LITTLE Greece contributed to civilization the most precious thing in the world—fearless freedom of thought. That novelty, it is true, kept the various city states from uniting as a mighty power, but that same disunion made the individual man and the individual mind superior to the dead level that saps the genius of progress. That active principle of the pioneer the Greek infused into his jurisprudence with the same telling success that stamped his efforts in the other departments of human advancement.
Though the system may have occasionally miscarried from its own weight, failure to protect the life, liberty and property of its citizens was not one of the faults of the Hellenic democracy. When Solon, in the sixth century before Christ, originated at Athens his system of trial by popular courts of jurymen-judges, he not only laid the foundation of national law but discovered the real secret of democracy, which is and has been the keystone of European and American institutions; for the hope of a free people lies in the possession of its courts.
Down through the brief but brilliant period of their political prestige, the Athenians laid many a wreath at the feet of the lawgiver, Solon, but probably never more reverently or more gratefully than when the commonwealth fought that still unfinished fight with the speculator and monopolist of the food-products of the nation. So that this review of the legal principles and procedure in the prosecution of an old Athenian corn-ring may be of interest and even of value to the historian and economist, the lawyer and patriot.
The oration with which this review deals is a speech for the prosecution, numbered 22 in the ordinary collection of speeches by Lysias, the celebrated Athenian speech-writer, and dates from the early part of the fourth century, possibly 387 b.c. To get a sympathetic setting, it is advisable to recall the appointments of the old Greek court, the laws and legal customs, as well as the peculiar, though not necessarily unique, conditions that dictated the legislation on which the prosecution relies.
Though no actual law has come down to us, the whole procedure in the Athenian courts—to say nothing of the evidence of Quintillian—shows that the law required every citizen to plead his own cause.