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[1284a] [1] although he is different according to each form of constitution, but in relation to the best form a citizen is one who has the capacity and the will to be governed and to govern with a view to the life in accordance with virtue.

But if there is any one man so greatly distinguished in outstanding virtue, or more than one but not enough to be able to make up a complete state, so that the virtue of all the rest and their political ability is not comparable with that of the men mentioned, if they are several, or if one, with his alone, it is no longer proper to count these exceptional men a part of the state; for they will be treated unjustly if deemed worthy of equal status, being so widely unequal in virtue and in their political ability: since such a man will naturally be as a god among men. Hence it is clear that legislation also must necessarily be concerned with persons who are equal in birth and in ability, but there can be no law dealing with such men as those described, for they are themselves a law; indeed a man would be ridiculous if he tried to legislate for them, for probably they would say what in the story of Antisthenes1 the lions said2 when the hares made speeches in the assembly and demanded that all should have equality. This is why democratically governed states institute the system of ostracism, because of a reason of this nature; for these are the states considered to pursue equality most of all things, [20] so that they used to ostracize men thought to be outstandingly powerful on account of wealth or popularity or some other form of political strength, and used to banish them out of the city for fixed periods of time. And there is a mythical story that the Argonauts left Heracles behind for a similar reason; for the Argo3 refused to carry him with the others because he was so much heavier than the sailors. Hence also those who blame tyranny and Periander's advice to Thrasybulus4 must not be thought to be absolutely right in their censure (the story is that Periander made no reply to the herald sent to ask his advice, but levelled the corn-field by plucking off the ears that stood out above the rest; and consequently, although the herald did not know the reason for what was going on, when he carried back news of what had occurred, Thrasybulus understood that he was to destroy the outstanding citizens); for this policy is advantageous not only for tyrants, nor is it only tyrants that use it, but the same is the case with oligarchies and democracies as well; for ostracism has in a way the same effect as docking off the outstanding men by exile. And the same course is adopted in regard to cities and races by the holders of sovereign power, for example the Athenians so dealt with the Samians and Chians and Lesbians5 (for no sooner did they get a strong hold of their empire than they humbled them in contravention of their covenants),

1 Pupil of Socrates and founder of the Cynic sect of philosophers.

2 ‘Where are your claws and teeth?’

3 Cf. Apollod. 1.9.19 τῆς Ἀργοῦς φθεγξαμένης μὴ δύνασθαι πέρειν τὸ τούτου βάρος. Argo was a live creature, and Athena had built a ‘talking timber’ into her cutwater.

4 Periander was tyrant of Corinth circa 626-585 B.C.; Thrasybulus was tyrant of Miletus. Hdt. 5.92 tells the story with their parts reversed.

5 In 440, 424 and 427 B.C. respectively

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    • Sir Richard C. Jebb, Commentary on Sophocles: Philoctetes, 526
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    • Pseudo-Apollodorus, Library, 1.9.19
    • Herodotus, Histories, 5.92
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