Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-684899dbb8-c97xr Total loading time: 0.203 Render date: 2022-05-29T04:26:57.275Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "useNewApi": true }

The Oath-Challenge in Athens

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 February 2009

David Cyrus Mirhady
Rutgers University


In the 23rd book of the Iliad, Menelaus loses second place in the chariot race because of a manoeuvre by Antilochus. So, after Antilochus claims the second prize as his and dares others to fight him for it with their fists, Menelaus rises before the assembled heroes, sceptre in hand, to initiate a formal proceeding against him (571ff.). First he makes the charge: Antilochus has insulted his aretē and endangered his horses. He then calls upon the leaders of the Argives to judge fairly between them. But at this point he states that he will judge the case himself – in both instances the verb for ‘to judge’ is δικάζειν. He then calls on Antilochus to follow an involved procedure and finally to swear an oath that in running the race he did not purposefully use a trick. But despite the fact that Menelaus said during the race that Antilochus would not take the prize without swearing an oath (23.411), we do not know later what the result might be if Antilochus were to accept Menelaus' challenge and to swear the oath. Homer has him sidestep the challenge and concede the prize.

Copyright © The Classical Association 1991

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


1 Thür, G., ‘Zum δικáζειν bei Homer’, ZSStRom 87 (1970), 426–44Google Scholar and ‘Zum δικáζειν im Urteil aus Mantineia’, Symposion 1985 (1989), 5569Google Scholar, argues convincingly that Menelaus is taking on the role of a judge and, by calling upon Antilochus to swear the oath, is proposing a means of settling the dispute.

2 See also Theognis 1.199–203 and 1139–43, Sophocles, Ant. 264 and Antiphon the Sophist. DK6 F44 col. 5.8–13.

3 See MacDowell, D. M., Athenian Homicide Law in the Age of the Orators (Manchester, 1963), pp. 90100.Google Scholar

4 Lipsius, J., Das attische Recht und Rechtsverfahren (Leipzig, 19051915), pp. 895900Google Scholar, and Harrison, A. R. W., The Law in Athens, ii (Oxford, 1972), pp. 150–3Google Scholar. Cp. Bonner, R. J., Evidence in Athenian Courts (Chicago, 1905), pp. 67–9 and 74–9Google Scholar, who anticipates some of the views expressed in this paper. The discussion of G. Glotz is helpful in Dar.-Saglio, s.v. proklésis. Cp. also now Gagarin, M., ‘The Nature of Proofs in Antiphon’, CP 85 (1990), 2232.Google Scholar

5 Headlam, J. W., ‘On the πρóκλησις εἰς βάσανον’, CR 7 (1893), 15Google Scholar and 8 (1894), 136–7. Thompson, C. V., ‘Slave Torture in Athens’, CR 8 (1894), 136Google Scholar and Bonner, op. cit., p. 72, reject Headlam's thesis.

6 Thür, G., Beweisführung vor den Schwurgerichtshöfen Athens. Die proklesis zur basanos (Vienna, 1977), pp. 205–7.Google Scholar

7 But see Plescia, J., The Oath and Perjury in Classical Greece (Talahassee, 1970), pp. 43–7Google Scholar and now Mirhady, D., ‘Non-technical pisteis in Aristotle and Anaximenes’, AJP 112 (1991), 528Google Scholar, where the passage is discussed in more detail.

8 Thür, op. cit., see note 1.

9 Elsewhere in Demosthenes, although the challenge referred to is for the interrogation of a slave, the phrase is the same: Demosthenes says ‘I called on him to be judge of his own case’ (30.2, 30, 36f.). See also Antiphon 1.12 and G. Thür, op. cit., note 5, pp. 265–6. Interestingly, Demosthenes also employs the topos suggested by Aristotle (1377a14), according to which the danger (κίνδυνος) before the judges is greater (30.2).

10 Harrison, op. cit., p. 152.

11 Cary, C. and Reid, R. A., Demosthenes. Select Private Speeches (Cambridge, 1985), p. 102.Google Scholar

12 Thür, op. cit., note 5, pp. 74–82.

13 Thür, ibid., pp. 61–2, points out that within the context of the basanos-challenge expressions of ‘willingness’ or ‘readiness’ are significative of a challenge.

14 Leisi, E., Der Zeuge im Attischen Recht (Frauenfeld, 1907), pp. 1220Google Scholar. See also now Just, R., Women in Athenian Law and Life (London, 1990), pp. 33–9.Google Scholar

15 Harrison, op. cit., p. 150.

16 See my article, note 7 above.

17 Previous versions of this paper have been read by J. Cargill, M. Ostwald and E. Carawan and to the Classical Association of Canada in May, 1990, all of whom I wish to thank, while taking responsibility myself for any remaining errors. Likewise, I thank the anonymous referee for CQ for his critical comments and suggestions.

Cited by

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

The Oath-Challenge in Athens
Available formats

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

The Oath-Challenge in Athens
Available formats

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

The Oath-Challenge in Athens
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *