Wednesday, February 01, 2006

I am the smoke coming out!

I have been wanting to mention this in the "Development of Western Legal Tradition" class for a while, but I'm never brave enough: any time ancient juries are mentioned, I have flashbacks to Aristophanes and his hilarious play The Wasps. (Also a truly, truly astounding classical music tone poem by Vaughn Williams.)

Bdelycleon's elderly father, Philocleon, is addicted to something. As the play starts, the family servant tells the audience that the addiction is far worse than pederasty or gambling: he is addicted to going to the Heliaea, or Athenian law courts, to vote as is his right on jury trials!

He rushes off every morning, fearful to miss a single case, even though his son has forbidden it.
He is so accustomed to hold the balloting pebble, that he awakes with his three fingers pinched together as if he were offering incense to the new moon.
He is obsessed, and talks of nothing else. Is jurying a lower class pursuit, that it troubles the son? I don't know: most jurors are old men with nothing else to do--they are "The Wasps."

Amusingly, Philocleon is a "merciless judge," and always votes to convict. (An oracle once told him that if he acquitted anyone, he would die of consumption.)

When the father finally keeps escaping through the drain pipes or the skylight, the son sets up a mock trial in the house. They put the dog on trial: it has eaten a piece of cheese reserved for the father. The dog's case is hurt when the dog belches a big cheese-y belch. Philocleon threatens the dog with death:
"Ha, ha! I reckon I know somebody who will crap for fright to-day."
Bdelycleon tries to get him to spare the dog--he guards sheep well, and he has many dependent puppies, who are brought out to plead for the dog's life. Philocleon almost relents; but he hardens his heart, and puts his pebble in what he thinks is the "convict" urn. But the son has switched them, and when the votes (one!) are counted, the dog gets off, and the father faints. (This is apparently a political commentary on contemporary events, but is damn funny in its own right.)

The post-title, btw, comes from one of the father's escape attempts. The son has posted servants all around and outside the house, and on the roof. The father climbs up the chimney, and bursts out in a cloud of soot and ashes. The servant, astounded, asks, "What are you?!" The father quickly replies with the blog-title, which fools the servant for a few seconds (he asks "from what kind of wood?" curiously).

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