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[1289b] [1] or be based on the outstanding superiority of the man who is king; so that tyranny being the worst form must be the one farthest removed from constitutional government, and oligarchy must be the second farthest (for aristocracy is widely separated from that constitution), while democracy must be the most moderate. An account of their relative merits has indeed already been given also by one of the former writers,1 though not on the same principle as ours; for he inclined to judge that there were good varieties of all the forms, for instance a good sort of oligarchy and so on, and that democracy was the worst among these, but the best among the bad varieties, whereas we say that the deviations are wholly wrong, and that it is not right to speak of one form of oligarchy as better than another, but only as less bad. But let us for the present dismiss the question of a classification of this nature. Our business is first to distinguish how many different forms of the constitutions there are, assuming that there do exist several kinds of democracy and of oligarchy; next, which form is most general, and which most desirable after the best constitution, and also if there exists some other form that is aristocratic in nature and well constructed but not fitted to the largest number of cities, which this is; next, which of the other forms too is desirable for what people (since probably for some democracy is necessary more than oligarchy, and for others oligarchy more than democracy); [20] and after this, in what way should one proceed who wishes to set up these constitutions, I mean the various forms of democracy and of oligarchy; and finally, when as far as possible we have concisely touched upon all these questions, we must endeavor to review what are the agencies that destroy and what are those that preserve constitutions generally and each variety of constitution in particular, and what are the causes by which it is most natural for these events to be brought about.

Now the reason of there being several forms of constitution is that every city has a considerable number of parts. For in the first place we see that all the cities are composed of households, and then again that of this multitude some must necessarily be rich and some poor and some between the two, and also of the rich and the poor the former class is heavy-armed and the latter without armor. And we see that one portion of the common people is agricultural, another engaged in trade and another mechanic. And the upper classes have distinctions also corresponding to their wealth and the amounts of their property (for example in a stud of horses—for it is not easy to rear horses without being rich, and this is why in ancient times there were oligarchies in all the states whose strength lay in their cavalry, and they used to use horses for their wars against their neighbors, as for instance did the Eretrians and Chalcidians and the people of Magnesia on the Maeander and many of the other Asiatic peoples). Moreover in addition to differences in wealth there is the difference of birth, and that in regard to virtue,

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hide References (5 total)
  • Commentary references to this page (3):
    • Sir Richard C. Jebb, Commentary on Sophocles: Electra, 703
    • W. W. How, J. Wells, A Commentary on Herodotus, 5.77
    • W. W. How, J. Wells, A Commentary on Herodotus, 5.99
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  • Cross-references in notes from this page (1):
    • Plato, Statesman, 302a
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