Sunday, October 6, 2013

Demosthenes' "Against Meidias"

Tonight I am reading Demosthenes' Against Meidias.  Why? Because nothing prevents me from doing so, and books like this repay the reader many times over for the little effort it takes to read them.

The text is full of citations of Athenian law, and both its structure and content tell us a great deal about ancient jurisprudence.

Demosthenes also gives us some gems of ancient legal reasoning, reminding us that there is very little new under the sun.  For instance: Meidias, a wealthy and brutish man, assaulted Demosthenes while Demosthenes was performing a sacred state function.  Meidias then claimed that such assaults happen all the time, and therefore his was unimportant.  Demosthenes replied that the decision of the court will affect not only this single case but that it will have the effect of deterring future assaults as well.

But on this reading I am especially enjoying Demosthenes as a handbook of erudite Attic insults.  His repeated epithet against Euctemon, Ευκτημων ο κονιορτος, "dust-raising Euctemon" or "Dirty old Euctemon" is a minor example.

A far better one is this one, aimed at Meidias:
“If, men of Athens, public service consists in saying to you at all the meetings of the Assembly and on every possible occasion, ‘We are the men who perform the public services; we are those who advance your tax-money; we are the capitalists” – if that is all it means, then I confess that Meidias has shown himself the most distinguished citizen of Athens.” (Section 153; Taken from the Loeb edition. J.H. Vince, Trans. (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1956) p.107)
He hardly needs to say what follows: of course, public service consists in much more than that, and by offering these public rebukes against a man like this I am fulfilling one of my highest duties.  Powerful people who use their power to abuse their fellow citizens deserve no less.

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