Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2016.03.30 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2016.03.30

Delfim F. Leão​, P. J. Rhodes, The Laws of Solon: A New Edition with Introduction, Translation and Commentary. Library of classical studies, 7.   London; New York:  I. B. Tauris, 2015.  Pp. xiii, 210.  ISBN 9781780768533.  $115.00.  

Reviewed by Robert W. Wallace, Northwestern University (

This book is cause for celebration. Notwithstanding the complexity of his many source traditions, Solon is our best attested historical figure from archaic Greece, as sophos, poet, statesman, lawgiver, and the subject of a biography by Plutarch. Before Leão and Rhodes, those interested in Solon the lawgiver necessarily used E. Ruschenbusch’s two collections of Solon’s laws. Solonos Nomoi (Wiesbaden 1966), Ruschenbusch’s doctoral dissertation, was limited to Greek texts without translation or commentary, and banished to the end as doubtful or fictional many of Solon’s attested constitutional or other laws (for example on inheritance or burial) that many scholars think genuine. Ruschenbusch died in 2007 before finishing revisions, including German translations and commentaries, to his 1966 volume. His colleague at Frankfurt, the Roman historian Klaus Bringmann saw Solon: Das Gesetzeswerk — Fragmente through to publication (Wiesbaden 2010; see Leão’s review in AAHG 67 [2014] 110-12), although many texts that Ruschenbusch still judged “false, doubtful, or unusable” were not printed, and his commentaries take no account of much recent work on Solon and Greek law. Leão & Rhodes include thirty-seven fragments not in either edition of Ruschenbusch (who also did not quote certain numbered fragments that he thought unimportant). In addition, they consider genuine twenty-two texts that Ruschenbusch condemned, and condemn three (or four: fr. 23d) texts that Ruschenbusch thought genuine. They translate each fragment into English, and follow each fragment with excellent commentaries, including up-to-date bibliographies notably distinguished by Portuguese and Italian contributions. This book is a major addition to Solonian studies. I comment first on their translations, then on their commentaries, and then on the book’s structure and other qualities.

Leão and Rhodes’s translations read well and are highly accurate. Some few passages may benefit from further suggestions, not least because in legal texts much can hinge on a single word.

Introduction p. 1 last line, a verse from Solon’s poems may be translated, “I wrote laws for lower and upper classes equally,” homoiôs, rather than “alike” (Leão & Rhodes), to make clear Solon’s insistence that justice be equal for all, also echoing seventh-century Spartan egalitarian constitutional reforms (of the homoioi) as he does elsewhere.
Fr. 1a: allos can mean “as well” or “besides” (LSJ s.v. II 8). Hence perhaps, “Solon established a constitution and enacted laws as well” (rather than “other laws”). Compare fr. 21b, the basileus and phylobasileis “judge the cases of inanimate things and of animals as well” (not “of other creatures”).
Fr. 4/1a: add “premeditated” (which is in their Greek but not English text) before “wounding” and probably before “homicide.”
In fr. 15a and often elsewhere (e.g., 22/1, 28a, 49a, 50a), Leão & Rhodes (and many other scholars) use the English word “right” or “rights” which have no Greek equivalent. Greek citizens had no rights, but various powers and competences which (unlike rights) could be taken away at any time.
In fr. 22/1 the axon reads: “however many from the Areopagos or however many from the ephetai or from the Prytaneion were condemned by the basileis.” Leão & Rhodes omit the second “however many” (hosoi), which is more fluent English but may obscure some distinction between the Areopagos and the other judicial bodies (in particular that the basileis did not condemn those convicted by the Areopagos). In this same passage, Ruschenbusch’s translation “wounding [?]” for sphagai (which Leão & Rhodes include in their text) would need to be defended.
Fr. 28a-c and elsewhere: Leão & Rhodes translate moichos “adulterer, which however in its strict sense refers to extramarital sex by a husband or wife. A moichos, “seducer,” might seduce any free woman in the house (so Leão & Rhodes on 28c; see E. Cantarella, “Moicheia. Reconsidering a problem,” Symposion 1990, ed. M. Gagarin [Cologne, Vienna 1991] 289-96).
Fr. 28c: Leão & Rhodes translate the axon’s arthra en arthrois “genitals with genitals” which is not necessarily the same as (and obviously more graphic than) “limbs on limbs.”
Fr. 38f: Leão & Rhodes translate, whoever “does not attach himself to or strive with.” The last three words are not in the Greek.
Fr. 49/g: “Leptines” should be inserted after the parentheses in line 2 (down) of the translation.
Fr. 56/a. Fr. 56/b and the commentary after 57/b make clear that technai should not mean “handicrafts.”
Frr. 64a, b: boliton means more precisely not the vulgar “crap” but “cow-dung,” as Leão & Rhodes say in the commentary.
Frr. 73a and b, following Ruschenbusch, are headed: “Ban on the production of and trade in perfumes.” However, the fragments mention only trade, which would exclude Ruschenbusch’s hypothesis about “the vast extent of lands” required for perfume production.
Fr. 74a: Leão & Rhodes do not translate akolouthein which makes the regulated behavior clearer (cf. fr. 74e, where epakolouthein, “pursue,” is clearer still).
Fr. 74b: erôs is better translated “sexual passion;” “love” does not make clear the essential sexual component.
Fr. 74/4a: not “penalize and punish,” but “fine [zêmioun] and punish,” as AP then refers to the disposition of these fines.
Frr. 80/1a and 102: might sôphrosynê be better translated “self-restraint” than “modesty”? In any case the law in fr. 80 seems unlikely to be Solonian.
Fr. 94: Leão & Rhodes’s “damned fox” repeats LSJ s.v. epitriptos, but LSJ s.v. kinados (according to a scholiast, a Sicilian word for fox) translates “cunning rogue,” with the same citations. Both translations seem archaic today.
Fr. 98/c: the first line of the Greek text omits the word nomothetêi, which however Leão & Rhodes translate.
Fr. 99: sunthêkai (agreements) Leão & Rhodes translate “contracts,” but whether the Greeks had contracts (a Roman and modern legal term) is hotly debated. Compare recently e.g. L. Gagliardi, “La legge sulla homologia e i vizi della volontà nei contratti in diritto ateniese,” in Symposion 2013, ed. M. Gagarin and A. Lanni (Vienna 2014) 177-214, with R. Wallace, "Did Athens have consensual contracts? A response to Lorenzo Gagliardi,” in the same volume, pp. 215-22.
Fr. 108 end: elengchon is better translated “refutation” than “proof.”
Fr. 128: Leão & Rhodes translate the Souda’s hoi peri Solôna “those around Solon,” although in Greek of the imperial period hoi peri may refer to the person himself (LSJ s.v. peri C 2). It would appear to do so here.
Fr. 141: oiketas means “household slaves,” not “household.”

Leão and Rhodes’s commentaries on individual fragments are excellent, even if on some less significant fragments they do not go much beyond Ruschenbusch. Even where they hesitate to draw conclusions, their detailed discussions of Athens’ homicide laws, the authenticity of laws inserted in classical orations, Athens’ laws of theft, rape, adultery, slander and other verbal offenses, blabê, provisions against tyranny, Solon’s law on neutrality (an exceptional discussion), family laws, and wills, will be useful for all scholars interested in these topics.

The structure and organization of this book closely follow Ruschenbusch 2010, in particular numbering fragments as far as possible as he had numbered them, in order to facilitate use of this edition when encountering Ruschenbusch’s fragment numbers elsewhere. This feature will surely prove convenient, although a conspectus of fragments could have accomplished the same goal, and freed our two authors, first, from a complicated series of cross-referencing symbols (for texts not in Ruschenbusch at all, or not in his first or second collection) and cross references, for example “frs. 144c, 145” which refers readers to “frs. 143a-c with commentary,” but frs. 143a-c have no text or commentary but only further references to fr. 89/1a, 89/1b, and 89/1c. If they had numbered the fragments as they saw fit, they could then have chosen a different order for them, perhaps beginning with laws from Solon’s first axon, or attempting to arrange the laws according to the archai who enforced them. They could also have abandoned Ruschenbusch’s categories for Solon’s laws, which begin with Privatdelikte, “private crimes” (Leão and Rhodes render this “private wrongs”) and which I thought might involve dikai but not all do (for example, fr. 30 concerns graphai for procuring). Ruschenbusch includes in this section Sittlichskeitdelikte which Leão & Rhodes keep as “moral offenses,” but as they know, rape for example and (in my view) seduction were not primarily considered moral crimes but crimes affecting the oikos and individuals’ citizen status. They retain Ruschenbusch’s Aufwandsgesetze (as “Sumptuary Laws”), while questioning that purpose for the measures they list. They retain the Germanic Familienrecht (“Family law”) while rightly striking Recht elsewhere (Nachbarrecht becomes “Neighbours”), because the Greeks had no Recht but only laws.

Finally, Leão and Rhodes follow Ruschenbusch in calling almost all their texts fragments, although as they sometimes indicate, some texts are paraphrases or general statements that are better considered testimonia. For example, fr. 1a, “[Solon] established a constitution and enacted laws as well, and they ceased using the ordinances of Draco except on homicide,” is not a fragment of a law but a testimonium. A number of their commentaries discuss hypotheses that Ruschenbusch proposed but they and most other scholars discount (for example pp. 13 and 28 on the development of homicide law; p. 36 on atimia; p. 48 on hubris; p. 63 on Solon’s law of neutrality). I would rather learn about Solon than work through ideas of Ruschenbusch that fell on stony ground. Ruschenbusch was a hard-working scholar, if not a major player. He often reacted against the influence of what he considered modern political ideologies, with ideas good and bad (as we have seen), and a large sense of his own correctness while unfairly dismissing others. In part this was a product of his intellectual environment. Systematic study of Greek law began in German law schools in the 1970s, by jurists who were mostly professors of Roman and continental law and often practicing lawyers. Most of these jurists viewed Greek law (for example on “contracts,” see fr. 99 above) through the prism of later legal disciplines, especially Roman law, which formed the basis of continental law. For the Greeks, by contrast, laws were not a discipline, and they had no jurisprudence. Juristic perspectives helped shape Ruschenbusch’s thinking on Greek legal problems, and his reactions to other kinds of work. Thus, in his Gnomon 1997 review of Stephen Todd’s respected The Shape of Athenian Law (Todd helped with the current volume), he begins with the complaint (p. 729) that Todd’s book brought him no joy, as it “in no way considers the rich juristic literature” and “includes a whole series of errors.” He takes Todd to task for not knowing (for example) E. Weiß, “Vergleichende Zivilprozeßwissenschaft” from the Rhein. Zeitschr. f. Zivil- und Prozeßrecht 1921, without saying what contribution this essay could make. I found his complaints about Todd’s supposed errors less than compelling, mostly on legal details not central to Todd’s arguments. For a brief, incisive, and critical assessment of Ruschenbusch’s contributions to Greek history, see Detlef Lotze, Gnomon 53 (1981) 248-51.

As classicists and ancient historians have succeeded continental jurists in the study of archaic and classical Greek laws, Ruschenbusch was fading from view. Leão and Rhodes have now replaced him as the standard work on Solon’s laws. He need not be brought back, except when he is right. “Ruschenbusch” is the first word of our authors’ Preface and also their Introduction. In a revised edition, that word might be “Solon.” Yet despite the distractions of Forschungskritik, all Greek historians and legal scholars will be grateful for what our two authors have given us: ready access to good texts and fine translations of a major body of archaic Athenian legislation, along with intelligent commentaries to help us think through it. Together they have made excellent progress toward Solon the lawgiver.

Read comments on this review or add a comment on the BMCR blog

Read Latest
About BMCR
Review for BMCR
Support BMCR

BMCR, Bryn Mawr College, 101 N. Merion Ave., Bryn Mawr, PA 19010