Character Evidence in the Courts of Classical Athens
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
This thesis is aimed for commercial publication within the next five years.
This doctoral thesis aims to explore the underlying rationale of the (by modern standards) wide use of character evidence in the courts of classical Athens. Linking divergent areas of social sciences such as law, history, psychology and social anthropology, this interdisciplinary quest examines under a socio-political prism the question of legal relevance in Athenian forensic rhetoric. Specifically, I am concerned with an in-depth analysis of the surviving court speeches placed in their context in order to reveal the function of the Athenian courts and the fundamental nature of Athenian law. I explore the utmost aims of the first democratic system of justice and give a verdict as to its orientation towards the attainment of key notions such as the rule of law, equity and fairness, or social stability through utilitarian dispute resolution. My claim is that, although ancient and modern definitions of such ideals are in essence incomparable, the Athenians achieved the rule of law in their own terms through the strict application of legal justice in their courts. In such a legal system, no ‘aberrations’ or irrelevant ‘extra-legal’ arguments may carry significant weight. Central for my argument is the homogeneous approach to (legal and quasi-legal) argumentation from Homer to the orators, in a period covering more than four centuries. Close analysis of the dispute-resolution passages in ancient Greek literature exposes the striking similarities with the rhetoric of litigants in the Athenian courts. Therefore, instead of isolating (in time and space) the sphere of the Athenian courts of the mid-5th to the late-4th centuries, my holistic approach discloses the need for an all-embracing interpretation of the wide use of character evidence in every aspect of argumentation. I argue that the explanation for this practice is to be found (on a subjective level) in the Greek ideas of ‘character’ and ‘personality’, the inductive method of reasoning, and (on an objective level) in the social, political and institutional structures of the ancient Greek polis. Thus, a new exegesis to the question of legal relevance for the Greeks emerges.
PhD in Law