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Three Millennia of Greek Literature
 

William Davis, A Day in Old Athens

 

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An Athenian Court Trial

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Page 3

Prosecutions in Athens

 

    Athens does not draw a sharp line between public and private litigation. There is no "state" or "district attorney" to prosecute for the offenses against public order. Any full citizen can prosecute anybody else upon such a criminal charge as murder, no less than for a civil matter like breach of contract. All this leads to the growth of a mischievous clan—the sycophants. These harpies are professional accusers who will prosecute almost any rich individual upon whom they think they can fasten some technical offense. Their gains are from two quarters. If they convict the defendant, about half of the fine or property taken will go to the informer. But very likely there will be no trial. The victim (either consciously guilty, or innocent but anxious to avoid the risk) will pay a huge blackmail at the first threat of prosecution, and the case is hushed up.

    It is true there are very heavy penalties for trumped-up cases, for unwarranted threat of legal proceedings, for perjured evidence; still the abuse of the sycophants exists, and a great many of the lawsuits originate with this uncanny tribe.

 

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