By Jenneth Hogan
This term dates back to a time in ancient Greece when laws were unwritten. Blood feuds and oral laws were passed and enforced by the social pyramid’s elite of nobles and rich men, the lower class were not made aware of the laws until they were broken, and punishment was often carried out by way of vendetta. Around 621 BC the system made a change when the aristocratic rulers decided that maybe, just maybe, they should write their laws down in a plainly stated form so that even a poor man could avoid breaking them. Guess who was commissioned to write Athens’s code of law? That’s right, Draco. And no, I’m not talking about the Harry Potter kind, folks.
Draco, a legislator and prominent tyrant, delivered a comprehensive and thorough legal system, written on plates and placed publicly in the Athenian Agora for all to abide by. These laws were first written in blood, rather than ink, and their harshness and inhumanity caused quite a bit of controversy. Even the most trivial criminal offenses, like stealing a piece of fruit or sleeping in a public place, were punishable by death while other petty crimes could cause you to lose your land and your free citizenship and end up a slave. Not to worry though, Draco got what was coming to him.
Despite the excessively harsh nature of his laws, Athenian citizens saw Draco as the man who represented divine justice and for that they were immensely grateful. During a visit to the island of Aegina, to be honored in front of a large crowd at a theatrical event, he was covered in so many caps, cloaks and other articles the audience continuously threw at him that he suffocated to death. Draco was literally “killed by appreciation and kindness.”
Emanuel, Lazar. Latin for Lawyers: The Language of the Law (New York: Aspen Publishers, 1999).