Imágenes de páginas

Nay, so great an awe and reverence did this solemn and grave assembly strike into those that sat in it, that Isocrates tells us, that in his days, when they were somewhat degenerated from their primitive virtue, however, otherwise men were irregular and exorbitant, yet once chosen into this senate, they presently ceased from their vicious inclinations, and chose rather to conform to the laws and manners of that court, than to continue in their wild and debauched course of life. And so exactly upright and impartial were their proceedings, that Demosthenes tells us, that to his time there had never been so much as one of their determinations, that either plaintiff or defendant had any just reason to complain of. This was so eminently remarkable in all parts of Greece, that even foreign states, when any controversies happened among them, would voluntarily submit to their decision: Pausanias reports in particular of the Messenians, that, before their first. wars with the Spartans, they were very desirous that their quarrel should be referred to the Areopagites, and both parties stood to their determination.

It is reported that this court was the first that sat upon life and death; and in later ages, a great many capital causes came under its cognizance; before, it were brought all incendiaries, all such as deserted their country, against whom they proceeded with no less severity than was used to those that were convicted of treason, for both were alike punished with death; such also as had laid wait for any person's life, whether their wicked contrivances were successful or not, for the very designing to murder a man was thought to deserve no less than capital punishment; others are of opinion that such causes were tried at the tribunal of the Palladium. However that be, it is certain, that all wounds given out of malice, and wilful murders, and particularly such as were effected by poison, came under the cogoizance of this court. Some say that there was no appeal from the Areopagites to the people; but others, amongst whom is Meursius, are of a contrary opinion, and assure us, that not only their determinations might be éalled in question, and, if need was, retracted by an assembly of the people, but that themselves too, if they exceeded the due bounds of moderation in inflicting punishments, were liable to account for it to the Logistæ. The same author tells us afterwards, that this court had power to cancel the sentence of an assembly, if the people had acquitted any criminal that deserved punishment, and to rescue out of their hands such innocent persons, as were by prejudice or mis-information condemned by them. Perhaps in both these opinions there is something of truth, if you understand the former of the Areopagus in its primitive state; and the other, when its power was retrenched by Pericles.

· Their power in the commonwealth was very great, for by Solon's constitution, the inspection and custody of the laws were committed to them, the public fund was disposed of and managed according to their discretion, the care of all young men in the city belonged to them, and it was their business to appoint them tutors and governors, and see that they were educated suitably to their several qualities. Nor did they only superintend over the youth, but their power was extended to persons of all ages, and sexes, such as lived disorderly, or were guilty of any impiety, or immorality, they punished according to the merit of their offences; and such as were eminent for a virtuous course of life they had power to reward. To this end, they went about with the Gynæconomilto all public meetings, such as were marriages, and solemn sacrifices, which were usually concluded with a banquet, to see that all things were carried on with decency and sobriety. Idleness was a crime that came more especially under their cognizance, and (which seems to have been an institution peculiar to Solon) they were obliged to enquire strictly after every man's course of life, and to examine by what means the maintained himself in the station he was in, that so there might be po room for such as lived by unlawful arts, by cheating and cozenage, or theft, or rapine. Besides, this, matters of religion, blasphemy against the gods, contempt of the holy mysteries, and all sorts of impiety, the consecration also of new gods, erections of temples and altars, and introduction of new ceremonies into divine worship, were referred to the judgment of this court; therefore Plato having been instructed in the knowledge of one god in Egypt, was forced to dissemble or conceal his opinion, for fear of being called to an account for it by the Areopagites; and St. Paul was arraigned before them, as a setter forth of strange gods, when he preached unto them Jesus, and Anastasis or the resurrection. These were the chief businesses that this senáte was employed about, for they seldom intermeddled in the management of public affairs, except in cases of great 'and imminent danger, and in these the commonwealth usually had recourse to them, as the last and safest réfuge.

They had three meetings every month in the Areopagus, upon the 27th, 28th, and 29th days. But if any business happened that made it necessary it was usual for them to assemble in the Royal Portico, which they encompassed with a rope, to prevent the populace from crowding in upon them, as was usual in other courts of justice.

Two things are very remarkable in their judgments : first, that they sat in the open air, a custom practised in all the courts of justice, that had cognizance of murder; partly, because it was unlawful for the accuser and criminal in such cases to be under the same roof; and partly, that the judges, whose persons are esteemed sacred, might contract pollutions from conversing with men profane and unhallowed, for such they were accounted, that had been guilty of so black and heinous a crime. Secondly, they heard and determined all causes at night, and in the dark, to the end that having neither seen the plaintiff nor defendant, they might lie under no temptation of being biassed or influenced by either of them.

Actions about murder were brought into the court of Areopagus, by the Basileus, who was allowed to sit as judge among them, having laid aside the crown, which

was one of the ornaments of his office. The common method they proceeded in was this, the court being met, and the people excluded, the members of the assembly divided themselves into several committees, each of which had its respective causes assigned it, to be heard and determined by them severally, if the multitude of business was so great, that the whole senate could not take cognizance of it collectively.

· Both these designations were performed by lots, to the end that, every man being in court, before it was determined, what causes would fall to his share, none of them migbt be under the temptation of haviog his honesty corrupted with bribes. After taking solemn oaths, according to the ritual prescribed, the plaintiff, in case of murder, swore, that he was related to the deceased person, for none but near relations, a cousin at the farthest, could prosecute the murderer; he also swore, that she prisoner was the cause of his death. The prisoner swore, that he was invocent of the crime laid to his charge. Both of them confirmed their oaths by direful imprecations, wishing that, if they swore falsely, themselves, their houses, and their whole families might be utterly destroyed and extirpated by the divine vengeance; which they looked upon to be so dreadful and certain, that the law inflicted no penalty upon them that were guilty of perjury, leaving them, as it were, to be punished by a higher tribunal. This done, the parties were placed upon two silver stools, the accuser being placed upon that called the stool of injury, the prisoner upon the stool of confidence; these were called after two goddesses, to whom altars, and afterwards temples, were erected in the Areopagus. Thus placed, the accuser proposed three questions to the prisoner: Are you guilty of this murder? How did you commit it? Who were your accomplices in the fact ?

In the next plaee the two parties impleaded each other, and the prisoner was allowed to make his defence in two orations, the first of which being ended, he was

permitted to secure himself by flight, and go into voluntary banishment, if he suspected the goodness of his cause; which privilege if he made use of, all his estate was confiscated, and exposed to sale by the Polætai. In the primitive times both parties spoke for themselves, but in latter ages they were permitted to have council to plead for them. But whoever it was that spoke, he was to represent the bare and naked truth, without any preface, or epilogue, without any ornament, figures of rhetoric, or any other insinuating means, to win the favour, or move the affections of the judges. Both the parties being heard, if the prisoner was resolved to stand the trial, they proceeded to give sentence, which they did with the most profound gravity and silence; hence the gravity and taciturnity of the Areopagites became proverbial, as well as the rigid severity of their deportment on all occasions; whence also a grave, majestic, and rigid person, was called an Areopagite. The great care these magistrates took to conceal the transactions of their senate, is thus allnded to by the poet:

Ergo occulta teges, at Curia Martis Athenis.

The manner of giving sentence was thus; there were placed in the court two urns, one of which was of brass, and they called it emprosthen, from the place it stood in ; curios, because the votes cast into it pronounced the accusation valid; and thanatou, because they decreed the death of the prisoner. The second urn' was of wood, being placed behind the former, into it they, that acquitted the prisoner, were to cast their suffrages; for which reasons it was called usteros, or opiso, o acuras, and eleou. Afterwards the thirty tyrants, having made themselves masters of the city, ordered them to give their voices in a manner more public and open, by casting their calculi upon two tables, the former of which contained the suffrages, which acquitted, the latter those, which condemned the prisoner, to the end, that it might be known, which way every man gave his voice, and how he stood affected to their inte

« AnteriorContinuar »