The Ecclesia of Athens
Into this space the voters swarm by hundreds—all the citizens of Athens, from twenty years and upward, sufficiently interested to come. At each crude entrance stands a crops of watchful lexiarchs and their clerks, checking off those present and turning back interlopers. As the entering crowds begin to thin, the entrance ways are presently closed by wicker hurdles. The flag fluttering on high is struck. The Ecclesia is ready for action.
Much earlier than this, the farmers and fishmen from the hill towns or from Salamis have been in their places, grumbling at the slowness of the officials. People sit down where they can; little groups and clans together, wedged in closely, chattering up to the last minute, watching every proceeding with eyes as keen as cats'. All the gossip left over from the Agora is disposed of ere the prytanes—proverbially late—scramble into their seats of honor. The police-archers move up and down, enforcing a kind of order. Amid a growing hush a suckling pig is solemnly slaughtered by some religious functionary at the altar, and the dead victim carried around the circuit of the Pnyx as a symbolic purification of the audience.
"Come inside the purified circuit," enjoins a loud herald to the little groups upon the edge.
Then comes a prayer invoking the gods' favor upon the Athenians, their allies, and this present meeting in particular, winding up (the herald counts this among the chief parts of his duty) with a tremendous curse on any wretch who should deceive the folk with evil counsel. After this the real secular business can begin. Nothing can be submitted to the Ecclesia which has not been previously considered and matured by the Council of 500. The question to be proposed is now read by the heralds as a "Pro-bouleuma"—a suggested ordinance by the Council. Vast as is the audience, the acoustic properties of the Pnyx are excellent, and all public officers and orators are trained to harangue multitudes in the open air, so that the thousands get every word of the proposition.
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