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PERJURY IN GREECE.
How far perjury was considered as a civil offence, to be punished by the magistrate, in the earliest ages of Greece, I have not been able satisfactorily to ascertain. Potter, indeed, says that "they were in some places punished with death,—in others, with the same punishment which was due to the crime with which they charged any innocent person,—in others, only by a pecuniary mulct*." But he cites no authority -f\ The orator Lycurgus seems to imply that it was an acknowledged principle among the Athenians, that they were, in behalf of the Gods, to take vengeance themselves on a perjurer. "Justly would you punish him [the perjurer,] both in behalf of yourselves and in behalf of the gods J." And many proofs are found among the orators, that various punishments were actually inflicted by the civil magistrate, according to law. Thus Antipho, remonstrating against the absurdity of receiving the testimony of a servant
* Antiq. c, vi.
t There is a passage in Andocides which cites a law imposing the penalty of death on one who fails of convicting the man whom he accused of a capital offence; but this, as in the case of the Jewish law is the punishment not of perjury, but of false-accusation.—Andocides, De Mysteriis, 20.
% Lyc. v. Leoc: 78.
in preference to that of a free citizen, urges that a free citizen, in case he be convicted of giving untrue evidence, subjects himself to the penalty of infamy and fine*. And in the speech which Demosthenes made when prosecuting two men on the charge of perjury, he points out, in the prologue, the heavy punishment inflicted by the state on a citizen convicted of that crime, and the encouragement held out by the law to prosecutors-f.
But whatever might have been, in earlier or later days, the temporal punishment assigned to perjury in any of the States of Greece, it is, I think, very evident, that a deep and lively sense of the moral and religious guilt of false-swearing was practically prevalent through its different districts, and for many ages. Their poets, whom we may suppose to be fair interpreters of the general sentiments either of those who had gone before them, or of their own contemporaries, abound with clear testimonies to this point. They employed the popular traditions of their country in the composition of their poems, and became, in turn, the instructors of their own people, and of succeeding ages; and undoubtedly, miserably deficient as were these masters—blind leaders of the blind,—compared with the teachers of righteousness enlightened by the bright beams of the Gospel, yet every lover of virtue and inte
* Antiphon. Tetralog., A. 120.
t Demosth. v. Evergum et Mnesibulum.
grity, and of piety too, must feel grateful to God for the help once afforded by these heathen teachers, in humanizing the nations of the world. Even now, not for pleasure only, and grateful reminiscences, but for solid instruction and improvement, we are often induced to dwell on sentiments, and principles, and arguments, and descriptions, which will last, whilst literature has a place on earth, living monuments of the vast and diversified powers of the human mind on all subjects But One; and on that One,—the most important, the most momentous subject of all—the same monuments will last, a standing irrefragable evidence that the utmost stretch of human intellect never could reach the knowledge for which human nature is ever thirsting; in other words, that Eternal Truth
IS TO BE FOUND ONLY IN THE GOSPEL.
On the subject before us, the poets of antiquity are by no means silent, and their words, though mingled with words of fable, are loud and clear. "On the fifth day, they tell," (says Hesiod) "the Furies rove and roam around, avenging ' the Oath,' to which Strife gave birth*—the bane of those who swear falsely "f-." When Homer would represent
* Hesiod, "hmepai, 40.
t It is curious to remark how frequently the sentiment is repeated by Greek writers, that the oaths of lovers go for nothing. "He swore indeed, but, as they say, oaths made in love never enter the ears of the Gods."—Stobseus, xxviii. So Plato, In Symposio.
Agamemnon as binding his soul by the most solemn oath to the truth of what he said, the poet's expressions are pregnant with most forcible and awful thoughts of the danger to which perjury exposes the soul of the false-swearer, independently of any human punishment.
"Know, now, first Jove, of gods the highest and the mightiest, and Earth, and Sun! the Furies, too, who, beneath the earth, punish the man whoever has sworn to a falsehood! and if any part of this oath is false, then may the gods send to me afflictions very many, as many as they do send to him whoever sins against them by perjury*."
Thus, too, in the solemn oath of the same hero, he calls to witness, among others, "those two deities who punish, among the dead in the realms below, the soul of that mortal whoever had been guilty of perjury f."
Probably a critical examination into these and other like passages would lead us to infer (as far as the representations of poets would justify any inference), that an awful visitation of Providence was believed, in those ages, to be the inevitable consequence of perjury, both in this world and also after death shall have closed the present scene.
The classical scholar would scarcely forgive me, were I to omit the testimony borne to the religious
opinions of the men of Greece, on this point, by an incident recorded by the historian of their earliest days. In those primitive times, the orator depended more upon the force of an example or historical narrative, than upon the direct effect of argument; and in recounting the circumstances of an example, they indulged far more in detail than would now be tolerated: except, indeed, when an orator of extraordinary graphic powers should dwell on a point of unusual interest to his audience. The Spartan king, Leotychides, when urging upon the Athenians their moral obligation to release certain hostages, employs no other arguments; he relates, at some length, the story of one Glaucus, a Spartan, of great reputation for integrity, but who was tempted to withhold a large sum of money deposited in his hands by a rich Ionian, who had since died, and whose sons came to Sparta to claim their property of Glaucus. The man's conscience was not easy after he had put off the young men, telling them to return at the end of four months; and he would fain have the sanction of the oracle at Delphi to his meditated fraud. The sacred response was any thing rather than what he had hoped to hear.
Glaucus, thou son of Epicydes, for the present, doubtless, it is profitable
To gain your cause by an oath, and possess the money for your prize: