) was one of the many forms prescribed by the Attic laws
for the impeachment of impiety. From the various tenor of the accusations
still extant, it may be gathered that this crime was as ill-defined at
Athens, and therefore as liable to be made the pretext for persecution, as
it has been in all other countries in which the civil power has attempted to
reach offences so much beyond the natural limits of its jurisdiction. The
occasions, however, upon which the Athenian accuser professed to come
forward may be classed as, first, breaches of the ceremonial law of public
worship; and, secondly, indications of that which in analogous cases of
modern times would be called heterodoxy, or heresy. The former comprehended
encroachment upon consecrated grounds, the plunder or other injury of
temples, the violation of asylums, the interruption of sacrifices and
festivals, the mutilation of statues of the gods, the introduction of
deities not acknowledged by the state, and various other transgressions
peculiarly defined by the laws of the Attic sacra, such as a private
celebration of the Eleusinian mysteries and their divulgation to the
uninitiated, injury to the sacred olivetrees, or placing a suppliant bough
) on a particular altar at an
improper time (Andoc. de Myst.
§ 110), or offering a
sacrifice with any deviation from the prescribed rites (Demosth. c.
p. 1385.116). The heretical delinquencies may be
exemplified by the expulsion of Protagoras (D. L.
), for writing “that he
could not learn whether the gods existed or not;” in the
persecution of Anaxagoras (D. L. 2.12
that of Galileo in after-times, for impugning the received opinions about
the sun; and the condemnation of Socrates for not holding the objects of the
public worship to be gods. (Xen. Apol.
; Memorab. 1.1.1
.) The variety of these examples
will have shown that it is impossible to enumerate all the cases to which
this sweeping accusation might be extended; and, as it is not upon record
that religious Athens (Xen. Rep. Ath.
) was scandalised at the profane jests of Aristophanes, or
that it forced Epicurus to deny that the gods were indifferent to human
actions, it is difficult to ascertain the limit at which jests and
scepticism ended, and penal impiety began.
With respect to the trial, any citizen that pleased (ὁ
)--which, however, in this as in all other public
actions, must be understood of those only who did not labour under an
incapacitating disfranchisement (ἀτιμία
)--seems to have been a competent accuser; but as the
nine archons, and the Areiopagites, were the proper guardians of the sacred
olives (μορίαι, σηκοί,
Lysias, Περὶ τοῦ Σηκοῦ,
§ 29), it is not
impossible that they had also a power of official prosecution upon casually
discovering any injury done to their charge.
The magistrate who conducted the previous examination (ἀνάκρισις
) was, according to Meier (Att.
pp. 300, 304, n. 34), invariably the king archon; but whether
the court into which he brought the causes were the Areiopagus, or the
common heliastic court, of both of which there are several instances, is
supposed (Meier, Att. Proc.
p. 305) to have been determined
by the form of action adopted by the prosecutor, or the degree of competency
to which the Areiopagus rose or fell at the different periods of Athenian
history. Westermann (ap. Pauly) holds the notion that indictments for
could be brought before the
Areiopagus to be a mistake, while admitting that it is the common opinion:
the latter is re-asserted by Schömann in his latest work
1.498, E. T.). The penalty, which might be fine,
banishment, or death, was usually (as in the case of Socrates) a separate
question for the dicasts after conviction. For some kinds of impiety,
however, the punishment was fixed by special laws, as in the case of persons
injuring the sacred olive-trees: and it would seem that the sanctity of
Demeter and the divinities associated with her (Cora, Dionysus) was hedged
in by denouncing the penalty of death against the breach of merely
ceremonial regulations in connexion with the Eleusinian worship (Andoc.
§ § 33, 110; Demosth.
If the accuser failed to obtain a fifth of the votes of the dicasts, he
forfeited a thousand drachmas, and incurred probably a modified ἀτιμία,
though not to the extent of exclusion
from office (Demosth. c. Eubul.
p. 1301.28). Other forms of
prosecution for this offence were the ἀπαγωγή
(Dem. c. Androt.
p. 601.35), ἐθήγησις
(Meier, Att. Proc.
§ 8), προβολή
(Libanius, Argum. ad
init.), and in extraordinary cases εἰσαγγελία
(Andoc. de Myst.
besides these, Demosthenes mentions two other courses that an accuser might
adopt, δικάζεσθαι πρὸς Εὐμολπίδας,
πράζειν πρὸς τὸν βασιλέα