Plato’s Statesman aims at defining the true art of statesmanship. Within the Statesman, section 291a-303d (which I refer to as the “constitutional” section of the dialogue) is devoted to distinguishing the true statesman from all politicians acting in existing constitutions, for ‘those who participate in all these constitutions’ must be removed ‘as not being statesmen (πολιτικούς) but experts in faction (στασιαστικούς)’ (Plt. 303c). The constitutional section of the Statesman is prefaced by a short passage (291a-c) where the Visitor from Elea, Plato’s main character in the dialogue, depicts the people taking part in these constitutions as resembling ‘lions and centaurs and other such things, and […] satyrs and those animals that are weak but versatile’, adding that ‘they quickly exchange their shapes and capacities’ (291a8-b3). The constitutional section ends with a parallel passage, where, reflecting back on his earlier image, the Visitor notes: ‘So: this is our play, as it were (ὥσπερ δρᾶμα) – as we said just now that there was some band of centaurs and satyrs in view (Kενταυρικὸν καὶ Σατυρικόν τινα θίασον)’ (303c9-d1). Why such a dramatic and awkward description? How is this powerful image of a crowd of lions, centaurs, satyrs and other such beings related to those who take part in oligarchy, democracy and tyranny? And why compare the constitutional section of the Statesman to some kind of dramatic play? Such are the questions addressed in this paper.
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Workshop in Ancient Philosophy Convenors: Ursula Coope, Simon Shogry and Luca Castagnoli