The democratic legal system created by the Athenians was completely controlled by ordinary citizens, with no judges, lawyers, or jurists involved. It placed great importance on the litigants’ rhetorical performances. Did this make it nothing more than a rhetorical contest judged by largely uneducated citizens that had nothing to do with law, a criticism that some, including Plato, have made?--Dan Ernst
Michael Gagarin argues to the contrary, contending that the Athenians both controlled litigants’ performances and incorporated many other unusual features into their legal system, including rules for interrogating slaves and swearing an oath. The Athenians, Gagarin shows, adhered to the law as they understood it, which was a set of principles more flexible than our current understanding allows. The Athenians also insisted that their legal system serve the ends of justice and benefit the city and its people. In this way, the law ultimately satisfied most Athenians and probably produced just results as often as modern legal systems do. Comprehensive and wide-ranging, Democratic Law in Classical Athens offers a new perspective for viewing a legal system that was democratic in a way only the Athenians could achieve.
Sunday, February 9, 2020
Gagarin's "Democratic Law in Classical Athens"
Michael Gagarin, the James R. Dougherty, Jr. Centennial Professor of Classics Emeritus at the University of Texas at Austin, has published Democratic Law in Classical Athens in the University of Texas Press’s Fordyce W. Mitchel Memorial Lecture Series: