Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2006.12.25

Michel Sève, Aristote. Constitution d'Athènes: Le régime politique des Athéniens. Librairie Générale Française.   Paris:  Le Livre de Poche -- Classique, 2006.  Pp. 190.  ISBN 2-253-16095-4.  €6.50.  ISBN 13: 987-2-253-16095-3.  



Reviewed by P. J. Rhodes, University of Durham
Word count: 1575 words

The last French translation of the Ath. Pol. was, as S himself states, that included in the Budé edition of G. Mathieu and B. Haussoullier (1932: reissued in a new format with introduction and notes and minimal corrections -- so minimal that, whereas kleroterion is given its correct meaning in ch. 63, it is still translated as "salle" in ch. 64 -- by C. Mossé in 2002). It is not quite true, as the cover of this book states, that that was the only previous French translation: translations were included in the 1891 editions of B. Haussoullier with others and of T. Reinach. A detailed commentary is being prepared by P. Gauthier (cf. 51 n. 1); meanwhile this up-to-date French translation by Sève, who is Professor of Ancient History at the University of Metz, deserves a warm welcome.

S has tried to make his book useful to a variety of readers. His introduction begins with the importance of the Ath. Pol., as the only surviving work of its kind and one of the last works surviving from the classical period in Athens. He then deals with the text and its transmission, the author and the date of the work (inclining to the view that Aristotle was not himself the author, and accepting that the text which has been preserved incorporates some revisions), the organisation of the text (believing that the second part, in accordance with Arist. Pol. 4. 1297 b 37 - 1298 a 3, is divided into the deliberative element, the magistrates and justice -- which I find problematic, since chs. 43-9 on the council are devoted more to administration than to deliberation, and the assembly is mentioned only incidentally, in connection with the council's oversight of its business), the nature of the text (concerned essentially, S believes, with the balance of powers in the state), and the author's methods of working (i.e. his sources and his use of them). The introduction ends with an extended account of the working of the dikasteria, to make chs. 63-9 (a detailed account, focused on a narrative of a court day, but not arranged in the most helpful way) more intelligible to readers. To complete his introductory matter S adds notes on the rationale of this volume and on the translation (cf. below), and a short bibliography and a list of abbreviations. The introduction is preceded by a plan of the agora in the fourth century, and the section on the dikasteria is accompanied by pictures of kleroteria and official ballots, and a plan and a drawing of the judicial buildings at the north-east corner of the agora.

The translation, based on Chambers's Teubner text, is accurate and, as far as I can judge, reads well. S does not make a translation of every technical term, as Mathieu and Haussoullier did (though they added a conversion of the Greek originals into French words) and as I was ordered to do in my Penguin Classics translation, but commonly converts them into French words (e.g. "bouleute", "éromène"), and apologises for "la bizarrerie qui en résulte parfois pour les hellénistes" (53 n. 1). That is certainly the better policy in a book destined to be used by students, but it still seems odd to me that in S's French forms ending in -os are treated as plurals (e.g. "proboulos" in 29. 2 / p. 105) and that his plural of kleroterion is "klérôtérions" (e.g. 63. 2 / p. 157). Sometimes he does translate: basileus, of the annual official, still becomes "roi". In a handful of places the numbers of sections within chapters have been misplaced.

To elucidate the text there are footnotes, typically three or four to a page (and thus more generous than the annotation provided by Mossé in her revision of Mathieu and Haussoullier). S has thought hard about the problems and about what help his readers will need. He has inevitably made considerable use of the commentaries by Chambers and by me, I think more often though not always preferring Chambers where we disagree. As is right and proper in a book intended for French readers, most of the other works cited, though not all, are works in French (and among them are several which I had not noticed and was glad to have brought to my attention); S tends to give a sympathetic reception to studies in French which express heterodox views (e.g. by L.-M. L'Homme-Wéry on Solon and the horoi, p. 77; by F. Ruzé on the revolution of 411, pp. 104-11).

No two people would pick exactly the same points as deserving of comment; but I note here some points where further annotation would have been worthwhile, and a very few slips and disagreements.

17 n. 3 (introduction): what is to be dated 640 is not Cylon's attempt to become tyrant but his victory in the Olympic games.

47 n. 1 (introduction): Townsend's The East Side of the Agora was published in 1995.

64 n. 2 (2. 2): S comments that the status of hektemoroi and how they arrived at that status are problematic, without venturing an opinion of his own.

73 n. 3 (8. 3): S connects naukrariai with ships, the oldest interpretation and I still think the most likely, without noting that alternative derivations have been suggested.

75 n. 1 (10. 2): S seems to attribute to the Ath. Pol. what Plutarch attributed to Androtion, the view that Solon's change in the relationship of the drachma and the mina was a device to reduce outstanding debts.

82 (15. 1): readers may be puzzled by the date of 557/6 for Pisistratus' second expulsion, which is derived from Chambers and does not fit the chronological data of Ath. Pol..

89 n. 3 (19. 4): S does not remark on the ways in which Herodotus' story of the Alcmaeonids and the temple at Delphi was modified by later writers.

91 (20. 3): S does not ask which council Cleomenes tried to overthrow.

92 n. 2 (21 n. 4): "On a renoncé à voir dans les trittyes des ensembles territoriaux" will puzzle readers who are not well read in the problems.

93 n. 3 (22. 1): S's preference for citing works in French is here unwise: the article on ostracism by A. Martin gives a bibliography to 1985, too early for the list of the Ceramicus ostraca by F. Willemsen and S. Brenne (AM 106 [1991], 147-56 with 107 [1992] 85) and for subsequent work by Brenne.

93 (22. 2): 503/2 (?) for the archonship of Hermocreon is again from Chambers: I prefer to emend pemptoi to ogdooi and make Hermocreon's year 501/0.

94 (22. 5): it should have been noted that the short list of one hundred, rather than five hundred, for the archonship results from an emendation: the mention of the demes suggests to me that five hundred is correctly transmitted and there has been a confusion with the membership of the council.

96 n. 1 (23. 1): S does not note the alternative version in which Themistocles was responsible for the payment to the citizens leaving Athens in 480.

100-1 (26. 4): there is no note on Pericles' citizenship law.

103 (28. 2): "puis Thémistocle et Aristide" is as laconic as the Greek, and there is no note on how it is to be interpreted.

105 (29. 3): everything to the end of the section is treated as part of Clitophon's amendment, whereas Chambers and I both prefer to see the remark on Cleisthenes and Solon as an explanation by the author.

112-3 (34): S does not note that the placing of the archonship of Callias of Angele in the seventh year after the fall of the Four Hundred is factually wrong (it was the sixth), that the Spartan peace offer after Arginusae seems to be that placed after Cyzicus by Philochorus and Diodorus, and that what seem to be the best-informed sources do not make following the ancestral constitution a condition of peace with Sparta.

140 (52. 3), 152 n. 1 (59. 5): S like Chambers accepts the traditional interpretation, that "monthly" suits were those in which a decision was promised within a month, and does not mention the alternative suggestion of E. E. Cohen, which I prefer, that they were suits in which proceedings could be initiated every month.

142-3 (54. 2): S does not discuss what is meant by adikein, "avoir manqué à la justice", the kind of offence which requires simple repayment.

144 (54. 7): S follows Chambers and takes the text to mean, "Aucune d'elles ne se célèbre au même endroit", which is true but uninteresting; I prefer to emend the text to mean that none occurs in the same year, which could be true of the four festivals administered by the annual hieropoioi.

153 n. 2 (60. 2): S takes the commuted requirement of sacred olive oil to be a levy on all the agricultural land of Attica; Chambers and I both take it to be a levy on the land on which there had been sacred olives.

The book ends with the fragments from the lost beginning of Ath. Pol.and the epitome of Heraclides, and there are indexes, in which S has incorporated a certain amount of explanatory material.

Gauthier's commentary is eagerly awaited, and not only by those whose first language is French; meanwhile, thanks to S, readers of French are better equipped to study the Ath. Pol. than they have been for a long time.

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