Plutarch (Plut. Sol. 24
) explains συκοφαντεῖν
as the informing against a man for
exporting figs, and refers to an ancient law forbidding the export.
[Different [p. 2.731]
reasons have been suggested for this
prohibition: some say that the Athenians wished to keep this fruit to
themselves (Ister fr.
e); others that the law was passed at the time when the
fruit had only just been discovered (Schol. Plat. de Rep.
p. 340 D; Photius and Suid. s. v. συκοφαντεῖν
: cf. Schol. Aristoph.
), probably in order to increase its cultivation in
Attica.] Boeckh (Sthh.
i.3 p. 55) prefers
to connect συκοφαντεῖν
against the stealing, not the exporting of figs, and suggests that the term
may either have arisen out of charges brought by informers against persons
who in some time of famine had robbed the sacred fig-trees, or that, since
the theft of fruit in general was punished with great severity at Athens
3.40), it was in time applied to all those
who brought such charges, which came to be looked upon as vexatious and
harsh. Lancelot Shad-well (in a commentary on Luke 3.14) rejects these
explanations: “The first and obvious meaning of συκοφάντης
not one who shows up them that export
figs or steal figs, but one who discovers
” Starting from Photius' explanation of σεῖσαι
as συκοφαντῆσαι,--ἀπὸ τῶν τὰ ἀκρόδυα σειόντων. Τηλεκλείδης
Ἀμφικτύοσιν: ἀλλ̓ ὡς πάντων ἀστῶν λῷστοι σεῖσαι καὶ
προσκαλέσαντες παύσασθε δικῶν ἀλληλοφάγων
ii. p. 364). Ἀριστοφάνης Δαιταλεῦσιν: ἔσειον: ᾔτουν χρήματ̓ ἠπείλουν
(ii. p. 1040, fr.
20),--he supposes “that the usage of σείειν
in the sense of extorting money was derived from
the notion of shaking fruit trees, and that the common notion of
was also derived from
the same source. Σείειν καὶ
(Antiph. de Saltat.
describes the operation of one who shakes a fig-tree in order to
discover the fruit; for by his shaking the fig-tree, all the ripe figs
are made to fall off. When these words are transferred to the business
of an.informer, σείειν
means to agitate
a man. by threatening to inform against him, and ουκοφαντεῖν
means to discover his money; i. e., to make
him pay a large sum of money in order to escape from the vexation of a
lawsuit. Thus' a man's money is called his ‘figs,’ a rich man is said to be ‘full of
fruit,’ one: who bleeds easily is said ‘to
be ripe,’ and to extort money from a man is called plucking his
‘figs’: e. g. Aristoph.
324, 259, etc.”
Whatever the term may have signified originally, it came to be applied to all
ill-natured, malicious, groundless, and vexatious accusations it is defined
by Suidas, Τὸ ψευδῶς τινὸς κατηγορεῖν.
Sycophantes, in the time of Aristophanes and Demosthenes, designated a person
of a peculiar class, not capable of being described by any single word in
our language, but well understood and appreciated by an Athenian. He had not
much in common with our sycophant,
but was a happy
compound of the common barretor, informer, pettifogger,
busybody, rogue, liar,
Athenian law permitted any citizen (τὸν
) to give information against public offenders, and
prosecute them in courts of justice (Plut. Sol.
). This was done to encourage the detection of crime, and a reward
(e. g. τὰ ἡμίση τῶν φανθέντων,
p. 1325.13; C. I. A.
203 b, etc.;--τὰ τρία μέρη ἃ ἐκ τῶν νόμων τῷ
ἰδιώτῃ τῷ ἀπογράψαντι γίγνεται,
p. 1247.2, etc.) was frequently given to the successful
accuser. Such a power, with such a temptation, was likely to be abused,
unless checked by the force of public opinion, or the vigilance of the
judicial tribunals. Unfortunately, the character of the Athenian
democracy--and we may say of any democracy, Plut.
--and the temper of the judges, furnished additional
incentives to the informer (Isocr. c. Callim.
§ 9, 10; Xenoph. Mem.
4.8, 5; see, however, Hyper.
100.45). Eminent statesmen, orators, generals,
magistrates, and all persons, of wealth and influence, were regarded with
jealousy by the people. The more causes came into court, the more fees
accrued to the judges, and fines and confiscations enriched the public
treasury. The prosecutor therefore in public causes, as well as the
plaintiff in civil, was looked on with a more favourable eye than the
defendant, and the chances of success made the employment a lucrative one
Aristoph. Birds 1695
ff.; ζῆν ἐκ τοῦ συκοφαντεῖν,
§ 164; Xenoph. Hell.
, etc.). It was not
always necessary to go to trial, or even to commence legal proceedings. The
timid defendant was glad to compromise the cause, to escape the annoyance
and anxiety of a public trial, or to save his reputation, for not to have
prosecuted nor to have been prosecuted was a much-coveted distinction (Lys.
de Affect. Tyran. Apol.
§ 3; Isocr. c.
§ § 5, 8; Plut. Comp. Nic. c.
1; Lys. c. Eratosth.
§ 12; Isae. Cleon.
§ 1; Hyperid. pro Lycophr.
100.14, etc.). When
Lycurgus bought off an information for a talent, and was charged with this,
he said he was much pleased that, after having administered the affairs of
the state for so long a time, he was accused rather of giving than of
receiving ([Plut.] Vitt. X. Oratt.
p. 842 B). Rich people who
were especially the prey of these informers tried to be on good terms with
4, 29 f.). When Crito complained to Socrates, that for
a man who wished to mind his own business it was difficult to live at
Athens,--that at this very time people were bringing actions against him,
not because they had suffered any wrong from him, but because they thought
that he would rather pay them a sum of money than have the trouble of law
proceedings,--Socrates advised him to secure the services of a man skilled
in the law, to defend him against them; Crito did so and lived henceforth in
peace (Xenoph. Mem.
2.9). There was another source of income
for these sycophants: they laid informations against people for money, e. g.
Cephisius received 1000 drachmas from Callias for laying an information
against Andocides (Andoc. de Myst.
§ 121). Thriving
informers found it not very difficult to procure [p. 2.732]
witnesses: according to Theopompus (
b), Athens was full of διονυσοκολάκων . . . ἔτι δὲ ψευδομαρτύρων καὶ συκοφαντῶν καὶ
The character of the συκοφάνται
will be best understood by the examples and
descriptions found in the Attic writers. Aristophanes directs the keenest
edge of his satire a1gainst them. (See particularly Acharn.
818 ff.; Av.
1410 ff.; Plut.
Demosthenes says: πονηρὸν ὁ συκοφάντης ἀεὶ καὶ
πανταχόθεν καὶ βάσκανον καὶ φιλαίτιον
p. 307.242; cf. c. Eubul.
Συκοφαντεῖν τριάκοντα μνᾶς
§ 24) signifies “to extort
thirty minas by sycophant
practices.” (See further Aeschin. de F. L.
145; Dem. de Cor.
p. 291.189, etc.) That the
increase of litigation and perjury was in some measure owing to the
establishment of clubs and political associations, and the violence of party
spirit, may be gathered from various passages of the Attic writers (Thuc. 8.54
ἐπὶ δίκαις καὶ ἀρχαῖς;
Dem. c. Boeot.
p. 995.2 = ii. p. 1010.9, ἐργαστήριον
cf. c. Zenoth.
p. 885.10; c.
p. 978.39; c. Theocr.
The Athenian law did indeed provide a remedy against this mischievous class
of men. There was a γραφὴ συκοφαντίας
tried before the Thesmothetae (Poll. 8.88, 46; the title of Lysias' speech
against Aeschines was not περὶ
as D. L. 2.63
cf. Sauppe, Oratt.
ii. p. 251). Any person who brought a false charge against
another, or extorted money by threat of legal proceedings, or suborned false
witnesses to give evidence that a summons had been served (Boeckh,
iv. p. 4), was liable to this γραφή.
He might also be proceeded against by
(Isocr. de Perm.
314; Poll. 8.47). The trial was an ἀγὼν
(Lys. c. Agorat.
§ 65, a fine of
10,000 drachmas: cf. Harpocr. s. v. παλιναίρετος;
ἄτιμοι ἐκ συκοφαντίας,
Aeschin. de F. L.
§ 177, cf. Hyper. pro Eux.
p. 555, capital punishment was the rule, but
Andoc. de Myst.
§ 20 applies to a false μήνυσις,
not to a γραφὴ
Besides this, if any man brought a criminal charge against another,
and neglected to prosecute it (ἐπεξελθεῖν
), he was liable to a penalty of 1000 drachmas, and
lost the privilege of instituting a similar proceeding in future, which was
considered to be a species of ἀτιμία
([Dem.] c. Theocr.
p. 1323.5 f.; Lex. Rhet.
p. 669, 20 f.; Dem. c. Mid.
p. 548.103: when
against a merchant was not
prosecuted, the punishment of the accuser was specially severe, [Dem.]
p. 1324.10 f., cf. Heffter, Ath.
p. 199). The same consequence followed if he
failed to obtain a fifth part of the votes at the trial (Dem. c.
p. 601.26; p. 647.80, etc.) except in an εἰσαγγελία κακώσεως
§ 47; Dem. c. Pantaen.
980.46), in a charge for destroying a sacred olive (Lys. pro Sacra Olea,
§ 37), and in an εἰσαγγελία
for political offences up to a
certain time, after which the unsuccessful accuser was made liable to a fine
of 1000 drachmas without incurring ἀτιμία
(Poll. 8.53). The time when this change took place can only be approximately
fixed. The accuser was ἀκίνδυνος
date of Hyperides' speech pro Lycop/hr.
(100.7, 10); but when
Demosthenes was assailed in the period following the disaster of Chaeronea
by every kind of legal engine that could be brought to bear upon him, the
accuser became liable to a penalty (and this was most likely the one
mentioned by Pollux and Harpocration, viz. 1000 drachmas), or Demosthenes'
prominent mention of the fact of his accusers having not received τὸ μέρος τῶν ψήφων
would be pointless
p. 310.250, οὐκοῦν ἐν μὲν εἷς εἰσηγγελόμην ὅτε ἀπεψηφίζεσθέ μου καὶ
τὸ μέρος τῶν ψήφων τοῖς διώκουσιν οὐ μετεδίδοτε,
etc.). The same fine was incurred if any man denounced a scrutiny against an
orator and failed to obtain one-fifth of the votes (Dem. c.
p. 599.21; p. 600.23). The ἐπωβελία
in civil actions was a penalty of the same kind
and having the same object: viz. to prevent the abuse of legal process, and
check frivolous and unjust actions. Such were the remedies provided by law,
but they were found inefficacious in practice; and the words of Aristophanes
(Aristoph. Pl. 885
) were not more
severe than true: “There is no charm against the bite of a
sycophantes” (Drumann, d. Arbeiter u. Communisten in
pp. 96-105; Büchsenschütz
Besitz u. Erwerb,
p. 568 f.; Att. Process,
ed. Lipsius, p. 297 n. 285, pp. 413 ff., 914 f., 952 f., 245).