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Council of Areopagus

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AREO'PAGUS, COUNCIL OF, a council so called from the hill of that name, on which its sessions were held; it was also called the council above (rj dwr t3o04), to distinguish it from the Council of Five Hundred. whose place of meeting was in a lower part of Athens, called the Ceramicns. Its high antiquity may be inferred from the legends respecting the causes brought before it in the mythical age of Greece, among which is that of Orestes, who was tried for the murder of his mother (Eschylus, Eames.); but its authentic history commences with the age of Solon. There is indeed as early as the first Messenian war something like historical notice of its great fame, in the shape of a tradition preserved by Pansa nias (iv. 51), that the Messenians were willing to commit the decision of a dis pute between them and the Lacethemo nhuis, involving a case of murder, to the Areopag. We are told that it was not by name in the laws of Dracon, though its existence in his time, as a court of justice, can be distinctly proved. (Plutarch, Sol. c. 19.) It seems that the name of the Areopagites was lost in that of the Ephetm, who were then the appointed judges of all cases of homicide, as well in the court of Areopagus as in the other criminal courts. (Muller, His tory e the Dorian, vol. i. p. 352, English tons6tion.) Solon, however, so com pletely reformed its constitution, that he received from many, or, as Plutarch says, from most authors, the title of its founder. It is therefore of the council of Areo pagus, as constituted by Solon, that we shall first speak ; and the subject pos sesses some interest from the light which it throws on the views and character of Solon as a legislator. It was composed of the archons of the year and of those who had borne the office of archon. The latter became members for life ; but before their admission they were subjected, at the expiration of their annual magistracy, to a rigid scrutiny into their conduct in office and their morals in private life. Proof of criminal or unbecoming conduct was sufficient to exclude them in the first instance, and to expel them after admis sion. Various accounts are given of the number to which the Areopagites were limited. If there was any fixed number, it is plain that admission to the council was not a necessary consequence of honour able discharge from the scrutiny. But it is more probable that the accounts which limit the number are applicable only to an earlier period of its existence. (See

the anonymous argument to the oration of Demosthenes against Androtion.) It may be proper to observe, that modern histories of this council do not commonly give the actual archons a seat in it. They are, however, placed there by Lysias the orator (Areop. p. 110, 16-20), and there is no reason to think that in this respect any change had been made in its con stitution after the time of Solon. To the council thus constituted Solon intrusted a mixed jurisdiction and authority of great extent, judicial, political, and censorial. As a court of justice, it had direct cog nizance of the more serious crimes, such as murder and arson. It exercised a cer tain control over the ordinary courts, and was the guardian generally of the laws and religion. It interfered., at least on some occasions, with the immediate ad ministration pf the government, and at all times inspected the conduct of the public functionaries. But, in the exercise of its duties as public censor for the pre servation of order and decency, it was armed with inquisitorial powers to an almost unlimited extent.

It should be observed, that in the time of Solon, and by his regulations, the archons were chosen from the highest of the four classes into which he had divided the citizens. Of the archons so chosen, the council of Areopagus was formed. Here, then, was a permanent body, which possessed a general control over the state, composed of men of the highest rank, and doubtless in considerable proportion of Eupatridse, or nobles by blood. The strength of the democracy lay in the ecclesia, or popular assembly, and in the ordinary courts of justice, of which the dikasts, or jurors, were taken indiscrimi nately from the general body of the citi zen; and the council of Areopagus ex ercised authority directly or indirectly over both. The tendency of this institu tion to be a check on the popular part of that mixed government given by Solon to the Athenians, is noticed by Aristotle ii. 9, and v. 3, ed. Schneid.). He speaks indeed of the council as being one of those institutions which Solon found and suffered to remain : but he can hardly mean to deny what all authority proves, that in the shape in which it existed from the time of the legislator, it was his in stitution.

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