Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2012.06.44

Cinzia Bearzot, Franca Landucci, Luisa Prandi (ed.), L’Athenaion politeia rivisitata: il punto su Pseudo-Senofonte. Contributi di storia antica, 9.   Milano:  Vita e Pensiero, 2011.  Pp. 189.  ISBN 9788834321263.  €20.00 (pb).  



Reviewed by P. J. Rhodes, University of Durham

[Table of Contents at the end of the review.]

This book is in Italian, but the Presentazione / Preface is presented both in Italian and in English, and there is an English abstract at the end of each chapter. In the Preface the editors regret the bibliographical limitations of the editions of [Xenophon]’s Athenaion Politeia by V. J. Gray and by J. L. Marr and P. J. Rhodes (I hereby declare a vested interest) — but those editions were not “intended as the ultimate reference points”, as they claim, but were both published in series aimed primarily at anglophone students — and explain that because of that they decided to devote their seminars at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in 2009/10 to an exploration of the fundamental issues based on a complete review of previous work.

First, Cinzia Bearzot discusses the authorship of the work. Candidates who have been proposed are Xenophon, another man of the same name or Thucydides; Thucydides son of Melesias, Alcibiades, Phrynichus or Cleon; Antiphon or Critias; newly by G. Ramírez Vidal in 1997, Andocides; while other scholars have considered the author unidentifiable. Of the established candidates Bearzot considers Antiphon or Critias the most credible, and she also (accepting, as many do not, the authenticity of the speech Against Alcibiades) considers Andocides worth further consideration. Certainly the age of those three (if we date the work 431–413, as the contributors to this book do and I myself do) and what is known of their political views make them plausible candidates; but there is no strong reason to ascribe it to one of them rather than the others, and indeed there is no strong reason to suppose that the author must be a man who is known to us in other ways. I fear that unless new evidence appears the author will have to remain unidentified.

Paolo A. Tuci proceeds to the date of the work, for which both suggested specific allusions and a general impression of context have been invoked. He begins by classifying datings as pre-431, 431–413 and post-413, and rules out the first and the last. In looking for possible specific allusions he considers particularly ii. 5 (a naval power can visit distant places but a land power cannot), ii. 13 (a headland, island or strait, which has led many to think of Pylos in 425, but that is not the only possibility), ii. 14, 16 (Athens allows its land to be ravaged), ii. 15 (an island would be safe against subversion from outside), ii. 17 (the demos does not accept responsibility for decisions, for which various occasions have been suggested). From these he concludes only that the work was written after 431. He then argues from the mention of phoros and four-yearly assessments that the work was written before the suspension of tribute in 413 and perhaps after the extraordinary assessment of 425; and he also considers the work incompatible with knowledge of what happened in 411. While in the Preface the editors commit themselves only to 425/4–413, within that period he prefers c. 415, when there was hectic activity in the hetaireiai. He seems to me as subjective as the rest of us in deciding which arguments are persuasive and which are not; I consider what is said about the war and the implied stability of the democracy more appropriate to the 420s than to c. 415 (cf. Bianco and Prandi, below), but neither of us can prove the other wrong.

Michele Faraguna examines the work’s vocabulary and political arguments. He begins by stressing that the work is pervaded, to a greater extent than has been recognised, by the language of public life at Athens (and I accept that, though some of his words and phrases will have belonged to polis life in general, not only to life in the Athenian polis), so that the author must himself, as most scholars (though not all) have agreed, have been an Athenian. He then turns to the work’s value-terms, comparing Theognis (popular in Athens in the second half of the fifth century), noting the presence of eunomia but the absence of sophrosyne (associated with Sparta by Athenian oligarchs, whether the Spartans themselves laid claim to it or not), and stressing the idea behind ii. 14 that the rich deserve more political weight because they have more to lose if things go wrong. The author uses the traditional moral language to refer to the upper and lower classes, focuses more on wealth than on birth (I should add that by the late fifth century leading oligarchs no less than leading democrats were mostly not from the old ruling families), and seems to reflect a phase in which there was dissatisfaction with the democracy but not yet a concrete oligarchic programme; and this for Faraguna confirms the dating of the work before 413.

Elisabetta Bianco concentrates on thalassokratia. That abstract noun is found only in Strabo and scholia on Thucydides; our author uses thalassokratores twice but otherwise expresses the concept in other ways; Bianco suggests that the double sigma (whereas otherwise he uses double tau, even in thalatta) is not an Ionic usage taken over from Herodotus but an older Athenian usage. She then analyses what our author says about sea power, particularly in chapter ii, noting the echoes of Pericles’ strategy and the early years of the Archidamian War, and agreeing with Tuci that there are too many other possibilities for us to be sure that ii. 13 alludes to the episode at Pylos. Overall she sees the Thucydidean Pericles and our author as reflecting the same debates about the nature and advantages of sea power, and unlike Tuci thinks that the early years of the Archidamian War provide the best context for this work.

Luisa Prandi, after a warning against the acceptance of our author’s generalisations as literal truth, discusses allusions to specific circumstances. She begins with passages in chapter ii which indicate that the war is in progress and echo Pericles’ strategy (remarking that ii. 13 could have been written before the episode at Pylos). The instances of support for oligarchies in iii. 11 are simply examples, and their early date does not prove that the work was written early. The work is inept in various ways, and should be seen as intended for private circulation, not for posterity; and it presents not a dialogue between two interlocutors but a discussion in which more than two voices can be detected, and the claims that Athens’ democracy is justified by its success are appropriate before 413 and 411 but not after. Although she does not rule out a date after 421, Prandi like Bianco thinks the Archidamian War more likely.

Finally Enrico Medda considers ii. 18, on the targets of comedy. The transition between 17 and 18 has been judged awkward, but he sees both chapters as concerning the transfer of blame from the collective to individuals. Neither of the two decrees which may have restricted comedy seems relevant to attacks on the demos collectively, so our author is not claiming that such attacks were formally forbidden. Different views have been expressed of how the passage relates to Babylonians and Cleon’s resulting attack on Aristophanes in 426, and to Knights and its featuring of both Cleon and Demos in 424, with some scholars insisting that our work must be earlier than Knights and others that it must be later; but Medda remarks that both Cleon and Aristophanes remained popular. He thinks it better not to interpret the passage in the light of those points of tension, but to see it as a comment on comedy’s tendency to attack prominent individuals, with the malicious twist that the demos used comedy to attack its enemies. This is an attractive approach, but those of us who think the work was written in the 420s will find it hard to believe that our author was not thinking at all of Aristophanes’ early plays.

Marcello Bertoli has compiled a detailed bibliography, which shows that a great deal of relevant work has been produced by Italian scholars, much of it unfortunately in books which have not circulated widely outside Italy. There are no indexes.

The seminars which gave rise to this book will have been enlightening and stimulating occasions. As for the book itself, the first two chapters provide an ample bibliographical basis but inevitably rehearse familiar arguments and arrive at familiar and sensible conclusions; the remaining chapters, while likewise thorough in their treatment of earlier studies, allow their authors to make more individual contributions. There remains much in [Xenophon]’s Athenaion Politeia which is worth discussing: this book is a worthwhile contribution to the discussions (and it is to be hoped that it will circulate outside Italy).

Table of Contents

Presentazione [in Italian]
Preface [in English]
Cinzia Bearzot: La paternità dell’ opera. 3
Paolo A. Tuci: La datazione dell’Athenaion politeia pseudosenofontea: problemi metologici e proposte interpretative. 29
Michele Faraguna: Lessico e argomenti politici nello scritto del “Vecchio Oligarca”. 73
Elisabetta Bianco: Le parole della thalassokratia nello Pseudo-Senofonte. 99
Luisa Prandi: Riferimenti e allusioni di carattere storico in Ap. 123
Enrico Medda: Ps. Xen. Ap 2, 18: una lettura di parte della παρρησία comica. 143
Marcello Bertoli: Bibliografia generale. 169
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