Rhetoric and Power: The Drama of Classical Greece

By Nathan Crick | Go to book overview

Conclusion

The first governments were kingships, probably for this reason, because of
old, when cities were small, men of eminent virtue were few. Further, they
were made kings because they were benefactors, and benefits can only be
bestowed by good men. But when many persons equal in merit arose, no
longer enduring the preeminence of one, they desired to have a common-
wealth, and set up a constitution. The ruling class soon deteriorated and
enriched themselves out of the public treasury; riches became the path to
honor, and so oligarchies naturally grew up. These passed into tyrannies
and tyrannies into democracies; for love of gain in the ruling classes was
always tending to diminish their number, and so to strengthen the masses,
who in the end set upon their masters and established democracies. Since
cities have increased in size, no other form of government appears to be any
longer even easy to establish.1

When Aristotle died in 322 B.C.E., the polis died with him. Of course, the existence of the autonomous Greek city-state had been in question for some time. In 338 B.C.E., the combined forces of Athens and Thebes were destroyed by Philip of Macedon. Under the name of the League of Corinth, the Greek World was forced to submit to Macedonian hegemony—this point being made very clear when the entire city of Thebes was razed to the ground and turned into a Macedonian garrison after attempting to revolt after Philip’s death in 336 B.C.E. In Athens, however, the dream of the polis still lived. Because both Philip and Alexander wanted to form an empire based partly on voluntary participation by subject states, they largely left existing constitutions intact so long as they

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