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When Literature Becomes Law: An Example from Ancient Greece
Texas Wesleyan Law Review
  • Mark J Sundahl, Cleveland State University
Document Type
Publication Date
  • law and literature,
  • Solon,
  • Athenian testamentary law,
  • persuasive woman,
  • Ancient Greece
The subject of this paper is the peculiar Athenian law, generally referred to as the Testamentary Law, which permitted a will to be invalidated if a jury determined that the testator composed the will while "under the influence of a woman" (in the original Greek, gunaiki peithomenos). While scholars have long argued that the progressive ideas of the archaic poets of ancient Greece inspired political change - such as the emergence of democracy in Athens - this paper makes an even stronger claim regarding the connection between law and literature in ancient Greece. This paper proposes that Solon, the famous Athenian legislator who wrote the Testamentary Law, borrowed the phrase gunaiki peithomenos from Hesiod, the renowned poet of archaic Greece, in the expectation that the citizens of Athens would interpret the statute in light of Hesiod's poetry. In short, by inserting Hesiod's language into this statute, Solon turned literature into law

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Citation Information
Mark J. Sundahl, When Literature Becomes Law: An Example from Ancient Greece, 12 Texas Wesleyan Law Review 331(2005)