Dēmos · Classical Athenian Democracy · a Stoa Publication
→ The advantage of a complex system of investigation.
Christopher W. Blackwell, edition of March 21, 2003
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The case of Polyeuctus illustrates the advantage of the complex procedure of investigation that came to be called apophasis. By having the Areopagus investigate the facts of a case, and a jury decide on punishment, the Athenians considered themselves to have struck a balance between impersonal judgement and a more personal justice. Dinarchus says this explicitly. In his speech against Demosthenes, he explains why, in other cases, the jury overrode the findings of the Areopagus: “There is an explanation for this which you will easily follow. The council of the Areopagus, gentlemen, has its own method of inquiring into the cases which you assign to it and the crimes committed within its own body. Unlike yourselves—and you need not take offence at this—who are sometimes apt when judging to give more weight to mercy than to justice, it simply reports anyone who is liable to the charges in question or has broken any traditional rule of conduct, believing that if a person is in the habit of committing small offences he will more easily involve himself in serious crimes” (Din. 1.54-55). He mentions a few examples of people found guilty by the Areopagus, and then turned over to the jury: “You tried these men and acquitted them. You were not thereby convicting the Areopagus of error but you were more concerned with sympathy than justice, and thought the punishment too severe for the offence which the defendants had committed” (Din. 1.56). He concludes this explanation with the story of Polyeuctus (Din. 1.58), which he sums up by saying: “The report of the Areopagus… was not proved false; it was quite true, but the jury decided to acquit Polyeuctus. The council [of the Areopagus — CWB] was instructed to discover the truth, yet, as I say, the court decided whether it was a case for pardon” (Din. 1.59).
Dinarchus’s arguments are successful in suggesting that the procedure of apophasis—which involved the less democratic institution of the Areopagus and the more democratic Assembly and People’s Court—was flexible and potentially fair.
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