Another peculiarity of the Athenian law of homicide is illustrated by the third and last Tetralogy. An elderly man had been beaten by a younger man so severely that in a few days he died. The young man is tried for murder before the Areiopagos.
The accuser, in a short speech, appeals chiefly to the indignation of the judges, dwelling, in a striking passage on the sin of robbing a fellow-mortal of the god's gift (A. §§ 1—4).—The defendant argues in reply that, if the homicide is to be regarded as accidental,
then it rests with the surgeon, under whose unskilful treatment the man died; but, if it is to be regarded as deliberate,
then the murderer is the deceased himself, since he struck the first blow, which set the train of events in motion (B. §§ 3—5).— The accuser answers that the elder man is not likely to have first struck the younger (Γ.
§ 2); and that to blame the surgeon is idle; it would not be more absurd to inculpate the persons who called in his aid (§ 5).—[Here the second speech of the accused could naturally follow. But the accused has, in the meantime, taken advantage of the Athenian law by withdrawing into voluntary exile. The judges have no longer any power to punish him. A friend, however,
who was a bystander of the quarrel, comes forward to defend the innocence of the accused.] The guilt, he maintains, lies with the old man; he, as can be proved, gave the first blow (Δ.
§§ 2—5); he is at once the murdered and the murderer (§ 8).
The line thus taken by the defence is remarkable. It relies chiefly on the provocation alleged to have been given by the deceased. But it does not insist upon this provocation as mitigating the guilt of the accused. It insists upon it as transferring the whole guilt from the accused to the dead man. Athenian law recognised only two kinds of homicide; that which was purely accidental, and that which resulted from some deliberate act. In the latter case, whether there had been an intent to kill or not, some one must be a murderer. Thus, here, it would not have been enough for the defence to show that the accused had, without intent to kill, and under provocation, done a fatal injury. It is necessary to go on to argue that the deceased was guilty of his own murder.
The literary form of the Third Tetralogy deserves notice in two respects; for the solemnity and majesty of the language in the accuser's first address; and for the vivacity lent by rhetorical question and answer to part of the first speech of the defendant1
—a vivacity which distinguishes it, as regards style, from everything else in these studies.