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ASEBEIAS GRAPHE´ (ἀσεβείας γραφή) 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 (ἱκετηρία) 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. Neaer. p. 1385.116). The heretical delinquencies may be exemplified by the expulsion of Protagoras (D. L. 9.51, 52), for writing “that he could not learn whether the gods existed or not;” in the persecution of Anaxagoras (D. L. 2.12), like 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. Socr. 10; 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. 3.8) 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 ( βουλόμενος)--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. Proc. 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 ἀσέβεια 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 (Antiq. 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. de Myst. § § 33, 110; Demosth. c. Neaer. l.c.).

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. p. 246), ἔνδειξις (Andoc. de Myst. § 8), προβολή (Libanius, Argum. ad Dem. in Mid. init.), and in extraordinary cases εἰσαγγελία (Andoc. de Myst. § 43); besides these, Demosthenes mentions two other courses that an accuser might adopt, δικάζεσθαι πρὸς Εὐμολπίδας, and πράζειν πρὸς τὸν βασιλέα (Wayte, on Demosth. Androt. l.c.).

[J.S.M] [W.W]

hide References (3 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (3):
    • Xenophon, Memorabilia, 1.1.1
    • Xenophon, Apology, 10
    • Diogenes Laertius, Vitae philosophorum, 2.12
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