The subject of the Second Tetralogy is the death of a boy accidentally struck by a javelin while watching a youth practising at the gymnasium. The boy's father accuses the youth—whose father defends him—of accidental homicide; and the case comes before the court of the Palladion. In order to understand the issues raised, it is necessary to keep in mind the Greek view of accidental homicide. This view was mainly a religious one. The death was a pollution. Some person, or thing, must be answerable for that pollution, and must be banished from the State, which would else remain defiled1
. In a case like the supposed one, three hypotheses were possible:—that the cause of the impurity had been the thrower, the person struck, or the missile.
Perikles and Protagoras spent a whole day in discussing a similar question. Epitimos, an athlete, had chanced to hit and kill a certain Pharsalian: did the guilt lie, they inquired, with Epitimos, with the man killed, or with the javelin2
? There was a special court—that held at the Prutaneion—for the trial of inanimate things which had caused death. Here, however, the question is only of living agents. The judges have nothing whatever to do with the question as to how far either was morally to blame. The question is simply which of them is to be considered as, in fact, the author or cause of the death.
The accused, in his first speech, assumes that the case
admits of no doubt; states it briefly; and concludes with an appeal to the judges (A. §§ 1—2). The father of the accused, after bespeaking patience for an apparently strange defence (B. §§ 1—2)—argues that the error, the ἁμαρτία
, was all on the boy's side (§§ 3—5). The thrower was standing in his appointed place; the boy was not obliged to place himself where he did. The thrower knew what he was about; the boy did not—he chose the wrong moment for running across. He was struck; and so punished himself for his own fault
(§§ 6—8).—The accuser answers in the tone of a plain man bewildered by the shamelessness of the defence, (Γ.
§§ 1—4). It is absured, he says, to pretend that the boy killed himself with a weapon which he had not touched. On the showing of the defence itself, the blame is divided: if the boy ran, the youth threw: neither was passive (§§ 5— 10).—The youth's father answers that his meaning has been perverted (A. §§ 1—2): he did not mean, of course, that the boy pierced himself, but that he became the first cause
of his own death (§§ 3—5). The youth did no more than the other throwers, who did not hit the boy only because he did not
cross their aim (§§ 6—8). Involuntary homicide is, doubtless, punishable by law; but, in this instance, the involuntary slayer—the deceased himself—has been punished already. To condemn the accused would be only to incur a new pollution (§§ 9—10).
The striking point of the whole Tetralogy is the ingenuity with which the defender inverts the natural view of the case. The guilt of blood is, he says, with the deceased alone, who has taken satisfaction for it from himself. ‘Destroyed by his own errors, he was punished by himself in the same instant that he sinned.’ (Δ.