Treason: A Theme for Every Season

Some Greek Words for Treason Just in Case You Need Them

ἀπιστία, “treachery”
προδοσία, “high treason”, “betrayal”
προδότης “traitor”
ἐπιβουλή, “plot”

From the Twelve Tables

“The Law of the Twelve Tables commands that anyone who has conspired with an enemy against the state or handed a citizen to a public enemy, should suffer capital punishment.”

Marcianus, ap. Dig., XLVIII, 4, 3: Lex XII Tabularum iubet eum qui hostem concitaverit quive civem hosti tradiderit capite puniri.

Cicero, De Legibus 3.2

“[Cases concerning] death and citizenship must not be pursued except before the greatest assembly and those whom the censors have recorded in the rolls of the citizens.”

de capite civis nisi per maximum comitiatum ollosque, quos censores in partibus populi locasint, ne ferunto.

Xenophon, Apology 25

“These opponents have not said that I am guilty of any of the actions for which the established penalty is death–robbing a temple, theft, enslaving someone, betraying the state…”

ἐφ᾿ οἷς γε μὴν ἔργοις κεῖται θάνατος ἡ ζημία, ἱεροσυλίᾳ, τοιχωρυχίᾳ, ἀνδραποδίσει, πόλεως προδοσίᾳ, οὐδ᾿ αὐτοὶ οἱ ἀντίδικοι τούτων πρᾶξαί τι κατ᾿ ἐμοῦ φασιν.

Plato, Laws 856b-d

“Whoever raises a human being into power and thus enslaves the laws, whoever makes the state subordinate to his petty faction and transgresses what is right by doing all of this violently and stirring up civil strife, he should be considered the most inimical to the whole state.

And the kind of person who does not share these actions, but does occupy some of the most important offices of the state and either fails to observe them or does not fail but will not avenge his country because of cowardice, he should be considered as a citizen at a second degree of evil.

Let each person whose worth is small bear witness to the officers of the state by bringing this person to court for his plotting violent and unconstitutional revolution. Give them the same charges we have for temple robbery and run the trial as it is in those cases where the death penalty comes by majority vote.”

ὃς ἂν ἄγων εἰς ἀρχὴν ἄνθρωπον δουλῶται μὲν τοὺς νόμους, ἑταιρείαις δὲ τὴν πόλιν ὑπήκοον ποιῇ, καὶ βιαίως δὴ πᾶν τοῦτο πράττων καὶ στάσιν ἐγείρων παρανομῇ, τοῦτον δὴ διανοεῖσθαί δεῖ πάντων πολεμιώτατον ὅλῃ τῇ πόλει. τὸν δὲ κοινωνοῦντα μὲν τῶν τοιούτων μηδενί, τῶν μεγίστων δὲ μετέχοντα ἀρχῶν ἐν τῇ πόλει, λεληθότα τε ταῦτα αὐτὸν ἢ μὴ λεληθότα, δειλίᾳ δ᾿ ὑπὲρ Cπατρίδος αὑτοῦ μὴ τιμωρούμενον, δεῖ δεύτερον ἡγεῖσθαι τὸν τοιοῦτον πολίτην κάκῃ. πᾶς δὲ ἀνὴρ οὗ καὶ σμικρὸν ὄφελος ἐνδεικνύτω ταῖς ἀρχαῖς εἰς κρίσιν ἄγων τὸν ἐπιβουλεύοντα βιαίου πολιτείας μεταστάσεως ἅμα καὶ παρανόμου. δικασταὶ δὲ ἔστωσαν τούτοις οἵπερ τοῖς ἱεροσύλοις, καὶ πᾶσαν τὴν κρίσιν ὡσαύτως αὐτοῖς γίγνεσθαι καθάπερ ἐκείνοις, τὴν ψῆφον δὲ θάνατον φέρειν τὴν πλήθει νικῶσαν.

Lycurgus, Against Leocrates, 126-7

“It is right that punishments for other crimes come after them, but punishment for treason should precede the dissolution of the state. If you miss that opportune moment when those men are about to do something treacherous against their state, it is not possible for you to obtain justice from the men who did wrong: for they become stronger than the punishment possible from those who have been wronged.”

τῶν μὲν γὰρ ἄλλων ἀδικημάτων ὑστέρας δεῖ τετάχθαι τὰς τιμωρίας, προδοσίας δὲ καὶ δήμου καταλύσεως προτέρας. εἰ γὰρ προήσεσθε τοῦτον τὸν καιρὸν, ἐν ᾧ μέλλουσιν ἐκεῖνοι κατὰ τῆς πατρίδος φαῦλόν τι πράττειν, οὐκ ἔστιν ὑμῖν μετὰ ταῦτα δίκην παρ’ αὐτῶν ἀδικούντων λαβεῖν· κρείττους γὰρ ἤδη γίγνονται τῆς παρὰ τῶν ἀδικουμένων τιμωρίας.

Plato, Laws 881a-b

“Death is not the most extreme penalty–there are those described in Hades for offenses like this which are beyond death and are truly described, but they are useless in deterring some kinds of minds from their crimes.”

θάνατος μὲν οὖν οὐκ ἔστιν ἔσχατον, οἱ δὲ ἐν Ἅιδου τούτοισι λεγόμενοι πόνοι ἔτι τε τούτου εἰσὶ μᾶλλον ἐν ἐσχάτοις, καὶ ἀληθέστατα λεγόμενοι οὐδὲν ἀνύτουσι ταῖς τοιαύταις ψυχαῖς ἀποτροπῆς·

From Brill’s New Pauly on the death penalty in Greece and Rome by Gottfriend Schiemann:

“In Athens not only premeditated killing (phónos) and sedition and high treason (katálysis toû dḗmoû, prodosía ) resulted in the death penalty, but also religious offences such as desecration of the temple (hierosylía) and (cf. in particular the case against Socrates [2], 399 BC) publicly taught godlessness (asébeia). In a similar way, in Rome there was provision for the state death penalty for sedition and high treason (perduellio) by beheading (decollatio , in Greece apokephalízein) with an axe, later a sword. In the Roman Imperial period this was the typical death penalty for honestiores , but now sometimes also for homicide.”

The death penalty is not the enactment of justice, it is the execution of vengeance when justice is impossible or not actually desired. It does not function as a deterrent. It is meted out disproportionately to people without financial and social capital, which in the United States means that people of color face capital charges and are executed at far higher rates.  The moral peril is compounded by the imperfection of our criminal system where at least 1 in 25 people on death row are actually innocent. The death penalty is not part of a justice system, it is part of a vengeance system.

Note the connection in several passages between the sanctity of the state, the power to end a life, and citizenship.

Bonus Content on treason: 

Seneca the Elder, Controversiae 10.1

“Look, I have letters here which are obvious proof of treason and have the plans of the enemy.”

teneo ecce epistulas, in quibus manifesta proditionis argumenta sunt, in quibus hostium consilia

Polybius, Histories 5.59.2

“…because of the style of his life and his treason against his country I believe he is worthy of the greatest punishment.”

….κατά γε τὴν τοῦ βίου προαίρεσιν καὶ τὴν εἰς πατρίδα παρανομίαν τῆς μεγίστης ἄξιον κρίνω τιμωρίας

Cicero, De Senectute 12.39–40

“He used to say that no plague is more fatal than the bodily pleasure which has been given to human beings by nature. Zealous lusts for this kind of pleasure compel people toward pursuing them insanely and without any control. From this source springs treason against our country, coups against the legitimate government, and from here secret meetings with enemies are born.”

Nullam capitaliorem pestem quam voluptatem corporis hominibus dicebat a natura datam, cuius voluptatis avidae libidines temere et ecfrenate ad potiendum incitarentur. Hinc patriae proditiones, hinc rerum publicarum eversiones, hinc cum hostibus clandestina colloquia nasci

But Wait! There’s More!

Some Greek Words for Perjury

ἐπιορκία, ἡ: perjury
ἐπίορκος, ὁ: Perjurer
ἐπιορκέω: to commit perjury
ψευδορκεῖν: to make a false oath

Plato, Republic 334b (referring to Od. 19.395)

“He bested all men in theft and perjury.”

αὐτὸν πάντας ἀνθρώπους κεκάσθαι κλεπτοσύνῃ θ’ ὅρκῳ τε.

Thales (according to Diogenes Laertius)

“Isn’t perjury worse than adultery?”

οὐ χεῖρον, ἔφη, μοιχείας ἐπιορκία

Plautus, Curculio 470

“Whoever wants to find a perjurer should go to the public assembly”

qui periurum conuenire uolt hominem ito in comitium

Cicero, De legibus  II.22

“For perjury the divine punishment is destruction, the human punishment is shame”

Periurii poena divina exitium, humana dedecus.

Image result for medieval manuscript traitor
Jacob van Maerlant, (The traitor Ganelon drawn and quartered)., Spieghel Historiael, West Flanders, c. 1325-1335


A reminder:

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 6.47

“So one thing is worth much: to keep on living with truth and justice and in good will even among liars and unjust men”

Ἓν ὧδε πολλοῦ ἄξιον, τὸ μετ᾿ ἀληθείας καὶ δικαιοσύνης εὐμενῆ τοῖς ψεύσταις καὶ ἀδίκοις διαβιοῦν.

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