The political outlook of the so-called ‘Anonymus Iamblichi’ (DK 89) has been a subject of controversy in the scholarly literature, with some commentators judging him to be a committed democrat, while others see in him a partisan of aristocracy or even oligarchy. This disagreement is not surprising, for the text contains passages that seem to pull in opposite directions. The article suggests that we move beyond the one-dimensional oligarch-or-democrat model traditionally employed and instead approach the issue from a fresh angle, applying the more nuanced typology for understanding ancient social criticism (‘rejectionist’ vs ‘immanent’) developed by Josiah Ober.
The article begins by situating the author within the social landscape of classical Athens. The resulting characterization presents the author as a representative of a distinctive social type: the Athenian ‘rich quietist’, who prefers private economic endeavours to engagement in public affairs, and who is ideologically committed to democratic government but also highly critical of how democratic society treats its wealthy citizens. This characterization helps make better sense of the seemingly contradictory political indications in the text. In particular, fragments 6 and 7 should be read as a single line of argument, which takes the form of an ‘immanent critique’ of contemporary Athenian democracy. According to ‘Anonymus Iamblichi’, democratic society rightly praises the rule of law as a distinctive democratic value, but it falls disappointingly short of that ideal in its treatment of its own wealthy elite citizens.