Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2001.09.41

Hartmut Leppin, Thukydides und die Verfassung der Polis: Ein Beitrag zur politischen Ideengeschichte des 5 Jahrhunderts v. Chr. Klio Beihefte Neue Folge.   Berlin:  Akademie Verlag, 1999.  Pp. 252.  ISBN 3-05-003458-0.  DM 112.  

Reviewed by Simon Hornblower, Departments of Greek and Latin and History, University College London (
Word count: 1002 words

This is a very thorough and scholarly attempt, on traditional lines, to examine the political thought of Thucydides and to relate it to that of his contemporaries. Thucydides emerges as attached to traditional values, though aware of attempts by sophists and others to subvert faith in those values. (See e.g. p. 113 n. 1, 188 and n. 2, 194, 199). He had no clearly discernible preference for any one of the constitutional forms which he takes for granted (p. 81; at p. 82 Leppin, henceforth L., notes that there is no 'Debate on the Constitutions' in Th.). Thucydides may (L. p. 103 and n. 3) have considered that democratic Athens suffered from a lack of sophrosyne, but the usual modern view, that his admiration for that quality indicates oligarchic sympathies, is questionable because he does not press the Spartans, the embodiment of sophrosyne, into 'das Schema der Verfassungstypologie'. (For the Chians, bracketed with the Spartans at Th. 8. 24, see L. p. 173.)

The book begins with a long section (over a hundred pages, half the book) on Thucydides and the main constitutional forms (Part I). An introduction sketches the history of tyranny and its opponents, then considers the main individual advocates of oligarchy and democracy (the Old Oligarch; Protagoras, Democritus and the Anonymus Iamblichi). Then L. gets to grips with the detail of Thucydides' text: first the narrative, then the speeches, with due caution about the authenticity problem. The next main section (II) of the book is called 'Mass and Elite in Thucydides', but despite the section title, the sociological approach of Josiah Ober is not prominent here; nor is the handling notably anthropological in any sense that a social anthropologist would easily recognize, although the first sub-section is called 'anthropologische Voraaussetzungen'. There are, however, valuable conventional discussions of the doctrine of the 'Recht des Stärkeren' and of Thucydides' treatment of individuals in his History (pp. 137-169). Part III offers a fairly brief treatment (pp. 170-184) of Thucydides on 'good political set-ups'; this is where for instance L. deals judiciously with the problems of Thucydides' comments on the regime of the 5000. The book closes with a conclusion (pp. 185-202) and appendixes about ch. 3. 84 (judged to be interpolated), Brasidas at Lynkestis (4. 126. 2), and metriotes in Thucydides.

Athens naturally predominates, though L. is willing to look west at Syracuse (pp. 71f.; on the difficulties of Th.'s judgments about Syracusan democracy see now a good detailed study published after L.'s book, N. K. Rutter, 'Syracusan democracy: 'Most Like the Athenian'?' in R. Brock and S. Hodkinson (eds.) Alternatives to Athens (Oxford, 2000) 137-151). When he moves away from Athens L. can be a little narrow and hasty: the at first sight startling statement (p. 67 n. 3), that Polykrates is the only tyrant apart from the Pisistratids whom Thucydides calls attention to by name, presumably refers to the Archaeology only, though this is not made quite clear. But if we broaden things out there is Theagenes of Megara at 1. 126 and Euarchos of Astakos at 2. 30 (an interesting mention given its date), and in book 6 (ch.s 4, 5, 94) there are Anaxilas of Rhegion, Hippokrates and Gelon. All these are specifically named as tyrants and are worth feeding into any discussion of tyranny in Thucydides.

The treatment of Athenian institutions (pp. 70f.) is up-to-date and sound as far as it goes, but a little meagre on detail. I should have liked a little more about the role within the democracy of the boule (especially those places where we should have expected a mention of it by Thucydides but don't get it) and of the strategoi. At p. 71 n. 6, L. might perhaps have gone into Thucydides' evident disagreement with Herodotus on the role of the archons in the Kylon affair. At p. 71 and n. 4, on the dikasteria, some discussion of the intriguing reference at 6. 91. 7 would have been welcome. The allusion there to law-court revenues has struck some scholars as so doubtful that it should be emended away, but it is retained by Alberti, following Dover, in his authoritative new text of books 6 -8. (Still on textual matters, L.'s p. 80 on eunomia at 8. 64. 5 ought to have registered the ancient alternative autonomia, preferred by some good modern scholars and students of ancient political thought, though Alberti does not adopt it.)

On the 'typology' of constitutions, L. has some good nuanced remarks; he notes (p. 62) that the Spartans set-up is never actually called an oligarchy, though the Spartans are said to promote it elsewhere (Th. 1. 18). For Thucydides, democracy and oligarchy do not exhaust the possibilities, and he is prepared to admit degrees of oligarchy (L. cites i.a. 5. 81. 2 where L. evidently follows Andrewes' rendering of mallon).

L.'s researches have not been about Thucydides only. L. notes, as many others have done, that the triad monarchy-oligarchy-democracy is already found, much earlier than Herodotus book 3, in Pindar Pythian 2. 68ff. On the difficult and controversial word labros ('violent'? or just 'noisy') used by Pindar of the stratos or 'people', L. (28 n. 1) refers only to Lloyd-Jones JHS 1973 p. 112 n. 7, but see C. Carey, Commentary on Five Odes of Pindar (New York, 1981) p. 60, who returns to the pejorative sense of the word. One might, seeing that fine Greek scholars disagree on the point, ask whether there has to be a Yes/No answer to the question whether Pindar meant this word to be pejorative. That is, might he not have deliberately chosen a word with an unstable meaning?

L.'s conclusions--the elusiveness of Thucydides' own preferences and his attachment to traditional values--are sensible and well-documented but will not surprise those who thought on those lines anyway and may even have said so in print. This is not an audacious or exciting book but a usually reliable and always intelligent one.

[The reviewer apologises to all for the lateness of this review.]

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