The Old Oligarch continues his complaint by moving onto the issue of sacrifices, offerings and festivals. He claims that although the common people are too poor to sacrifice and feast individually, or to erect temples or buildings in the city, they often make sacrifices publicly as a whole city. But his particular complaint is that the individual commoners enjoy the feasts and get allotted a share in the offerings, whereas the wealthy and notable must perform sacrifices such as these themselves40.He furthers this argument by saying that although the wealthy have provided themselves with gymnasia and baths for their own private use, the mob have used the money of the city, taxation mostly accrued from the wealthy, to build themselves palaestras and baths for their use, and then the rabble derive more benefit from them than the rich, who provided most of the funds to build them41.There are no apparent sources to reinforce or disprove this argument, but it can be assumed that the egalitarian nature of the democrats would give them the view that all taxation is proportional, and so the money belongs to the city to be used by those who govern it.
The Old Oligarch has, therefore, dispelled his own argument, because early in his complaint he said it was right to give control to the mob, and now he indirectly criticises that decision.Therefore, the argument he puts forward here is not valid at all as he, himself, contradicts it. The next part of the complaint refers to the fickleness of the common Athenians. The Old Oligarch says that when the commoners make an agreement, they fix the blame for failure on the individual who proposed it and claim they disapproved of it anyway, but if the policy succeeds then they claim the credit and success for themselves42.This finds corroboration of sorts in Thucydides, where he talks of democracy as a crime and says, “in short, the object that they propose to themselves, in their specious policy of complete isolation, is not to avoid sharing in the crimes of others, but to secure monopoly of crime to themselves- the licence of outrage wherever they can compel, of fraud wherever they can elude, and the enjoyment of their gains without shame”43. This is Thucydides expressing his distaste at the fickle scapegoating of the Athenian commoners, much like the Old Oligarch.
Therefore, from the point of view of a respectable, the argument presented by the Old Oligarch here is valid, but a democratic point of view would almost certainly dismiss it. The Old Oligarch talks then of money. He is upset that bribery does not work now that many people are in charge of the state44. He continues by saying that this means that nothing important – he clearly means things that are in the interest of him and the notables – gets done.The Old Oligarch then returns to the point that the Athenians have too many festivals and sacrifices, meaning that there are too many holidays, and days where nothing is done45. It is true that there were many festivals, such as those mentioned by the Old Oligarch: the Dionysia, Thargelia, Panathenaea, Promethia and Hephaestia46, but no other contemporary records that this is a problem in society. Indeed, it is probable that the democrats believed them necessary to unite the people in Athens.
Therefore, this argument is not really valid, as he refers only to his own interests, and the other contemporary aristocratic writers don’t appear to mention this as a huge problem. In conclusion, the Old Oligarch’s specific attacks are social and economic rather than political. Behind his antagonism lurks little more than a wistful regret that power has passed into the hands of the wrong people, who lack the style that had characterised the old, aristocratic ruling class.
The arguments presented by the Old Oligarch are valid in some respects, such as his dislike of equality in free speech, where he has found support from many other sources, but many of his arguments just seem to be a personal rant with little validity to them.BibliographyAristotle Politics In Athenian Politics, LACTOR 5 London, 1995 A. H. M. Jones Athenian Democracy Oxford, 1978 C. Morris Western Political Thought, vol. 1 London, 1967 R.
G. Mulgan Aristotle’s Political Theory