Ancient History & Civilisation



ARISTOTLE was born in 384 B.C: at Stageira in Chalcidice which was part of the dominion of the kings of Macedon. He was the son of a physician who attended the family of King Amyntas. Later the throne was occupied by Philip, who spent his life augmenting the power and territory of Macedon and making it dominant among Greek states, whereas prior to his reign it had lain somewhat on the fringe. At the age of about seventeen Aristotle went to Athens and became a student in the famous Academy of Plato. Here he studied mathematics, ethics and politics, and we do not know what else besides. He remained there, a teacher but still a learner, for twenty years. At this period he must have written those works which Plutarch called Platonic, dialogues on ethical and political subjects, which were much admired in antiquity for their style but which are now lost. After the death of Plato in 346 he left the Academy, possibly disappointed that he had not been chosen to succeed him as head. In any case it was quite time that he left. The Academy offered little scope for his rapidly extending intellectual interests. With a few companions he crossed the Aegean Sea to Asia Minor and settled at Assos in the Troad. Here he continued his scientific studies, especially in marine biology. It is doubtful whether he wrote anything at this period, but the experience had a profound effect on his general outlook on the physical world and his view of man’s place in it. Man was an animal, but he was the only animal that could be described as ‘political’, capable of, and designed by nature for, life in a polis. It was at this period of his life also that he married his first wife; she too was a Macedonian. In 343 he returned to his native land whither he had been invited to teach King Philip’s young son, the future Alexander the Great. He did this for about two years, but what he taught him and what effect either had upon the other remain obscure. We know very little about the next four or five years but by 336 B.C. he was in Athens with his family.

Politically much had happened at Athens during his ten years’ absence. The eloquence of Demosthenes had not been sufficient to stir up effective resistance to the increasing encroachment of Aristotle’s own King Philip. After winning the battle of Chaeronea in 338 Philip had grouped most of the Greek states into a kind of federation firmly under the control of Macedon. Preparations were set afoot for an invasion of Asia, but Philip was assassinated in 336 and it was Alexander who led the expedition. At Athens opinion about Philip had long been divided. Macedonian supporters were fairly numerous among the wealthier upper classes and among these Aristotle had friends; he also had the useful backing of the Macedonian Antipater whom Alexander left in charge. So he had no difficulty in realizing his ambition of establishing at Athens a philosophical school of his own. He was a foreigner, not a citizen, and so could not legally own property there; but arrangements were made for a lease, and his school, the Lyceum, with its adjoining Walk (Peripatos). was successfully launched. Thus the most important and productive period of Aristotle’s life, that of his second sojourn at Athens, coincides with the period when Alexander was conquering the Eastern world – a fact which no one could guess from reading his works. The news of Alexander’s death in 323 was a signal for a revival of anti-Macedonian feeling at Athens, and Aristotle judged it prudent to retire to Euboea, where he died in the following year at the age of about sixty-two.

At the Lyceum, Aristotle had a staff of lecturers to assist him. These included the botanist Theophrastus, author of Characters, a man whose learning must have been as diversified as that of Aristotle. Perhaps, like the Regents in Scottish Universities in the eighteenth century, the staff were expected to teach a variety of subjects, theoretical and practical, and their surviving writings are a reflection of what they taught. But the distinction between theōrētikē and praktikē was not at all the same as between theory and practice. They were two separate branches of knowledge, not two different ways of dealing with knowledge. The former, regarded as truly philosophical and truly scientific, was based on theōria. observation plus contemplation. This branch included theology, metaphysics, astronomy, mathematics, biology, botany, meteorology; and on these subjects Aristotle lectured and wrote extensively. To the practical branch belong the works entitled Ethics. Politics. Rhetoric. and Poetics. Of course these subjects, no less than the ‘scientific’ group, must be based on collecting and studying the available data. But the data, arising as they do out of human endeavour, are of a different and less stable kind. Moreover these sciences have a practical aim and the students were expected to become in some measure practitioners. In Ethics and Politics, for example, it does not suffice to learn what things are; they must find out also what can be done about them.


There was a story current in antiquity that after Aristotle’s death his unpublished works (that is most of the Aristotle that we have) were hidden in a cellar in Scepsis in the Troad and remained there unknown till the first century B.C. The story is probably untrue but there is no doubt that hisPolitics was not much studied during that time. Polybius, who was well read in Plato and would have had good reason to read the Politics, shows no real acquaintance with it. Cicero too. who might have read the Politics if the story is true that the manuscript reached Rome in Sulla’s time, seems not to have done so. But Cicero knew Aristotle’s earlier and published works, the now lost dialogues, including ‘four books about justice’. Besides, teaching at the Lyceum continued to deal with Politico after the death of Aristotle, and the works of the Peripatetics Theophrastus and Dicaearchus were well known. Thus in various ways the political philosophy of the Lyceum may have been familiar to the men learned among Romans. Still, there is no denying the fact that both for Greeks and Romans the fame of Plato’s Republic quite outshone that of Aristotle’s Politicsduring classical antiquity. The same is true of Aristotle’s work in general; it was little read in the days of the Roman Empire. Some of it (but not the Politics) became known in the West through the Latin translations of Boethius in the sixth century A.D. In the East, translations were made into Syriac and thence into Arabic. Some of these Arabic translations eventually found their way to Europe by way of Spain, where they were closely studied by learned Jews. and Latin translations were made from the Arabic before the twelfth century. But again the Politics was not included. The influence of the Ethics and the Politics does not begin to appear in Western Christendom till the thirteenth century; and that beginning was due to three members of the Dominican Order – William of Moerbeke (in Flanders), Albert of Cologne, and, most of all, St Thomas of Aquino.

William of Moerbeke knew Greek sufficiently well to make a literal translation into Latin for the use of Albert and Thomas. His versions of the Ethics and the Politics are extant, barely intelligible but interesting as exercises in translation. St Thomas made constant use of them, and everything that he wrote touching upon politics, rulers, and states was strongly influenced by the Politics. The state itself was for him, as for Aristotle, something in accordance with nature, something good in itself and needed by man in order to fulfil his nature. St Augustine had seen in the state the institutions and laws of the Roman Empire, certainly not good in themselves, but necessary as a curb on man’s sinful nature; and this view was not abandoned when the Empire broke up. St Thomas in discarding it does not, of course, accept Aristotle’s view of the state in its entirety. He may agree with the philosopher about property and about usury and the need to control education; but to be a good citizen in a good society, to be well-endowed with property, virtue, and ability – this ideal could not be made to fit the contemporary outlook merely by the addition of religion. The good life must needs now be a Christian life and a preparation for Eternity. St Thomas reproduces much of the six-fold classification of constitutions which Aristotle sometimes used and sometimes ignored; but he really had little use for it. He found (as we find) that Aristotle has no clear-cut answer to give to the question ‘which is the best form of constitution?’ But he found plenty of warrant in thePolitics for saying that the rule of one outstandingly good man, backed by just laws, is most desirable, if only it can be attained. Besides, here he was on familiar ground. For centuries monarchical rule of one kind or another had occupied the central position in political thought; the contrast between the good king and the bad tyrant had been part of the stock-in-trade since classical antiquity; obedience and disobedience, legal status and legal rights, these were the topics; and above all how to build up what they called a ‘Mirror of Princes’ for the monarch to copy. We must not forget that the Policraticus of John of Salisbury (A.D. 1159) was just as much a precursor of St Thomas’s De regimine principum as was the Politics of Aristotle, which John had not read.

In the domination exercised by Aristotelian philosophy over scholastic thought in the later Middle Ages, the Politics had little part to play; its influence and prestige were very great but of a very different kind and in a different field. Dante, for example, in his De Monarchia (1311) differed utterly from St Thomas, but his work is just as much permeated by the thought and language (latinized) of the Politics. Even farther removed politically from St Thomas is Marsilius of Padua (Defensor pacis, 1324), yet here too the influence of the Politics is unmistakable. After the more general revival of classical learning in the fifteenth century. Plato and Cicero were more favoured than Aristotle by the majority of readers, but the Politics, which was first printed in 1498 (Aldine press), continued to be part of the essential background of political philosophers such as Machiavelli. Jean Bodin, or Richard Hooker. In the seventeenth century Thomas Hobbes poured scorn on the Aristotle of the Schoolmen, but his own Leviathan testifies to his reading of the Politics. In the eighteenth century a superficial acquaintance with the Ethics and the Politics could be taken for granted among educated Europeans. But it was not until the next century, and the publication in 1832 by the Prussian Academy of the great BerlinCorpus of his works that the study of Aristotle as a Greek author was really taken seriously. The Politics shared in this, and soon began to profit greatly from the industry and application of German scholarship. Political philosophy in its turn derived benefit from the translations and interpretations of nineteenth-century classical scholars and was enabled to see its own ancient antecedents in truer perspective. In the twentieth century this work continued unabated but political philosophy itself began to lose interest for academic philosophers. On the other hand there was a growing interest in the newer disciplines of anthropology and sociology, and the comparative study of political institutions. Where in all this does thePolitics of Aristotle now stand?


The Politics of Aristotle is still read as a textbook of political science in universities. It may be asked why this is so, why it has not been discarded, since all that is of value in it must surely have been absorbed and taken over by subsequent writers on the subject. Euclid was used as a textbook of geometry till well into the twentieth century, but his discoveries have been embodied in better textbooks for schools. For mathematicians the interest of Euclid is largely antiquarian; he is a part of the history of mathematics. Nor is Aristotle’s biology any longer taught. Why is his Politics worth studying today for its own sake?

Broadly speaking the reasons are first, that the problems posed by ethical and political philosophy are not of a kind that can be solved once and for all and handed on to posterity as so much accomplished; and second, that the problems are still the same problems at bottom, however much appearances and circumstances may have altered in twenty-three centuries. How can men live together? The world has grown smaller and men are more than ever forced to live together. The problem is larger, more acute, and more complicated than it was when ancient philosophers first looked at it. How in particular can top-dog and under-dog be made to live together? Is it enough to say ‘Give the top-dog arms and the under-dog enough to eat’? Or should there be only one class of dog? Then the under-dogs abolish the top-dogs, only to find themselves burdened with a new set. How perennial are the problems of government and how little they have changed are indeed all too clear. Recent events, the expansion of civilization, the spread of technological advances, and the growth of political power in all parts of the world have emphasized this. Western Europe no longer holds its former dominance either culturally or politically; but the Politics is not simply part of our Western heritage nor is it tied to the European political concepts which it helped to form. Just as it transcended the city-state era in which and for which it was written, so it has transcended both the imperialism and the nation-states of the nineteenth century. The nascent or half-formed states of Africa and Asia will recognize some of their own problems in Aristotle’s Politics, just as the seeker after norms of behaviour will learn from his Ethics. Neither will find, nor expect to find, ready-made answers to his questions, but it is always illuminating to see another mind, sometimes penetrating, sometimes obtuse, working on problems that are fundamentally similar to one’s own, however different in time, setting, and local conditions.

Works written about the science of politics may be said very roughly to fall into two classes, one of which may be called prescriptive, the other descriptive. The one seeks to make a pattern of an ideal state and, in varying degrees according to the taste of the author, to lay plans for the realization of that pattern. The other examines the data of politics, looks at constitutions as they exist now or have existed in the past, and seeks to draw conclusions about the way they are likely to develop. It does not aim at describing an ideal state or at determining what kind of constitution is best. Both types of study have, actually or potentially, a practical use, the prescriptive with a blue-print for the future, the other analysing and comparing. Both may also move in the domain of pure theory, the one deducing from a set of principles what human behaviour in society ought to be, the other evolving principles of human behaviour from the ways in which men do in fact behave. This does not mean that a descriptive writer suspends value-judgement altogether; he can hardly avoid appraising, by some standard or other, the work of the consitutions which form the data of his subject.

The Politics of Aristotle belongs to both these classes and moves in and out of them. It is the only work of an ancient author of which that could be said. All through antiquity (and in more modern times too) the utopian method of study predominated. Long before Plato or Aristotle, the Greeks for good practical reasons had been asking themselves ‘What is the best form of consitution?’ And after Plato the fame of the Republic and the Laws kept much of political thought fastened to the same topics. In later antiquity discussions of the ideal state took the form of discussions about the perfect ruler, the ideal king. The search for the ideal state and the best constitution are of course the very heart of Aristotle’s Politics; he had inherited the topic from his predecessors and is constantly commenting on and drawing from Plato. But he also had the analytical approach; it was part of his scientific cast of mind. And it is this that gives the Politics part of its special interest today, when the prescriptive method, from Plato to Marx, is out of fashion.

It is difficult to be a thoroughly detached observer even of the data of the physical sciences, virtually impossible when it comes to the study of man. Among the ancients only Thucydides came near to it. He observed and analysed human behaviour as manifested by nations at war, and nothing of that has changed since he wrote; but he was not a political theorist and nothing could have been farther from his mind than constructing a form of constitution. Yet even in the pages of Thucydides it is not difficult to see in broad outline what kind of polity he would prefer and would regard as best for Athens. All the more then when we come to Aristotle; his views about what is best are constantly to the fore and not always consistent. He draws a distinction between the ideally best, and the best in the circumstances or the best for a particular people; but his own ethical standards and political preferences stand out clearly at all times, even in those parts where the methods of descriptive analysis and comparison are extensively employed. Hence although we may reasonably say that Aristotle carried over from his biological studies to his political an analytical mind and a zeal for classifying and understanding all the data of his subject, we cannot claim that his observation is detached and unprejudiced. Nor of course must we fall into the common error of making such a claim for ourselves.

Again, Aristotle had more understanding than most ancient writers of the connection between politics and economics. Just because the links between these two are nowadays so complex, it may be useful to study observations that are based on a much simpler form of society, however barren they may seem in themselves. The acquisition and use of wealth, the land and its produce, labour, money, commerce, and exchange – such topics as these are perpetually interesting and much of the first book of the Politics is devoted to them. Aristotle proceeds from a discussion of household management (oikonomia). regarding that as state-management on a smaller scale; goods, money, labour, and exchange play a big part in both. All that he has to say on these matters is strongly coloured by two obsessions, first, his prejudices against trade and against coined money and second, his reluctance to be without a labour-force which was either the absolute property of the employer (slave-labour) or so economically dependent on him as to make their free status positively worthless. In his thinking about these matters Aristotle was saddled with a piece of theory which because of its quasi-scientific appearance had been resting as an incubus on much of Greek thought for a century or more; the notion that whatever is good is according to nature. The polis itself was for Aristotle obviously good; it was made by man, but by man acting according to his own nature. But commerce and labour were not so easy. In the matter of trade Aristotle decided that exchange and barter of surplus goods were natural but that the use of coined money as a medium of exchange was contrary to nature, as was also usury. To own property was natural and indeed most meritorious, so long as the property was land. But in accordance with the principle ‘Nothing too much’ (to which the average Greek paid no more than lip-service) Aristotle lays it down that unnecessary accumulation cannot be allowed. What he has to say about money-making, about the responsibilities of wealth and the possibility of private ownership coexisting with public use of property, has a particular interest today, since the habits, methods, and ethics of money-making have become subjects of interest and importance for a much larger section of the population than formerly. As regards slavery he was in a dilemma; slaves were both a form of property and a source of labour. He was aware that previous thinkers had shown that the enslavement of human beings, especially Greek by Greek, was contrary to nature. But he was sure that slaves were indispensable in creating the conditions for the life of culture which was the aim of the polis. He could not therefore reject slavery, but he must endeavour to prove that after all it is not contrary to nature and that the slave though a human being is designed by nature to be as a beast of burden. Needless to say the attempt breaks down (see Book I. Chapter v ad fin.), as he himself must have been aware. Yet the arguments which he used were still in use among the defenders of slavery in the nineteenth century; the difference between black and white races gave them just that outward manifestation of nature’s supposed intention that Aristotle had looked for in vain (Book I. Chapter v).

Surprise is sometimes expressed that Aristotle continued to write about and to prescribe for the city-state, unaware that its era of independence had come to an end with the Macedonian conquest. But there is really no occasion for surprise; contemporaries cannot be expected to foresee the effects of events. Besides, the city-state was destined to remain the standard form of living for the majority of the Greek-speaking world for centuries yet to come. It is true that the cities had lost their absolute autonomy and notably their military power, so that they could not henceforth oppose the wishes of the Syrian, Macedonian, or other monarchs within whose territory they lay. But even in the time of the Roman Empire city-state life still went on; and if they had no real independence of action, there were still varying degrees of independence and certain privileges to be won.

But there are surprising things about Aristotle in his Politics. His attitude to slavery, to which reference has just been made, seems strange in one who must have read Euripides; and we do not know whether to ascribe it to callousness or to obtuseness. But he had other blind-spots; we can grant that he could not foresee the effects of the Macedonian domination and of Alexander’s conquests. But was it necessary to omit all reference to them as if they were irrelevant to his subject? No one would ever guess from reading thePolitics that Aristotle himself was a Macedonian or that a Macedonian king was then conquering the world. He has much to say about monarchy, but in spite of one or two casual references to Macedon we cannot see that either the country or its king was of the slightest interest to him, or that they presented, as they undoubtedly did, features worth mentioning. He makes a casual and unimportant reference to the murder of Philip in 336, but otherwise the latest identifiable event is the loss of Spartan military supremacy at the battle of Leuctra in 371. So one must conclude that the silence about modern times was deliberate. All the same it seems strange in a manual intended for practical use.

Aristotle was a subject of the king of Macedon. His status at Athens, while he lived there, was that of metoikos, resident alien. As we have seen, he had powerful friends there and his position was an easy one. But he was not a citizen, and the privileges of citizenship were to him a matter of supreme importance. Yet never at any time in his life had he the satisfaction of being a land-owning citizen of a Greek polis. Perhaps that is just the reason for his ceaseless insistence on citizenship (see especially Book III). As he realized the advantages of being a citizen, so too. one would think, he must have been fully alive to the disadvantages of not being one. His own position as a resident alien was tolerable enough, but what, in theory or in practice, would be the position of all the other non-citizens, permanent residents trying to earn their living? The number of persons in this category, neither slaves nor citizens but paid employees, might, in any form of constitution which Aristotle would tolerate, be fairly numerous, and it is surprising that he has little to say about them except that they are a possible source of discontent and a danger to the established order. Modern parallels in different parts of the world will occur to a discerning reader of the Politics; non-participation in the politeia. to use a phrase of Aristotle’s, is a real problem. Aristotle hardly sees it as such, beyond making a plea for moderation (beginning of Book V). Nor did he see any connection between these and that other depressed class, the slaves; their legal status was different, and that was an end of the matter. In spite of their similar economic positions it was hardly even suspected that there could be common interests between slaves and free men.

The comparative study of political institutions in different countries is frequently made a part of the normal course of study in modern political science; and the fact that it began with Aristotle is an added reason for continuing to read him. He is known to have written, probably with the aid of collaborators. historical and descriptive accounts of 158 city constitutions. One of these, the Athenian, has survived largely intact on a series of papyrus-rolls discovered in Egypt in 1891. Aristotle refers to this collection in the concluding passage of his Ethics as being part of the material which he will use in his Politics (see Preface to Book I). He needs in particular to have examples to hand of the actual working of constitutions and to note the changes to which the different types are liable (see especially Book V). He also wishes to make comparisons with, and criticisms of. constitutions which only existed on paper, and for this he had in his library not only the Republic and the Laws of Plato but the work of other predecessors, most of them unknown now except for what he tells us (mostly in Book II). Thus he uses both actual and imagined states for comparative purposes. Between one source of comparison and another he casts his net pretty wide. Chiefly of course he is concerned with the typically Hellenic product, the city-state, including the non-Hellenic but very interesting Carthage. But not all Greeks lived in city-states, and there are frequent references to the fact that many peoples lived a much less centripetal life in communities of a varying degree of cohesion. (See Aristotle’s own note on ethnos, Book II. Chapter ii). He knows monarchy well and describes many types of it but he shows no particular interest in the Macedonian type. Indeed his interest in monarchy is generaly either antiquarian or theoretical.

There is a tendency when reading Aristotle’s Politics to interpret what he says about the city-state in terms of the modern nation-state. This is natural and in part appropriate, since independent sovereignty was the mark of, and the claim made by, the ancient polis, no less than the modern state. But in the history of political thought the notion of a state is not a constant in the way that the notion of triangle is a constant in the history of geometry. Wherever and whenever we read about the theory of the state we are reading about a conception of it current in the author’s time or else created by him. About the ancient Greek state two salient points (apart from its size) need to be emphasized which at first sight appear to contradict each other; on the one hand its unity and solidarity, on the other its limited membership. Even in a democracy there would be numerous adult males who would be non-citizens or slaves; they would form no part of the polis. The city is made up of its members, its citizens, enrolled as such in accordance with the rules of the constitution. Much of what they do in their daily lives arises directly out of the fact of their membership. Not only the duties of administration, of military service, and of the courts of law, but equally games, religion, festivals, recreation, even eating and drinking, are often closely connected with membership of the state. In short the state embraced a much smaller proportion of the population but a much larger share in the daily lives of each. The extent to which these facts are true of any one state in history varies greatly, but for Aristotle as for Plato they are not only true but right.

Aristotle calls the state the supreme form of human association, not the only one. He recognizes the existence of others, but except for the household or family he has little to say about them separately; he is mainly concerned with organs of government within the different kinds of constitution. But when Aristotle calls man ‘a political animal’ he has in mind all aspects of life in humane society, all that contributes to ‘the good life’. The smaller social units within the larger koinōnia of the state have an important part to play here, and one wishes that Aristotle had gone into greater detail. But it is legitimate to take the general principles governing the larger associations as applicable also to the smaller. We need not always be thinking of the modern nation-state as a single whole when we are reading about ancient politeia. There is an immense variety of the lesser units in any modern state. Some of these are closely connected with the constitution, others entirely separate from it; but all contribute in some measure to the life of the citizens and Aristotle would have regarded them as part of the politeia. The nineteenth century saw religious organizations becoming separated from the constitution, the twentieth has seen medicine, education, and even sport drawn into it. But all these bodies, great or small, and subordinate bodies under them, are associations of human kind, and much of what Aristotle has to say about the supreme form of association has application also to the lesser.

Like the ancient lawgivers the founders of a club or society, local or national, have to build a framework within which the members will together pursue the objects of their common purpose. A constitution has to be drawn up and rules agreed upon; the constitution will generally be what some ancient writers called a mixed one. the committee being an oligarchic element, the annual general meeting a democratic one. Clearly therefore the manner prescribed for elections to committees is a matter of supreme importance to all members, as Aristotle saw. But how rigid should this framework be? Can it be made to last for ever? Aristotle advises that a constitution should be of such a kind that the majority of its members will wish it to remain in being. But that is certainly no guarantee of permanence. Thus the questions raised in the Politics are not always those which concern the state and its rulers; they may be such as affect our daily lives and our social activities.

For Aristotle, as for Plato, the subject of political philosophy, or politikē, embraced the whole of human behaviour, the conduct of the individual equally with the behaviour of the group. Ethics was, therefore, a part of politics; we might also say that politics was a part of ethics. It was the aim of political philosophy to establish standards of social behaviour. Aristotle is thinking of both aspects of the matter when he writes near the beginning of his Ethics: ‘Our account of this science will be adequate if it achieves such clarity as the subject-matter allows; for the same degree of precision is not to be expected in all discussions, any more than in all the products of handicraft. Instances of morally fine and just conduct – which is what politics investigates – involve so much difference and variety that they are widely believed to be such only by convention and not by nature. Instances of goods involve a similar kind of variety, for the reason that they often have hurtful consequences. People have been destroyed before now by their money, and others by their courage. Therefore in discussing subjects, and arguing from evidence, conditioned in this way. we must be satisfied with a broad outline of the truth…. Since in every case a man judges rightly what he understands, and of this only is a good critic, it follows that while in a special field the good critic is a specialist, the good critic in general is the man with a general education. That is why a young man is not a fit person to attend lectures on political science, because he is not versed in the practical business of life from which politics draws its premisses and subject matter.’1

Alongside the strong ethical bias in political philosophy went a sense of the need for fixing standards. An ethical code had to be embodied in a code of law. and this code of law in turn described the whole framework of the social and political system and the moral standards under which the citizens were to live, and for which the Greek word was politeia, usually translated by ‘Constitution’. Inevitably therefore young citizens had to learn these laws; only thus could they learn to live either the life of a citizen or the life of an individual following accepted standards of right and wrong. Thus when we say that a young Athenian was educated in the laws of his country, we do not mean legal education, but moral and social.

There is a short passage at the end of the Ethics which some editors omit as being properly part of the Politics. At any rate it clearly makes a transition from one to the other and refers to some at any rate of the books of Aristotle’s Politics as we have them. We will therefore translate this passage1 as a preliminary to Book I, remembering, however, that we do not know that Aristotle so intended.


The text used is that of O. Immisch (Teubner). It has been translated in its entirety, including those passages which were bracketed by Immisch; but his bracketings and insertions of isolated words have been respected. His use of marks of parenthesus has not always been followed. The printing of some parts of the text as footnotes is due to the translator; it follows a principle now well established in Penguin translations and of proved assistance to the reader. The Politics has often before been translated into English, but the only version which has been at all times beside the present translator is that of one of his early teachers, H. Rackham (Loeb Library). It will be evident that the present translation is of an entirely different character. It aims at offering to English readers the Politics as a whole. In an attempt to convey something of the complexity of meaning attaching to certain Greek terms different English words have been used to translate them. At the same time the reader’s attention is often called to these important terms in the passages (printed in italics) which are at intervals inserted in the text. It is hoped that these will help the reader to follow the drift of Aristotle’s discourse, but he should remember, first, that these are no substitute for a commentary on the text, and second that the translator’s interpretation of Aristotle’s meaning may not always command acceptance. He has attempted to make the Politics readable; he could not be expected to make it all easy.

Notes by the Reviser

1. The above introduction is reproduced unchanged from the first edition, except that a few references have been recast and the long quotation from the Nicomachean Ethics has been supplied in the version published in the Penguin Classics in 1976.

2. This revision of the Politics has been carried out on the basis of the most readily available and widely used text: Aristotelis Politica. ed. W. D. Ross (Oxford Classical Text, 1957). I have departed from it on only a few occasions, which are indicated in footnotes.

3. In my own introduction I discuss the principles and aims of the revision, with some reference to Sinclair’s final paragraph above.

4. From time to time, in reprinting, the bibliographies are brought up to date and other minor adjustments made.


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