Redevoeringen, Antiphon (480-411 v. Chr.): Derde Tetralogie




Prosecution for Murder Of One Who Pleads Self-Defense

First speech for the Prosecution

It is very rightly laid down that in cases of murder prosecutors must take especial care to observe justice in making their charge and presenting their evidence: they must neither let the guilty escape nor bring the innocent to trial.

For when God was minded to create the human race and brought the first of us into being, he gave us the earth and sea to sustain and serve us, in order that we might not die for want of the necessaries of life before old age brought us our end. Such being the value placed upon our life by God, whoever unlawfully slays his fellow both sins against the gods and confounds the ordinances of man.

For the victim, robbed of the gifts bestowed by God upon him, naturally leaves behind him the angry spirits of vengeance, God's instruments of punishment, spirits which they who prosecute and testify without giving heed to justice bring into their own homes, defiling them with the defilement of another, because they share in the sin of him who did the deed.

And similarly, should we, the avengers of the dead, accuse innocent persons because of some private grudge, not only will our failure to avenge the murdered man cause us to be haunted by dread demons to whom the dead will turn for justice, but by wrongfully causing the death of the innocent we are liable to the penalties prescribed for murder, and because we have persuaded you to break the law, the responsibility for your mistake also becomes ours.

Had he killed his victim accidentally, he would have deserved some measure of mercy. But he wantonly committed a brutal assault upon an old man when in his cups; he struck him and throttled him until he robbed him of life. So for killing him he is liable to penalties prescribed for murder: and for violating every right to respect enjoyed by the aged he deserves to suffer in full the punishment usual in such cases.

Thus the law rightly hands him over to you for punishment; and you have listened to the witnesses who were present during his drunken assault. It is your duty to take vengeance for the injury which he so lawlessly inflicted: to punish such brutal violence as harshly as the harm which it has caused requires: to deprive him in his turn of a life which was used to plot another's death.

Reply to a Charge of Murder, Arguing that the Accused Killed in Self-Defense

The fact that their speech was brief does not surprise me: because for them the danger is, not that they may come to some harm, but that they may fail to gratify their animosity by sending me to a death which I do not deserve. On the other hand, that they should want to treat the present matter, in which the victim had himself to blame more than me, as a case of the greatest gravity, gives me, I think, some excuse for indignation. By resorting to violence as he did and making a drunken assault upon a man far more in control of himself than he, he was responsible not only for the disaster which befell himself, but for the accusation which has been brought against me.

In my opinion, the prosecution are setting both God and man at defiance in accusing me. He was the aggressor; and even if I had used steel or stone or wood to beat him off, I was acting within my rights; an aggressor deserves to be answered with, not the same, but more and worse than he gave. Actually, when he struck me with his fists, I used my own to retaliate for the blows which I received. Was that unjustified?

Well and good. “But,” he will object, “the law which forbids the taking of life whether justifiably or not shows you to be liable to the penalty prescribed for murder; for the man is dead.” I repeat for a second and a third time that I did not kill him. Had the man died on the spot from the blows which he received, his death would have been due to me, not but what I would have been justified--an aggressor deserves to be answered with not the same, but more and worse than he gave;--but in fact he died several days later, after being placed under an incompetent physician. His death was due to the incompetence of the physician, and not to the blows which he received. The other physicians warned him that though he was not beyond cure, he would die if he followed this particular treatment. Thanks to your advice, he did die, and thereby caused an outrageous charge to be brought against myself.

Further, the very law under which I am being accused attests my innocence; it lays down that the guilt of a murder shall rest upon that party which acted from design. Now what designs could I have on his life which he did not also have on mine? I resisted him with his own weapons, and returned blow for blow; so it is clear that I only had the designs upon his life which he had on mine.

Furthermore, if anyone thinks that his death was the result of the blows which he received and that therefore I am his murderer, let him set against that fact that it was the aggressor who was the cause of those blows, and that they therefore point to him, not to me, as the person responsible for his death; I would not have defended myself unless I had been struck by him

Thus my innocence is attested both by the law and by the fact that my opponent was the aggressor; in no way am I his murderer. As to the dead man, if his death was due to mischance, he had himself to thank for that mischance: for it consisted in his taking the offensive. Similarly, if his death was due to a loss of self-control it was through his own loss of self-control that he perished: for he was not in his right mind when he struck me.

I have now proved that I am unjustly accused. But I wish to prove also that my accusers are themselves exposed to all the charges which they are bringing against me. By accusing me of murder when I am free from guilt, and by robbing me of the life which God bestowed upon me, they are sinning against God by seeking to compass my death wrongfully, they are confounding the laws of man and becoming my murderers; and by urging you to commit the sin of taking my life, [they are murdering your consciences also].

May God visit them with the punishment which they deserve. You on your side must look to your own interests and be more disposed to acquit than to condemn me. If I am acquitted unjustly, if I escape because you have not been properly informed of the facts, then it is he who failed to inform you, not you, whom I shall cause to be visited by the spirit who is seeking vengeance for the dead. But if I am wrongfully condemned by you, then it is upon you, and not upon my accuser, that I shall turn the wrath of the avenging demons.

Second Speech for the Prosecution

I am not surprised that the defendant, who has committed so outrageous a crime, should speak as he has acted; just as I pardon you, who are desirous of discovering the facts exactly, for tolerating such utterances from his lips as deserve to be greeted with derision. Thus, he admits that he gave the man the blows which caused his death; yet he not only denies that he himself is the dead man's murderer, but asserts, alive and well though he is, that we, who are seeking vengeance for the victim, are his own murderers. And I wish to show that the remainder of his defense is of a similar character.

To begin with, he said that even if the man did die as a result of the blows, he did not kill him: because it is the aggressor who is to blame for what happens: it is he whom the law condemns; and the aggressor was the dead man. First, let me tell you that young men are more likely to be the aggressors and make a drunken assault than old. The young are incited by their natural arrogance1 their full vigor, and the unaccustomed effects of wine to give free play to anger: whereas old men are sobered by their experience of drunken excesses, by the weakness of age, and by their fear of the strength of the young.

Further, it was not with the same, but with vastly different weapons that the accused withstood him, as the facts themselves show. The one used hands which were in the fullness of their strength, and with them he slew; whereas the other defended himself but feebly against a stronger man, and died without leaving any mark of that defense behind him. Moreover, if it was with his hands and not with steel that the defendant slew, then the fact that his hands are more a part of himself than is steel makes him so much the more a murderer.

He further dared to assert that he who struck the first blow, even though he did not slay, is more truly the murderer than he who killed; for it is to the aggressor's wilful act that the death was due, he says. But I maintain the very opposite. If our hands carry out the intentions of each of us, he who struck without killing was the wilful author of the blow alone: the willfull author of the death was he who struck and killed: for it was as the result of an intentional act on the part of the defendant that the man was killed.

Again, while the victim suffered the ill-effect of the mischance, it is the striker who suffered the mischance itself; for the one met his death as the result of the other's act, so that it was not through his own mistake, but through the mistake of the man who struck him, that he was killed; whereas the other did more than he meant to do, and he had only himself to blame for the mischance whereby he killed a man whom he did not mean to slay.

I am surprised that, in alleging the man's death to have been due to the physician, he should assign responsibility for it to us, upon whose advice it was that he received medical attention; for had we failed to place him under a physician, the defendant would assuredly have maintained that his death was due to neglect. But even if his death was due to the physician, which it was not, the physician is not his murderer, because the law absolves him from blame. On the other hand, as it was only owing to the blows given by the defendant that we placed the dead man under medical care at all, can the murderer be anyone save him who forced us to call in the physician?

Although it has been proved so clearly and so completely that he killed the dead man, his impudence and shamelessness are such that he is not content with defending his own act of wickedness: he actually accuses us, who are seeking expiation of the defilement which rests upon him, of acting like unscrupulous scoundrels.

Assertions as outrageous as this, or even more so, befit one guilty of such a crime as he. We, on our side, have clearly established how the death took place: we have shown that there are no doubts about the blow which caused it: and we have proved that the law fixes the guilt of the murder upon him who gave that blow. So in the name of the victim we charge you to appease the wrath of the spirits of vengeance by putting the defendant to death, and thereby cleanse the whole city of its defilement.

Second Speech for the Defense

The defendant, not because he has judged himself guilty, but because he was alarmed by the vehemence the prosecution, has withdrawn.1 As to us, his friends, we are discharging our sacred duty to him more fitly by aiding him while he is alive than by aiding him after he is dead. Admittedly, he himself would have pleaded his own case best; but since the present course appeared the safer, it remains for us, to whom his loss would be a very bitter grief, to defend him.

To my mind, it is with the aggressor that the blame for the deed rests. Now the presumptions from which the prosecution argues that the defendant was the aggressor are unreasonable. If brutal violence on the part of the young and self-control on the part of the old were as natural as seeing with the eyes and hearing with the ears, then there would be no need for you to sit in judgement; the young would stand condemned by their mere age. In fact, however, many young men are self-controlled, and many old men are violent in their cups; and so the presumption which they furnish favors the defense no less than the prosecution.

As the presumption supports us as much as it does the dead man, the balance is in our favor; for according to the witnesses, it was he who was the aggressor. This being so, the defendant is cleared of all the other charges brought against him as well. For once it is argued that, because it was only the blow given by the striker which obliged you to seek medical attention at all, the murderer is the striker rather than the person immediately responsible for the man's death,1 it follows that the murderer was he who struck the very first blow of all: because it was he who compelled both his adversary to strike back in self-defense and the victim struck to go to the physician. It would be outrageous, were the defendant, who was neither slayer nor aggressor, to be held a murderer in place of the true slayer and the true aggressor.

Nor again is the intention to kill to be attributed to the accused rather than to his accuser. If it had been the case that, whereas he who struck the first blow had meant not to kill, but to strike, he who was defending himself had meant to kill, then it would have been this last who was guilty of the intention to kill. As it was, he who was defending himself likewise intended to strike, not to kill; but he committed an error, and struck where he did not mean to strike.

He was thus admittedly the wilful author of the blow; how can he have killed willfully,when he struck otherwise than he intended?

Further, it is with the aggressor rather than with him who was defending himself that the responsibiIity for the error itself rests. The one was seeking to retaliate for the blows which he was receiving, when he committed his error: he was being forced to act by his attacker; whereas with the other, it was his own lack of self-control which caused him to give and receive the blows which he did: and so, since he is responsible both for his own error and for his victim's, he deserves the name of murderer.

Again, his defense was not more vigorous than the attack made upon him, but much less so: as I will show. The one was truculent, drunken, and violent; he took the offensive throughout, and was never on the defensive at all. The other was seeking to avoid blows and repel him; the blows which he received, he received from no choice of his own and the blows which he gave were given in defense of himself against the aggressor, and much less vigorously than that aggressor deserved, because his only object was to avoid the hurt which was being done to him; he did not take the offensive at all.

Even supposing that his defense was more vigorous than the attack made upon him, because there was more vigor in his hands, you cannot justly condemn him. Heavy penalties are invariably provided for the aggressor: whereas no penalty is ever prescribed for him who defends himself.

The objection that the taking of life, whether justifiably or not, is forbidden, has been answered; it was not to the blows, but to the physician, that the man's death was due, as the witnesses state in their evidence. Further, it is the aggressor, and not he who was defending himself, who was responsible for the accident. The one gave and received the blows which he did from no choice of his own, and therefore the accident in which he had a part was not of his own causing. The other did what he did of his own free will, and it was by his own actions that he brought the accident upon himself; hence he had himself to blame for the mischance whereby he committed his error.

It has been shown, then, that not one of the charges made concerns the defendant; and even if both parties are thought equally responsible alike for the actual crime and for the mischance which led to it, and it is decided from the arguments put forward that there is no more reason for acquitting the defendant than for condemning him, he still has a right to be acquitted rather than condemned. Not only is it unjust that his accuser should secure his conviction without clearly showing that he has been wronged: but it is a sin that the accused should be sentenced, if the charges made against him have not been proved conclusively.

As the defendant has been cleared so completely of the charges made, we lay upon you in his name a more righteous behest than did our opponents: in seeking to punish the murderer, do not put him who is blameless to death. If you do, [the slayer no less than the slain will bring the wrath of heaven upon the guilty: and if the defendant is put to death without scruple, he causes the defilement brought upon his slayers by the spirits of vengeance to become twofold.

Hold that defilement in fear: and consider your duty to absolve him who is guiltless. Him upon whom the stain of blood rests you may let time reveal, even as you may leave his punishment to his victim's kin. It is thus that you will best serve justice and the will of heaven.


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