Ancient Athenian Law Bleg

by John Holbo on August 18, 2007

So it’s the time of year when I teach Plato’s Euthyphro and I’m getting ready to run through my usual very short history of Athenian homicide law: how before Draco there was no legal distinction between intentional and non-intentional killing; after Draco, the state began to take greater interest in what had previously been strictly family business; how after Solon it was possible, for the first time, for a citizen who was not a blood relation of the victim to bring suit. (I hope I got that right.)

And then I asked myself: pre-Solon (and even after) what did happen, in practice, if a stranger – some traveler – was killed, and there was no family to bring suit on his behalf? In the dialogue, Euthyphro explains to Socrates that it shouldn’t matter whether the victim is family or a stranger – the pollution is the same either way. And, theologically, that is a perfectly orthodox thing for him to say. More specifically (although Euthyphro doesn’t mention it) Zeus is well-known for having a soft spot for travelers. So if someone kills a traveler or stranger then, theologically, the public has a very legitimate interest in getting all that miasma cleaned up quick before lightning strikes.

So what did the ancient Athenians do in cases in which there was a killing – in which it may have been known who did the killing – and no family with standing to bring suit?

Specific follow-up question: suppose the victim was a guest-friend of an Athenian citizen. Would the citizen then have had legal standing to bring suit on the victim’s behalf?

The Bernanke put

by John Q on August 18, 2007

The US Federal Reserve has stepped in to bail out the financial sector, cutting its discount rate and, more importantly, encouraging banks to borrow directly from the Fed to finance mortgage lending. This action demonstrates that the famous “Greenspan put” has survived, and is now the Bernanke put.

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