I. The Problem

A treatise on the constitution of the Athenians, composed in a style that is tantalizingly inept, was preserved in antiquity among the works of Xenophon. At least it was attributed to that master of Greek prose as early as the first century b.c.: the critic Demetrius of Magnesia was able to pronounce the attribution false (Diog. Laer. 3. 57). Pollux in the second century and Stobaeus in the fifth knew the work as Xenophon’s, and it was still under his name and embedded amid his genuine writings that the work passed to the modern age.

The judgment of Demetrius was acute; all scholars would now concur. Xenophon could never have written such prose, so repetitive and often so awkward. Not that the author, whoever he was, eschewed all elegance, but rather that he was not very good at it.1 Moreover, his Attic was not without a slight admixture of Ionic (e.g. 2. 2, 2. 14, 2. 17). As for structure, he had worked it out carefully (the opening sentences show this), but the sequence of arguments is lacking in smoothness and clarity. If Xenophon was not the author of this piece, who was? When was it written, and how came it into the corpus of another’s works?

DOI: 10.4159/DLCL.xenophon_athens-constitution_athenians.1925