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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces the
De Monarchia


as published in Vol. X
of the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1936

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

(Vol. X) Plutarch, Moralia

 p301  On Monarchy, Democracy, and Oligarchy


The work appears in pp301‑311 of Vol. VII of the Loeb Classical Library's edition of the Moralia, first published in 1959. The Greek text and the English translation (by Phillip H. De Lacy and Benedict Einarson) are now in the public domain pursuant to the 1978 revision of the U. S. Copyright Code, since the copyright expired in 1987 and was not renewed at the appropriate time, which would have been that year or the year before. (Details here on the copyright law involved.)

 p303  Loeb Edition Introduction

This essay is evidently only a fragment, as Wyttenbach long ago pointed out. The opening words indicate that the author delivers it as an address before an audience to which he has spoken the day before, but nothing further is known about the circumstances. Few scholars believe that the author is Plutarch, though who the writer was is not known. The substance of the fragment is derived chiefly from the Republic of Plato.

 p305  (826a) 1 1   [link to original Greek text] Now as I was myself bringing before this company as a court of judgement the talk that I presented to you yesterday, BI thought I heard, while wide awake, not in a dream,​1 Political Wisdom saying:

Golden foundation is wrought for canticles sacred,​2

so the speech, which exhorts and encourages you to enter political life has been laid as a basis. "Come, let us now build walls,"​3 building upon the exhortation the teaching which is due. And it is due to anyone who has received the exhortation and the impulse to engage in public affairs that he next hear and receive precepts of statecraft by the use of which he will, so far as is humanly possible, Cbe of service to the people and at the same time manage his own affairs with safety and rightful honour. But as a step towards that which follows and a consequence of that which has been said, we must consider what is the best form of government. For just as there are numerous modes of life for a man, so the  p307 government (politeia) is the life of a people, and therefore it is essential for us to take the best form of it; for of all forms the statesman will choose the best or, if he cannot obtain that, then the one of all the rest which is most like it.

2 1   [link to original Greek text] Now the word politeia (citizen­ship) is defined also as "having a share of the rights in a State," as we say the Megarians voted Alexander the politeia (citizen­ship); and when he made fun of their eagerness, they told him that up to that time they had conferred citizen­ship upon Heracles only and now upon himself. DThen Alexander was astonished and accepted the gift, thinking that its rarity gave it value. But the life of a statesman, a man who is occupied in public affairs, is also called politeia (statecraft); as, for example, we commend the politeia (statecraft) of Pericles and of Bias, but condemn that of Hyperbolus and Cleon. And some people even call a single brilliant act for the public benefit a politeia (politic act), such, for example, as a gift of money, the ending of a war, the introduction of a bill in parliament; and accordingly we say nowadays that so‑and‑so has performed a politeia if he happens to have put through some needed public measure.

3 1   [link to original Greek text] Besides all these, politeia is defined as an order Eand constitution of a State, which directs its affairs; and accordingly they say that there are three politeiae (forms of government), monarchy, oligarchy, and democracy, a comparison of which is given by Herodotus in his third book.​4 They appear to be the most typical forms; for the others, as happens in musical scales when the strings of the primary notes are relaxed or tightened, turn out to be errors  p309 Fand corruptions through deficiency or excess. Of these forms of government, which have achieved the widest and greatest power in their periods of dominion, the Persians received as their lot royalty absolute and irresponsible, the Spartans oligarchy aristocratic and uncontrolled, the Athenians democracy self-governing and undiluted. When these forms are not hit exactly, their perversions and exaggerations are what are called (1) tyranny, (2) the predominance of great families,​5 (3) or mob-rule: that is, (1) when royalty breeds violence and irresponsible action; 827(2) oligarchy, arrogance and presumptuousness; (3) democracy breeds anarchy, equality, excess, and all of them folly.

4 1   [link to original Greek text] So, just as a real musician will make use of every instrument harmoniously, adapting it skilfully and striking each one with regard to its natural tunefulness, and yet, following Plato's advice,​6 will give up guitars, banjoes, psalteries with their many sounds, harps and string triangles and prefer the lyre and the cithara; Bin the same way the real statesman will manage successfully the oligarchy that Lycurgus established at Sparta, adapting to himself the colleagues who have equal power and honour and quietly forcing them to do his will; he will also get on well in a democracy with its many sounds and strings by loosening the strings in some matters of government and tightening them in others, relaxing at the proper time and then again holding fast mightily, knowing how to resist the masses and to hold his ground against them. But if he were given the choice among governments,  p311 like so many tools, he would follow Plato's advice and choose no other than monarchy, the only one which is able to sustain that top note of virtue, high in the highest sense, Cand never let it be tuned down under compulsion or expediency. For the other forms of government in a certain sense, although controlled by the statesman, control him, and although carried along by him, carry him along, since he has no firmly established strength to oppose those from whom his strength is derived, but is often compelled to exclaim in the words of Aeschylus​7 which Demetrius the City-stormer employed against Fortune after he had lost his hegemony,

Thou fanst my flame, methinks thou burnst me up.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Cf. Homer, Od. XIX.547.

2 Pindar, Frag. 194 (206), p465 ed. Schroeder.

3 Pindar, ibid.

4 Herodotus, III.80‑84.

5 See Aristotle, Politics, IV.4.1 on δυναστεία.

6 Plato, Republic, 399C, D.

7 Nauck, Trag. Graec. Frag. p107, no. 359; Life of Demetrius, chap. xxxv.

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