July 31, 2009

The Friday Record - Draco and Draconian Law

I have found a new little book of historical fact to add to my library: CURIOUS EVENTS IN HISTORY by Michael Powell. It contains information on more than three dozen historical events, including The Trial of the Pig, The Battle of the Bees, the Murderer from the Mayflower, and The Man Who Walked Around World. I just bought the book, so I have only read a couple of the stories and only one mentioned above. I might add, the book is on the smallish side, with only 140 or so pages and each topic is typically only two pages long, with short paragraphs (In other words, a quick, easy read).

One I read with interest was The Unfortunate Death of Draco.

According to the book and a few websites, ancient Athens didn't have a written law book. Basically, the nobles, or “eupatrids...made all the legal decisions and were the enforcers of the law.” (Powell, page 11). But without a written record of the laws, they became arbitrary and inconsistent. In 621 B.C., the people were fed up with oral laws that changed at the whim of the person pronouncing them. So, Draco was drafted to codify the laws. Powell says, “He didn't create the laws; he merely standardized them and then wrote them down.” About.com says, “Whether or not it was intentional, when Draco codified the laws, it brought to public attention Athens' outrageous and archaic penalties.” Death was given for not only the most heinous crimes, but also lessor ones, including stealing food.

According to Plutarch in “Life of Solon”, "And Draco himself, they say, being asked why he made death the penalty for most offenses, replied that in his opinion the lesser ones deserved it, and for the greater ones no heavier penalty could be found."

Dictionary.com says Draconian as a word came into use in the 1800's and defines it as:

1) of, pertaining to, or characteristic of Draco or his code of laws.
2) (often lowercase) rigorous; unusually severe or cruel: Draconian forms of punishments

Even with Draco being responsible for the written law, Powell says he was respected among the people. In 590 B.C., a testimonial was to be held in his honor. The custom at the time, to show respect, was to throw one's cloak or hat at the honored person. However, there were so many people in attendance, that he was smothered by a pile of linen....literally. “By the time he was rescued from beneath the enormous pile of discarded garments,” Powell says, “Draco had suffocated to death.” (12)

So, I think I have to agree with Powell's title for this story, Draco did suffer an Unfortunate Death.....

I'm trying to think what question I can ask for today's discussion. Asking for the most unusual death you've heard about seems a bit macabre and I don't want to gross people out. So, maybe we can do with the title of the book....curious events in history, what's one you've heard about?

I'll draw for a winner from those who comment.....and the lucky winner will receive a copy of Deanna Raybourn's novel “Silent on the Moor.”

Anna Kathryn Lanier
Booksigning - August 15
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Emma Lai said...

I can't think of any curious events off the top of my head...maybe because I've been up since 4:30, but I know I know some. I can tell you about historical events that make me curious. I love reading about extinctions...it's all supposition, but what fun!


I'm trying to think of a curious event in history but is not having to much success. The death of William Wallace of Scotland was odd but that goes back to your first question. Maybe odd isn't the right word.


Debra St. John said...

I can' think of an actual event from history off the top of my head, but I was reading the other day about the origins of phrases we use. Back in George Washington's time, if people wanted to have limbs painted into their portraits, it cost extra (I guess since these are more difficult to do?) At any rate, that's where we get the phrase "It'll cost you an arm and a leg." I found that interesting.

Mary Ricksen said...

How interesting. I never knew the origin of that word myself.
I love this kinda blog, I learned something I will never forget. For me that's pretty good, stuff goes outta my head before landing. But this is one that will stick.

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Congratulations to Loretta for winning a copy of "Silent on the Moor" by Deanna Raybourn.

Thanks to everyone who stopped by and commented.