Dēmos · Classical Athenian Democracy · a Stoa Publication
→ History: Myth.
Christopher W. Blackwell, edition of January 26, 2003
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Demosthenes says: “Concerning that Court of the Areopagus I could relate a greater number of noble stories, in part traditional and legendary, in part certified by our own personal testimony, than could be told of any other tribunal. It is worth your while to listen to one or two of them by way of illustration. First, then, in ancient times, as we are told by tradition, in this court alone the gods condescended both to render and to demand satisfaction for homicide, and to sit in judgement upon contending litigants—Poseidon, according to the legend, deigning to demand justice from Ares on behalf of his son Halirrothius, and the Twelve Gods to adjudicate between the Eumenides and Orestes” (Dem. 23.65-66). Pausanias says that the Areopagus, “Hill of Ares,” was so named because of the trial of the god Ares—he also mentions the trial of Orestes (Paus. 1.28.5). Orestes had killed his mother, Clytemnestra, and so was pursued by the Furies (also called the Erinyes, the “awful goddesses,” or the Eumenides); according to myth, the matter ended with a trial, held on the Areopagus and presided over by the goddess Athene. This story forms the basis for Aeschylus’ tragedy, The Eumenides (Aesch. Eum.). In addition to the trials of Ares and Orestes, Pausanias says that—at least in his day, during the
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Aristotle (Aristot. Rh.).
This mythological background helped give the Areopagus, and the court that met there, its authority. Aristotle reports that when Autocles was arguing that a certain man was obliged to let his case be heard by the court, he made this argument: “If the awful goddesses were content to stand trial before the Areopagus, should not Mixidemides?” (Aristot. Rh. 1398b 25).
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