History, Department of


Date of this Version

December 1995


Published in Historia: Zeitschrift für alte Geschichte 44 (1995), pp. 385-95. Copyright © 1995 Franz Steiner Verlag; http://www.steiner-verlag.de/Historia/. Used by permission.


"Hippodamos, the son of Euryphon and a Milesian, who both invented the division of cities and cut out the Piraeus, was in the rest of his life very extraordinary because of his love of reputation, so that to some people he seemed to live his life very elaborately, wearing his hair long and arranged in a costly manner, while his clothes were of cheap material that was nevertheless warm, which he wore both in the winter and in the summer alike. He wanted to be knowledgeable about nature in general. First among those who were not statesmen he tried to speak about the best state." (Aristotle, Politics 2.1267b22-30)

Aristotle here introduces a discussion of the political theory of Hippodamos, but today there remains a certain amount of disagreement over what precisely he meant by the phrase “την των πόλεων διαίρεσιν ευρε.” On the one hand there are those scholars who think that Aristotle is attributing to Hippodamos the invention of orthogonal city planning--the use of straight streets meeting at right angles.

A second interpretation of the phrase “την των πόλεων διαίρεσιν ευρε” has been gaining credibility among another group of scholars. It is an interpretation which seems to be better supported by the immediate context of the text and which avoids attributing either obscurity or error to Aristotle. According to this view, “την των πόλεων διαίρεσιν ευρε” does not refer to city planning at all, but rather introduces the political theory of Hippodamos, a theory Aristotle then goes on to discuss in greater detail (Politics 2.1267b30-1269a28). This interpretation is supported by Aristotle's choice of words in the immediate context, since Hippodamos' theory involves a tripartite division of the citizens into classes and land into types.

It is my purpose to establish beyond reasonable doubt that the second, theoretical interpretation must be the correct one. For the argument based on context can be significantly strengthened by the addition of two new lines of reasoning, one rooted in the overall structure of Book 2 of the Politics and the other in the history of the commentary to the passage in question.

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