Introduction Of A Law

Introduction Of A Law: The 14th Progymnasmata Exercise Explained

Introduction Of A Law (the 14th exercise in the series of the Progymnasmata exercisesOpens in new window) is well named; basically because it consists in the introduction of and opposition to laws when they are first proposed, and attack on and defense of laws whenever there is a scrutiny of those passed earlier.

Thus, introduction of a law (i.e., argument for or against) is a double exercise, a speech in support of and speech of attack against a proposed law. Law (“nomos”, ) is a common agreement made by the community which ordains in writing how the citizens ought to act under every kind of circumstance.

Some laws are applicable in general circumstances, some in specific circumstances. General laws apply generally to everyone in the city, specific laws apply to contracts between bodies or people. Furthermore, some laws introduce rewards for good deeds, and some laws prescribe punishments for wrongs. A decree (psêphisma) differs from a law only in one respect and in all others is the same: a decree takes effect in a particular occasion, a law is ratified for all time.

DemosthenesOpens in new window defines law as “an invention and gift of the gods, an opinion of wise men, a correction of willing and unwilling errors, and a city’s common covenant.” (cf. Demosthenes 25.16). Over all, we either attack or support a law that exists, or we introduce or impede the introduction of one that does not exist. Observe the following:

“A Speech In Opposition To A Law Requiring The Killing Of An Adulterer When Taken In The Act”.

I shall not entirely praise the law nor criticize what has been introduced in every respect. In that it adversely affects adulterers, I praise what is put before us, but because it does not require a vote by judges I criticize the plan. If the mover of the law is avoiding appeal to the courts because of having observed bribery of judges, he is proved to have a poor opinion of judges; but if he thinks they judge justly, as you here judge justice, how is it just to praise judges but to take operation of the law away from those who judge crimes?

In the case of all other laws that contradict existing laws, some differ from laws in certain cities and agree with laws in others. Only this present law has been advanced in opposition to all laws. You (members of the assembly) seem to me to scrutinize the law in a much better way if you judge it as you do all other public matters—appointment of generals, the priesthoods, the decrees.

Almost everything that is done best in time of peace or war undergoes the scrutiny of judges, and he is a general whom the judge has approved and a priest whom a judge has confirmed, and a decree is valid that has been examined in the presence of others, and victors in war and not awarded prizes until after having been judged. How then is it not illogical for everything to be subject to scrutiny and for the law before us alone to remove the vote of judges?

(Antithesis) “Yes,” he says, “but the wrongs done by adulterers are great.”

(Solution) What? Are not those of murderers greater? And do we think traitors are less wicked than others, and are temple robbers of less account than traitors? Yet whoever is caught doing these things faces judges and neither does a traitor suffer punishment without the judge giving vote, nor does death come to a murderer unless the prosecutor proves the crime, nor do those who rob the higher powers (I.e., the gods, as in stealing from a temple) suffer until there is an opportunity for the judges to learn about these matters. Is it not strange then for greater crimes to face a decision among the judges and not any of these, as it were, to seem to exist unless a judge has given vote, while only an adulterer is to die unexamined, although he should all the more be judged in that he is a less serious criminal than others.

(Antithesis) “What is the difference between killing an adulterer and handing him over to judges, if he will sustain death equally from both?”

(Solution) There is as much difference as between tyranny and law and between democracy and monarchy. It is characteristics of a tyrant to kill whomever he wants but of law to put to death justly one who has been convicted. The demos presents for public scrutiny whatever it is considering in the assembly, but the rule of one man punishes and does not allow debate, two things which the people and law have done in entire contrast to the one who has chosen to rule and tyrannize alone. How then will killing the adulterer not differ from handing him over to the judges?

And in addition, one who by himself kills the adulterer makes himself master of the doer, while one who turns him over to trial makes the court master of the doer, and it is surely better for the judge than for the accuser to be his master. Furthermore, one who on his own killed an adulterer is suspected of killing him for some other reason, while one who has handed him over to be judged seems motivated by justice alone.

(Antithesis) “Yes,” he says, “but falling immediately on the spot will be a harsher punishment; lapse of time before judgment will be an advantage to the adulterer.”

(Solution) If brought to trial, he will have the opposite experience; for his life hereafter will be more unpleasant; for he will find the expectation more terrifying than the experience. To expect to suffer is worse than having suffered, and delay of punishment seems additional punishment. One who thinks he will die dies many times and will have a more awful expectation of his end. As a result, the adulterer who falls immediately does note perceive it.

Quickness of punishment deceives the sense. A death occurring before it is expected is painless, while one often expected, once taking place, measures the punishments by the expectations. Put the two side by side and consider them. the man who killed an adulterer on his own has no witness of the punishment, but the man who handed him over to judges provides a large audience, and it is more painful to be punished in front of many spectators. In another way too it will be an advantage to adulterers to die secretly; for they will leave in the minds of many a suspicion that they fell because of personal enmity, but if what has happened is examined among judges, the one put to death will meet with an unambiguous decision. So it is in the adulterer’s interest to be killed in secret rather than to be handed over to judges.

(Epilogue) An adulterer is a terrible thing, and he has exceeded the utmost degree of wrong. As a result, let him first be tried, then let him be executed, and let him be judged rather than suffer punishment before judgment. Thus the executed adulterer will make more clear the origin of children. No one will be in doubt about the father of a child if adulterers are eliminated in the future. The wrong is part of our common nature, and so let a common vote do away with it when it occurs; since I am afraid that, if the circumstances of an adulterer’ death are concealed, he will leave behind many others like himself. Others will emulate those of whose death they know not the cause, and the punishment will become not the end but the beginning of suffering.

—An excerpt from: Progymnasmata: Greek Textbooks of Prose Composition and Rhetoric edited by George Alexander Kennedy