Saturday, July 22, 2017

4 An interlude with Xenophon’s Hellenica – Critias’ speech

Xenophon continues: ‘Then the Thirty, thinking that Theramenes was an obstacle to their doing whatever they pleased (hoi d’ empodôn nomizontes auton einai tô̢ poiein ho ti boulointo), plotted against him (epibouleuousin autô̢), and kept accusing him to individual senators, one to one man and another to another (kai idia̢ pros tous bouleutas allos pros allon dieballon), of injuring the government (hôs lumainomenon tên politeian). And after passing the word to some young men (kai parangeilantes neaniskois), who seemed to them most audacious (hoi edokoun autois thrasutatoi einai), to be in attendance with daggers hidden under their arms (xiphidia hupo malês echontas paragenesthai), they convened the Senate (sunelexan tên boulên).’ (II. iii. 23)

Note that Critias did not trust his own rhetorical powers when it came to a contest with Theramenes. His awareness of this weakness may have been one of the reasons for his drafting a law against the teaching of rhetoric (en tois nomois egrapse logôn technên mê didaskein, Xen. Mem. I. ii. 31).

For Theramenes, as for Plato in the Phaedrus, the power of persuasive speaking was the key to political power; conscious of his weakness, Critias relied on underhand dealing – the Thirty under his guidance ‘kept accusing Theramens to individual senators, one to one man and another to another’ – and on brutal force – daggers hidden under the arms of audacious young men.

‘Then when Theramenes arrived (epei de ho Thêramenês parên), Critias arose (anastas ho Kritias) and spoke as follows (elexen hôde): “Gentlemen of the Senate (Ô andres bouleutai), if anyone among you thinks (ei men tis humôn nomizei) that more people than is fitting are being put to death (pleious tou kairou apothnê̢skein), let him reflect (ennoêsatô) that where governments are changed (hoti hopou politeiai methistantai) these things always take place (pantachou tauta gignetai); and it is inevitable that those who are changing the government here to an oligarchy should have most numerous enemies (pleistous de anankê enthade polemious einai tois eis oligarchian methistasi), both because the state is the most populous of the Greek states (dia te to poluanthrôpotatên tôn Hellênidôn tên polin einai) and because the commons have been bred up in a condition of freedom for the longest time (kai dia to pleiston chronon en eleutheria̢ ton dêmon tethraphthai). Now we (hêmeis de), believing (gnontes men) that for men like ourselves (tois hoiois hêmin te) and you (kai humin) democracy is a grievous form of government (chalepên politeian einai dêmokratian), and convinced (gnontes de) that the commons would never become friendly to the Lacedaemonians, our preservers (hoti Lakedaimoniois tois perisôsasin hêmas ho men dêmos oupot’ an philos genoito), while the aristocrats (hoi de beltistoi) would continue ever faithful to them (aei an pistoi diateloien), for these reasons (dia tauta) are establishing, with the approval of the Lacedaemonians, the present form of government (sun tê̢ Lakedaimoniôn gnômê̢ tênde tên politeian kathistamen). And if we find anyone opposed to the oligarchy (kai ean tina aisthanômetha enantion tê̢ oligarchia̢), so far as we have the power (hoson dunametha) we put him out of the way (ek podôn poioumetha); but in particular (polu de malista) we consider (dokei hêmin) it to be right that (dikaion einai), if any one of our own number (ei tis hêmôn autôn) is harming (lumainetai) this order of things (tautê̢ tê̢ katastasei), he should be punished (dikên auton didonai).” (II.iii.24-26)

Brownson translates Critias’ hoi beltistoi as ‘the aristocrats’, correctly, but I think that even in this context, when Critias says ‘the best’, he means the best. And when he speaks of what the Thirty consider to be ‘right’, or ‘just’, again, he means it. He is convinced that what he and the Thirty are doing is right. There are good reasons to believe that even when the Thirty decided that ‘each of their number should seize one of the aliens residing in the city (kai tôn metoikôn hena hekaston labein), and that they should put these men to death (kai autous men apokteinai) and confiscate their property (ta de chrêmata autôn aposêmênasthai, II.iii.21)’ Critias viewed it as a just action on their part.

What leads me to this conjecture is a law proposed by Plato in the Laws, the work of his old age. Having divided the citizens of his second-best State into four classes according to the amount of their property, the Athenian Stranger stipulates that ‘if an alien acquires property in excess (ean tô̢ xenôn ousia pleiôn gignêtai) of the limit allowed the third property-class (tou tritou megethei timêmatos), then within thirty days of this event he must pack up and be off (hê̢ an hêmera̢ touto gignêtai, triakonta hêmerôn apo tautês tês hêmeras labôn apitô ta heautou), without any right to ask the authorities to extend his stay (kai mêdemia tês monês paraitêsis eti toutô̢ par’ archontôn gignesthô). And if someone disobeys (ean de tis apeithôn) these regulations (toutois) and is taken to court (eisachtheis eis dikastêrion) and convicted (ophlê̢), he must be punished by death (thanatô̢ te zêmiousthô) and his property confiscated by the state (kai ta chrêmata autou genesthô dêmosia).’ (915b5-c4, tr. Trevor J. Saunders)

E. B. England notes appositely that Plato ‘apparently disapproved of the generous treatment accorded to metoikoi [‘resident aliens’] by the Athenians. In this his relatives Critias and Charmides would have agreed with him.’ (The Laws of Plato, vol. II, Manchester at the University Press, 1921, p. 515)

What happened between Plato’s publishing of the Phaedrus and the action of the Thirty against the aliens in Athens? I shall discuss this question in one of the posts I intend to devote to ‘The Phaedrus in the light of its dating’.

Critias continues: “Now in fact we find (nun oun aisthanometha) this man Theramenes (Thêramenên toutoni) trying, by what means he can (hois dunatai), to destroy both ourselves (apollynta hêmas te) and you (kai humas). As proof that this is true (hôs de tauta alêthê) you will discover if you consider the matter (an katanoête, heurêsete), that no one finds more fault with the present proceedings than Theramenes here (oute psegonta oudena mallon Thêramenous toutoui ta paronta), or offers more opposition (oute enantioumenon) when we wish to put some demagogue out of the way (hotan tina ekpodôn boulômetha poiêsasthai tôn dêmagogôn). Now if he had held these views from the beginning (ei men toinun ex archês tauta egignôske), he was, to be sure, an enemy (polemios men ên), but nevertheless he would not justly be deemed a scoundrel (ou mentoi ponêros g’ an dikaiôs enomizeto). (II. iii. 27)

“In fact, however (Nun de), he was the very man who took the initiative in the policy of establishing a cordial understanding with the Lacedaemonians (autos men arxas tês pros Lakedaimonious pisteôs kai philias); he was the very man who began the overthrow of the democracy (autos de tês tou dêmou kataluseôs), and who urged you most to inflict punishment upon those who were first brought before you for trial (malista de exormêsas humas tois prôtois hupagomenois eis humas dikên epitithenai); but now (nun), when (epei) you (kai humeis) and we (kai hêmeis) have manifestly become hateful to the democrats (phanerôs echthroi tô̢ dêmô̢ gegenêmetha), he no longer approves of what is going on (ouket’ autô̢ ta gignomena areskei), just so that he may get on the safe side again (hopôs autos men au en tô̢ asphalei katastê̢), and that we may be punished for what has been done (hêmeis de dikên dômen tôn pepragmenôn). (II. iii. 28)

“Therefore he ought to be punished, not merely as an enemy, but also as a traitor both to you and to ourselves (Hôste ou monon hôs echthrô̢ autô̢ prosêkei alla kai hôs prodotê̢ humôn te kai hêmôn didonai tên dikên). And treason is a far more dreadful thing than war (kaitoi tosoutô̢ men deinoteron prodosia polemou), inasmuch it is harder (hosô̢ chalepôteron) to take precaution against the hidden than against the open danger (phulaxasthai to aphanes tou phanerou), and a far more hateful thing, inasmuch as men make peace with enemies and become their trustful friends again (tosoutô̢ d’ echthion, hosô̢ polemiois men anthrôpoi kai spendontai kai authis pistoi gignontai), but if they catch a man playing a traitor (hon d’ an prodidonta lambanôsi), they never in any case make peace with that man or trust him thereafter (toutô̢ oupote espeisato pôpote oudeis out’ episteuse tou loipou).” (II. iii. 29, translation from Xenophon’s Hellenica Carleton. L. Brownson)

I’ll say good bye to Critias for today; I’ll return to his speech in my next post.

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