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Law and Economy in Classical Athens: [Demosthenes], “Against Dionysodorus” 

Edward M. Harris, edition of March 22, 2003

page 13 of 15

· Part 2.6 ·

The preliminary skirmishes between Dareius and Dionysodorus serve to remind students of Athenian Law that a trial in court was often only the last step in a long series of maneuvers between litigants. Whatever their true intentions, each one attempted to act as if he did not wish to bring their case to court; both men strove to win over public opinion by offering compromises and avoiding the appearance of being litigious. This led to a series of proposals and counter-proposals, each aimed ostensibly to reach a settlement. Given the nature of the sources for Athenian Law, it is impossible know how often attempts at out-of-court settlements succeeded, but it would appear that Greek attitudes favored settlement over trial. The Athenians admired a bold warrior on the battlefield and a determined competitor in an athletic contest, but in the agora they expected citizens and metics to refrain from aggressive behavior and to demonstrate their willingness to compromise and cooperate. But social attitudes against litigiousness and the possibility of compromise were not strong enough in this instance to achieve a settlement, and Dareius was forced (or preferred) to bring his case against Dionysodorus to court.

Read about the evidence
Demosthenes (Dem. 56).

After presenting his version of the facts in the case (5-18), Dareius turns to his legal arguments (19-44). Some scholars claim that the Athenians were amateurs in legal matters, but even the structure of Dareius’ speech reveals a certain level of legal sophistication. Dareius does not throw together factual and legal arguments, but keeps the two kinds of arguments strictly separate. This separation reveals his awareness that the two kinds of arguments are different and require different methods of reasoning. The narrative of the speech recounts a series of events and carefully attempts to create causal links among these events by analyzing the motives of his opponents and showing them acting consistently in accordance with these motives. The section containing the legal arguments is very different. Here Dareius focusses more closely on the terms of the contract and contrasts how the actions of his opponents violated the contract, then refutes the arguments his opponents will present. Narrative gives way to analysis, and the different modes of presentation show that Dareius clearly understood the distinction between factual and legal arguments.

Plot on a Map

As Dareius stresses in his opening words, he relies primarily on the Athenian law stating that all agreements entered into willingly are binding. He therefore places great weight on the actual wording of the contract. He predicts that Dionysodorus will make three main arguments in his defense. First, he will claim that their ship was “wrecked” or “damaged” on its return from Egypt and forced to put in at Rhodes. To prove this assertion, Dareius will show that he hired ships at Rhodes to transport some of his cargo to Athens. Second, he will point out how several other creditors were willing to accept payment of interest only as far as Rhodes. Third, he will rely on a clause in the contract that obligated him to repay the loan only in the event that “the ship was safe.” Since the ship could not arrive safely in the Peiraeus, Dionysodorus was not obligated to repay the loan. This section of the speech is valuable for giving some indication of the points Dionysodorus may have made. On the other hand, one cannot be certain that Dareius does not misrepresent his opponent’s arguments or fails to do them full justice.

Read about the evidence
Aristotle (Aristot. Ath. Pol.).
Aristotle (Aristot. Econ.).
Apollodorus (Dem. 50).
Plot on a Map

In answer to the first argument Dareius questions his opponent’s claim that the ship suffered serious damage. If this was so, why did the ship later sail back to Egypt and is now visiting every port in the sea except Athens? He brushes aside Dionysodorus’ story that his partner shipped some of his cargo to Athens; he claims that they only transported the items that were selling at high prices in Athens, but sold their grain in Rhodes because the price for grain was higher there. Dareius’ objection rest in part on the unproven fact that the ship is now sailing again. Dareius provides no evidence for his assertion, and Dionysodorus might well have denied that the ship could have been repaired. Dareius also assumes that Dionysodorus could have shipped the grain from Rhodes to Athens, but he does not countenance the possibility that officials in Rhodes may have forced him and his partner to sell their grain there. As noted in Section I, the Athenians had a law that forbid citizens and metics from transporting grain outside of Attica and established a board of ten superintendents of the port to enforce this law (Constitution of the Athenians 51.4). The people of Rhodes could have had a similar law, and the officials at Rhodes might have prevented Parmeniscus from shipping the grain (Cf. [Aristotle] Oeconomica 1348b33f). Such a scenario is all the more likely when one recalls that Dareius himself insists that the price of grain was much higher in Rhodes than it was in Athens. Faced with a severe shortage, officials in Rhodes are unlikely to have allowed to Parmeniscus to remove the grain from their market. In fact, several sources indicate that poleis might detain ships carrying grain to other ports and force them to sell their cargoes (e.g. [Demosthenes] 50.6).

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