Aristotle’s Pambasileia and the Metaphysics of Monarchy

in Polis: The Journal for Ancient Greek Political Thought
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Aristotle’s account of kingship in Politics 3 responds to the rich discourse on kingship that permeates Greek political thought (notably in the works of Herodotus, Xenophon and Isocrates), in which the king is the paradigm of virtue, and also the instantiator and guarantor of order, linking the political microcosm to the macrocosm of the universe. Both models, in separating the individual king from the collective citizenry, invite further, more abstract thought on the importance of the king in the foundation of the polity, whether the king can be considered part of, or separate from, the polis, and the relationship between polis and universe. In addressing these aspects of kingship theories, Aristotle explores a ‘metaphysics of monarchy’, part of the long-running mereological problem of parts and wholes in the construction of the polis, and connecting his account of kingship to his thought on citizenship and distributive justice within the polis.




M. Schofield, Saving the City: Philosopher-Kings and Other Classical Paradigms (London: Routledge, 1999), pp. 100-03. The transmitted text of the Politics is increasingly interpolated as book 3 progresses (E. Schütrumpf, Aristotle: Politik. Buch ii und iii (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1991), pp. 570, 577); the closing chapter, 3.18, is largely a later addition. This probable interpolation weakens the case for a pro-monarchy reading of 3.17, as later responses to the advent of Hellenistic kingship may contaminate Aristotle’s text. The subsequent books 4-6, in contrast with this section, contain some discussion of the practicalities of maintaining stability in monarchical regimes good and bad.


Bosworth, Alexander and the East, pp. 105-07 and P. Christodoulou, ‘La construction de l’image du roi idéal au ive siècle av. J.-C. et l’avènement de la royauté hellénistique’ (Thèse de doctorat, Université Panthéon-Sorbonne, 2009), pp. 300-17, link Aristotle’s thought on kingship to Alexander’s claimed divinity, but this is an unwarranted inference.


On Xenophon: V.J. Gray, Xenophon’s Mirror Of Princes: reading the reflections (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011); C. Nadon, Xenophon’s Prince: Republic and Empire in the Cyropaedia (Berkeley, ca: University of California Press, 2001). On Antisthenes: H.D. Rankin, Ant[h]isthenes Sokratikos (Amsterdam: Hakkert, 1986); G. Giannantoni, Socratis et Socraticorum reliquiae (Naples: Bibliopolis, 1990), Vol. 4, pp. 295-307.


R. Mayhew, ‘Part and Whole in Aristotle’s Political Philosophy’, Journal of Ethics, 1 (1997), 325-40.


Cherry, Plato, Aristotle, and the purpose of politics, pp. 183-90 contrasts the differing concerns of Alasdair MacIntyre, Martha Nussbaum and Stephen Salkever in rejecting a metaphysical foundation to Aristotle’s political thought.


Hobbes, Leviathan, pp. 462-68 (Ch. 46, ‘Darknesse from Vain Philosophy’, pp. 371-76): see Q. Skinner, Reason and Rhetoric in the Philosophy of Hobbes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. 396-98, 406-07. Early-modern proponents of absolutism make much use of Aristotle: J. Bodin, Six Books of the Commonwealth (Oxford: Blackwell, 1955), book 6, R. Filmer, Patriarcha and other writings (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), pp. 159-61, Chapter 10.


Carlier, La notion de pambasileia, p. 116 notes this view without naming its proponents.


R.G. Mulgan, ‘A Note on Aristotle’s Absolute Ruler’, Phronesis, 19 (1974), pp. 66-68; Newell, Superlative Virtue, pp. 170-71.


Carlier, La notion de pambasileia, p. 107.


Atack, Discourse of Kingship, pp. 341-42.


Vander Waerdt, Kingship and Philosophy, pp. 264-65, conceding that this Thomist reading pushes far beyond anything Aristotle himself says.


S. Benardete, Herodotean Inquiries (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1969), pp. 66-67 explores these stories as attempts to link ‘the high and noble . . . and the base and mean’.


Hobbes, Leviathan, p. 107, with his ‘ninth Law of Nature . . . That every man acknowledge other for his Equall by Nature’.


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