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  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: September 2009

9 - Lived Excellence in Aristotle’s Constitution of Athens: Why the Encomium of Theramenes Matters


An important and well-established trend in classical Greek political theory reads texts in their historical and political context as fully as the sources allow, believing that what we know about these texts' roles in the vigorous controversies of their own time helpfully informs efforts to use this material to reflect on our own time. In this chapter we bring this interpretative approach to bear on Aristotle's Constitution of Athens (hereafter AthPol), a text that tells the story of Athenian constitutional history over several centuries and presents a detailed account of the laws and institutions of the Athenian democracy of Aristotle's time. This text, recovered only in 1891, is often assumed to be of interest to historians and constitutional scholars but not to political theorists because, beyond occasional philosophical observations and/or expressions of political bias, it is said to neglect matters of normative concern. We disagree. In our view, complex normative concerns shape the AthPol, and history and theory inform each other in that text, as they do in Aristotle's ethical and political writings, more generally. For these reasons we support an integrated and continuous reading of Aristotle's practical works, including the Politics, Nicomachean Ethics, Rhetoric, Poetics, and AthPol. Although we do not address the issue of authorship directly, our argument contributes reasons for favoring Aristotle's authorship.