Athenians of Ancient Greece

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Athenians of the Classical period (5th-4th centuries BC) were proud of the democracy in which they lived, and were interested in thinking systematically about what made their city-state better than the rest. The answer, the Athenians felt, ultimately lay in the connection of democracy and law. Athens did not have a police force, but it was the duty of each citizen to prosecute a crime, whether he was a victim of one himself, or had witnessed a crime. Juries of hundreds of citizens heard each case, and voted for the guilt or innocence of the parties without consulting with each other. The majority determined the case, and then the jury also acted as a judge in determining the penalty.

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Historians of Classical Athens are very lucky: ca. 100 courtroom speeches from various Athenian cases survive. These speeches were written by professional speech-writers on behalf of clients, who then delivered these speeches when representing themselves in court.

For this discussion, please read Lysias 1, “On the Killing of Eratosthenes,” written by the Athenian speech-writer Lysias, in defense of Euphiletos, sometime in the late 400s or early 300s BC. Euphiletos is on trial for killing a man called Eratosthenes, so his situation is quite dire. Please read Euphiletos’ defense speech (“On the Murder of Eratosthenes”), and post a response to at least two of the following questions, as we consider the historical significance of this primary source document:

  1. How does Euphiletos present his own character? How does he present the character of Eratosthenes?
  2. What does Euphiletos tell the jury about his wife and his family? What does this tell us, historians, about families and households in Classical Athens?
  3. What does the Athenian adultery law state? Why is adultery such a serious offense in Athenian law?
  4. What does this speech teach us about the value of citizenship in Classical Athens? What is the role of a good citizen?
  5. What is the place of women and slaves in Athenian society?
  6. If you were on the jury trying Euphiletos, what would be your verdict in this case?


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