by showing, for example, the pivotal use of nun in 41 tying together seven instances in the narrative chapters emphasizing continuity with the descriptive chapters and eleven instances in the latter referring to changes from the former. Similarly, notes about the functions and powers of various institutions in the historical chapters are regularly fleshed out in the description of the present constitution which is thereby seen to represent the end achieved.

"Observation and Explanation" shows by means of ten sample passages how "Aristotle frequently expresses his meaning through repetition, whether this be formal, through structure, or a matter of content, through pattern or theme." So, for example, the designation of Solon as prostates tou demou not only indicates his sympathies but also prefigures the later importance of such leadership. In "Methods and Purposes" under choice and use of sources four methods are examined: single source with correction of one detail; use of historical item to introduce one or more patterns that will be emphasized; selection of vocabulary for ironic effect; change of chronological order to make a point. Defined here also are two subsequently important terms: subtext = source; paratext = passage linked to other passages and used to clarify them. In AP's account of Solon the use and correction of subtexts supported by a paratext emphasize the triadic nature of his activities: economic, political and intellectual. Similarly, use of subtexts and paratexts along with particular contrivances of order, theme and language serve to "deconstruct" Pericles.

"Structure and Meaning" explores ways in which AP makes its points inexplicitly: by manipulation of language; by organization of material to achieve variously the developed kind of repetition characteristic of ring composition; the emphasis created by isolating the specific from the general; and the reverberation within and across the development of the politeia and its description. Argument here seems especially fine-spun, where observed characteristics of the narrative do not necessarily define the author's intentions.

In "Vertical Structure: Ring Composition" twenty-eight examples of ring composition are outlined: twenty-five in the narrative chapters (2-41); three in chapters 42-45. Fifteen are seen to be complex (e.g., ABCxC1B1A1); twelve are simple (e.g., AxA1); and one is a variant. Both inner and outer elements show verbal correspondences, with the argument proceeding in interlocking circles and with a supercircle in which chapter 3 ending Part I is echoed in chapter 41 ending Part II. (K.'s view of AP's parts varies: sometimes simply Narrative and Description; on p. xii four parts as in the first paragraph above; on p. 44 again quadripartite but with I as beginning to 1; II as 2-41; III and IV as before.)

"Horizontal Structure: Chiasmus" first presents the example in 11.2 (sosas [A] ten patrida [B] kai ta beltista [B1] nomothetesas [A1]) as not only syntactical chiasmus but also as a verbally chiastic echo of its paratext in 6.3 (peri pleionos to kalon [A], ten tes poleos soterian [B] // sosas ten patrida [B1], ta beltista nomothetesas [A1]. There follows a listing of fifty-two examples in AP 3-41, eight in 42-69, nineteen in Politics 5 (the most "historical" book), and eleven in the Excerpts of the politeiai. That the chiastic order is deliberate is certain in the dates given in 32.1 where the customary order is reversed in the second example; but that the chiastic order of ABCC1B1A1 does not always give an adequate contrast between A and A1 is admitted in 33.2's ABCA1C1B1. Still, the comparative frequency of the pattern in the historical parts of the politeiai and the Politics, as also in the case of ring composition, seems definitely to show the author as constantly in a step-by-step fashion reenforcing his view and interpretation of Athenian political development.

In "The Politics of Institutions vs. the Politics of Personality" the regimes of Solon and Peisistratos are contrasted with respect to institutions, laws, tyranny, reception, and language, while AP's presentation of the two is similarly contrasted: analytical vs. repetitious, chiastic vs. cumulative; integrated vs. separate. Even the way in which 16.8's assertion that Peisistratos kept Solon's laws contradicts 22.1's statement that he did not use those laws is seen to provide two more examples of the contrast between the two accounts. This contrast is echoed in the career of Kleisthenes, which began with personality and ended with institutions, and anticipates the dual-natured rivalry between Kimon and Pericles. These two personify in their different ways the fusion of the two politics into one, that of the demos, with the chronological fast-forwarding of 27 showing the collapse of the dichotomy in the demos' beginning to manage its own affairs. That this development is chiastically paralleled with the Revolution of the 400 brilliantly justifies the emphasis K. has put on the significance of structure in the AP: 27.2 date by historical event, date by archon, demos' takeover; 32.2 oligarchs' takeover, date by archon, date by historical event.

"The dokein Formula" shows how, only beginning with Peisistratos, who is thus again contrasted with Solon, appearance (dokein or eudokimein), is used of all political figures, including demos, before they begin to make their mark. Only Kleisthenes lacks the formula, which is replaced by his Alkmeonid family's credit for disposing of the tyranny. The purpose of the formula is seen to be partly to obviate biographical detail, but if, for Aristotle as well as for Herodotos and Thucydides, appearance matches reality, this contrast between Peisistratos and Solon fails, but AP's judgment of Theramenes is supported (28.5).

In "A Constitutional Formula" the dok-pattern is reflected in the dogma of 23.1, without which the Areopagos took power after the Persian Wars, in contrast to the way in which the other non-democratic regimes (not only Peisistratos but also both the Four Hundred and the Thirty) were instituted by decrees of the demos. K. suggests that by using oudeni dogmati for the Areopagos' accession Aristotle has combined the dokein-formula that introduces political figures with the absence of the popular authorization of non-democratic regimes, thereby indicating both his admiration of it and its comparative peacefulness. However that may be, at least the constitutional formula has extended application in the establishment of the Four Hundred.

"Aristotle and Theopompus" concerns the extent to which Aristotle was dependent on Theopompos' excursus on Athenian demagogues. About the rivalry between Kimon and Pericles first, there is a very real question whether the train of thought in 27.3-4 is ABCC1B1A1, as K. notes: of Kimon "private means/ public generosity/ private generosity" of Pericles "lack of private means/ public generosity/ private generosity." or straightforward ABCA1B1C1. Then, determining by means of later quotations what Theopompos had said, K shows how Aristotle corrected that account as he put it in the context of Pericles' introduction of jury-pay and the public/private contrast.

In "Aristotle and Theramenes" the somewhat unexpected estimation and listing of individual and paired leaders is seen both as amendment of judgments by Thucydides, Plato (Gorgias) and possibly others and as context for a favorable judgment of Theramenes. (In the text and translation of 28.1-5, K. has designated the parts as A, B, C (3-4), and D but, unfortunately, in dealing with the chapter's sub-texts A is used for only the first half of 28.2, B for the second half, C and D are the same, with some resultant confusion about the application of A and B.) Variations in the use of the dok-formula are used to stress Theramenes' importance, as are his inclusion in lists of the highly respectable and his advocacy of mese politeia. Theramenes' position is contrasted with that of Peisistratos in a neat chiasmus linking chapters 13 and 34: mese politeia, /oligarchia, /demokratia/ demokratia, oligarchia, mese politeia. As a potential prostates tou demou for the final stage of the democracy, Theramenes was for Aristotle alter Solon.

"The Series in Chapter 41" examines the different temporal expressions in the listing of the 11 constitutions as well as the presence or absence of comments. Conclusions show again meticulous care in linkage and definition.

In "demos, plethos, and polis" the question is to what extent they are equivalent terms. After each is separately defined in its various capacities, demos and plethos (or hoi polloi) are differentiated as stages in a process, with nine texts showing the latter preceding the former as "the many" become an acting force. (Designation of the two as a and b on p. 163 leads to confusion in the analysis of passages B and E on p. 164. Other minor errors on that same page require careful reading, but it is clear that AP uses these terms consistently and with care.)

"The Dating Formula" shows both the usual formula (A - year with cardinal or ordinal number, B - reference to a preceding event, and C - archon) and how variously and with what effect other dates are used. Here too there is evidence of logical consistency as well as of rationally explicable inconsistency.

In "Chapter 45: he boule" the internal structure is seen to be an initial chiastic statement of the Council's earlier judicial powers and later losses followed by continuing powers with a second note of loss to the courts. Echoing as it does similar loss of power by archons and Areopagos in the narrative part of AP, this loss of power, authenticated by the only anecdote found in the descriptive part, ties together the two parts and justifies the elaborate description of the way in which the demos exercised the judicial powers it "usurped."

Throughout, K.'s aim is to find evidence of a consistent thesis, reasoned presentation, and ideas congruous with Aristotelian principles. That he has found all these in abundance is the result of detailed and intricate inquiry into every aspect of narrative style, diction, structure, and methodology. The significance of the AP has thereby been immeasurably increased, although there will still be doubts about Aristotle as author.

Somewhat surprising is the Bibliography, almost half of which is made up of works by Keaney alone or in collaboration. The Index is useful, as is the Index Locorum (of authors other than Aristotle), but a most desperate lack, for users who need light on individual passages and find the cumulative argument of the 19 chapters somewhat overpowering, is that of an Index Locorum of the AP.