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Law's Measure: Aischines 3.199–200

Edwin Carawan

Missouri State University

In late summer of 330 BC, arguing against Ktesiphon’s decree to honor Demosthenes, Aischines posed a puzzling analogy to describe the jury’s decision (3.199–200): he pointed to the board (σανίδιον) that presented the decree alongside the laws that it violated, and he told the judges to use it as they would use a κανῶν in “construction” (τεκτονική); then he challenged Ktesiphon to read out those parallel texts and show that they are “consonant” (συμφωνοῦντα). Aischines mixed his metaphors but what he meant by κανῶν seems simple enough, or so scholars have supposed: the sequence of statutes should serve as a “ruler” to mark off what is unlawful. Lykourgos, earlier the same year, seems to use a similar metaphor in his case against Leokrates (9). To draw upon a modern example: in 1936 Justice Owen Roberts described the US Supreme Court’s decision in ruling a law invalid, as though it was simply a matter of laying the statute alongside the relevant article of the Constitution, to see if it “squares” (Gagarin 2014: 27–8). Straightforward as it may seem, that interpretation of the metaphor misconstrues the ancient argument.

            After all, Aischines is suggesting that the whole set of texts in parallel columns, the targeted decree and the παραγεγραμμένοι νόμοι, is somehow like the κανῶν that he has in mind: it is not just a yardstick but a plank with material extending in two dimensions. Lykourgos’s metaphor is consistent with that image: ordinarily in a treason trial the judges have only to match the charge with one among the various descriptions in the law.  So, in both passages, the κανῶν seems to serve rather as a template, with an array of legal configurations, not a straight edge or a linear measure.

            Suitable models lay ready at hand. In inscriptions (IG i3 474. 246–9; 475. 213­­–22) repairs or improvements must meet specifications set forth on a stone template, κανῶν λίθινος, that was presumably set up at the site. For more modest projects the κανόνες would be wooden planks, portable σανίδες. Such templates included a straight ruler (a κανῶν in the strict sense) but also showed a model for the standard foot and other units of measure, as well as patterns for volutes (κυμάτια) and other features. The principle was well recognized a hundred years before Ktesiphon’s case, when Polykleitos described in his Canon the proportions that define the ideal human figure, as illustrated in his Doryphoros (Pollitt 1995). Indeed, that sort of measuring standard was quite ancient, going back to Egyptian models (Lorenzen 1966). The “Salamis Stone” is probably an example of just such a κανῶν, a stele that set forth basic units and proportions illustrated with foot and fathom  (Dekoulakou-Sideris 1990).

            If we conclude that Aischines had in mind a worksite template based on the human figure, we can make better sense of the argument. After all, in 330 Aischines cannot rely on the straightforward contradictions between Ktesiphon’s decree and the procedural rules for crowning and official accountability. Demosthenes had long since passed his accountings for 336/5, and the Athenians seem all the more determined to defy Macedon by honoring the very politicians whose surrender Alexander had demanded in 335/4, as they showed in Hypereides’ case Against Diondas (Carey et al. 2008). In the face of that defiance, Aischines painted an elaborate portrait of Demosthenes as the author of Athenian defeat, a figure at odds with “all the laws” governing public honors—all those listed on the σανίς. In response to that argument, Demosthenes dismissed his handling of the παραγεγραμμένοι as nonsense and ridiculed Aischines for finding fault with his leadership (18.111–122), like a customer who has ordered a statue with certain specifications and then faults the sculptor for features that fail to match. 

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Greek Political Thought

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