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Sycophancy and Attitudes to Litigation 

Matthew R. Christ, edition of March 26, 2003

page 8 of 8

· Conclusion ·

Read about the evidence
Aristophanes (Aristoph. Wasps).

That Athenians were conscious of such criticisms and aware of the complex symbiosis of litigants and jurors is suggested by AristophanesWasps, which was presented before a large Athenian audience in 422 B.C. This comedy focuses upon on a “typical” Athenian, an elderly gentleman, Philocleon, who is addicted to serving on juries, and the efforts of his son to cure him of this. Philocleon and his fellow-jurors relish the discomfitures of the rich and powerful who are brought for judgment before them and delight in exercising power maliciously over defendants. If jury-service is entertaining and satisfying, it is also essential to these jury-addicts, as it provides them with their daily wage. This makes them all too receptive to malicious prosecutions; without these, where would their three-obol wage come from? Philocleon’s very name (“Lover of Cleon”) attests to his collusion with sycophancy: he (and his fellow jurors) are all too happy to support the popular politician Cleon in his false prosecutions.

Plot on a Map

While Aristophanes may well be influenced by critics of the Athenian democracy in satirizing the interdependence of jurors and sycophants in Athens, it is fascinating that he presents these views before a popular audience. It is a fair inference that Athenians were aware of such criticisms and were ready to laugh at themselves and their “jury-addiction.” Some may well have been ready to acknowledge that large jury panels were susceptible to manipulation by prosecutors and were sometimes duped into supporting malicious prosecutions; and no one could deny that jurors’ daily wages depended on a steady stream of lawsuits. If, however, Athenians were aware of problematic features of their legal system, they were not ready to alter this dramatically during the life of the democracy. Access to litigation was fundamental in this democratic society, and adjudication by popular courts the best way for “the people” to exercise control over the city’s officials and life within the city. Excess and abuse were risks, but necessary ones for the preservation of democracy and a democratic way of life.

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