As for the constitution of the Athenians I do not praise its form; but since they have decided to have a democracy, I think they have preserved the democracy well by the means which I have indicated.1
I notice also that objections are raised against the Athenians because it is sometimes not possible for a person, though he sit about for a year, to negotiate with the council or the assembly. This happens at Athens
for no other reason than that owing to the quantity of business they are not able to deal with all persons before sending them away.
For how could they do this? First of all they have to hold more festivals than any other Greek city (and when these are going on it is even less possible for any of the city's affairs to be transacted), next they have to preside over private and public trials and investigations into the conduct of magistrates to a degree beyond that of all other men, and the council has to consider many issues involving war,2
revenues, law-making, local problems as they occur, also many issues on behalf of the allies, receipt of tribute, the care of dockyards and shrines. Is there accordingly any cause for surprise if with so much business they are unable to negotiate with all persons?
But some say, “If you go to the council or assembly with money, you will transact your business.” I should agree with these people that many things are accomplished at Athens
for money and still more would be accomplished if still more gave money. This, however, I know well, that the city has not the wherewithal to deal with everyone who asks, not even if you give them any amount of gold and silver.
They have also to adjudicate cases when a man does not repair his ship or builds something on public property, and in addition to settle disputes every year for chorus leaders at the Dionysia, Thargelia, Panathenaea, Promethia, and Hephaestia.
Four hundred trierarchs are appointed every year,3
and disputes have to be settled for any of these who wish. Moreover, magistrates have to be approved and their disputes settled, orphans approved and prisoners' guards appointed. And these things happen every year.
Now and again they have to deal with cases of desertion and other unexpected misdeeds, whether it be an irregular act of wantonness or an act of impiety.
There are still many items which I altogether pass over. The most important have been mentioned except for the assessments of tribute. These generally occur every four years.4
Well then, ought one to think that all these cases should not be dealt with? Let someone say what should not be dealt with there. If, on the other hand, one must agree that it is all necessary, the adjudicating has to go on throughout the year, since not even now when they do adjudicate throughout the year can they stop all the wrongdoers because there are so many.
All right, yet someone will say that they ought to judge cases, but that fewer people should do the judging. Unless they have only a few courts, there will necessarily be few jurors in each court, so that it will be easier to adapt oneself to a few jurors and to bribe them, and easier to judge much less justly.
Further, one must consider that the Athenians have to hold festivals during which the courts are closed. They hold twice as many festivals as others do, but I am counting only those which have equivalents in the state holding the smallest number. Under such circumstances, therefore, I deny that it is possible for affairs at Athens
to be otherwise than as they now are, except insofar as it is possible to take away a bit here and add a bit there; a substantial change is impossible without removing some part of the democracy.
It is possible to discover many ways to improve the constitution; however, it is not easy to discover a means whereby the democracy may continue to exist but sufficient at the same time to provide a better polity, except -- as I have just said -- by adding or subtracting a little.
Also in the following point the Athenians seem to me to act ill-advisedly: in cities embroiled in civil strife they take the side of the lower class. This they do deliberately; for if they preferred the upper class, they would prefer those who are contrary-minded to themselves. In no city is the superior element well disposed to the populace, but in each city it is the worst part which is well disposed to the populace. For like is well disposed to like. Accordingly the Athenians prefer those sympathetic to themselves.
Whenever they have undertaken to prefer the upper class, it has not turned out well for them; within a short time the people in Boeotia
; similarly when they preferred the Milesian upper class, within a short time that class had revolted and cut down the people6
; similarly when they preferred the Spartans to the Messenians, within a short time the Spartans had overthrown the Messenians and were making war on the Athenians.7
Someone might interject that no one has been unjustly disfranchised at Athens
. I say that there are some who have been unjustly disfranchised but very few indeed. To attack the democracy at Athens
not a few are required.
As this is so, there is no need to consider whether any persons have been justly disfranchised, only whether unjustly. Now how would anyone think that many people were unjustly disfranchised at Athens
, where the people are the ones who hold the offices? It is from failing to be a just magistrate or failing to say or do what is right that people are disfranchised at Athens
. In view of these considerations one must not think that there is any danger at Athens
from the disfranchised.