Sunday, September 13, 2015

A Classic Moral Panic Grips Athens

A herm
The mutilation of the herms led to a general crackdown, not only on the vandals, but on all religious offenses. This crackdown soon began to spiral out of control, as these crackdowns so often do.  Thucydides account brief and unspecific:
The offenders were not known, but great rewards were publicly offered for their detection, and a decree was passed that any one, whether citizen, stranger, or slave, might without fear of punishment disclose this or any other profanation of which he was cognisant. The Athenians took the matter greatly to heart—it seemed to them ominous of the fate of the expedition; and they ascribed it to conspirators who wanted to effect a revolution and to overthrow the democracy. Certain metics and servants gave information, not indeed about the Hermae, but about the mutilation of other statues which had shortly before been perpetrated by some young men in a drunken frolic: they also said that the mysteries were repeatedly profaned by the celebration of them in private houses, and of this impiety they accused, among others, Alcibiades.
Another herm
Thucydides also gives an account of Hippias' dictatorship and how oppressive it became, and explains how this led Athenians always to fear that someone wanted to establish either a dictatorship or an oligarchy.  The most likely candidate for potential dictator was Alicibiades, so Alcibiades' enemies were eager blame him.  The accusation made no sense.  As prime mover behind the expedition and commanding general, Alcibiades was the last person one should suspect of wanting to sabotage it.  But either the Athenians has been reading their Agatha Christie, or else moral panic had completely swamped logic and common sense.  Furthermore, three unrelated acts, the genuine mutilation of the herms, a possible profanation of the mysteries, and an imagined plot to overthrow the democracy had become so conflated in the public mind that no one could tell them apart.

Alcibiades demanded to be tried before setting sail, but his enemies, fearing that he would be acquitted, allowed him to sail, planning to recall him after more hostility was stirred up.  The expedition set forth in great splendor.  But the launching of the expedition did not stop the general panic.  Thucydides describes events in his absence:
[D]ay by day the movement became more furious and the number of arrests increased. At-last one of the prisoners, who was believed to be deeply implicated, was induced by a fellow-prisoner to make a confession—whether true or false I cannot say; opinions are divided, and no one knew at the time, or to this day knows, who the offenders were. His companion argued that even if he were not guilty he ought to confess and claim a pardon; he would thus save his own life, and at the same time deliver Athens from the prevailing state of suspicion. His chance of escaping would be better if he confessed his guilt in the hope of a pardon, than if he denied it and stood his trial. So he gave evidence both against himself and others in the matter of the Hermae. The Athenians were delighted at finding out what they supposed to be the truth; they had been in despair at the thought that the conspirators against the democracy would never be known, and they immediately liberated the informer and all whom he had not denounced. The accused they brought to trial, and executed such of them as could be found. Those who had fled they condemned to death, and promised a reward to any one who would kill them. No one could say whether the sufferers were justly punished; but the beneficial effect on the city at the time was undeniable.
Thucydides, it should be noted, does not name names, nor does he give an opinion whether any of the information given was true or false, although he appears deeply skeptical.

Plutarch is more forthcoming, as to both names and details.  He identifies the first two informants as Diocleides and Teucer and quotes a contemporary comic poet as expressing deep skepticism about their accounts.  He even claims that one of them said he was able to recognize the conspirators by the light of the full moon, when the crime actually happened during the new moon.  As for the informant among the prisoners, Plutarch identifies him as the orator Andocides,* who was suspected because of his probable oligarchic sympathies and also because the herm in front of his house had been spared.  He reports that Andocides was persuaded to inform by his co-prisoner, Timaeus, and that Andocides did so, throwing in a few of his own slaves to be better believed.

This is one case where we have a more detailed source  -- we have the account of Andocides himself.  In fact, we have three such accounts.  The first, written after he was exiled over the matter, is a plea to be allowed to return.  The second, written after he had returned under a general amnesty, is a prosecution speech arguing that the amnesty applies only to political and not religious offenses.  The third is Andocides' defense at the same trial.  Of these three speeches, the third gives by far the most details and gives us a more up-close-and-personal view of the moral panic that followed the mutilation of the herm.

According to Andocides, the first accusation was made before the Assembly by one of Alcibiades' enemies, named Pythonicus, saying that he had profaned the Eleusian Mysteries, a series of secret rituals of worship of Demeter and Persephone that only initiates were allowed to attend.  Specifically, they were accused of acting out the rites in their house, in the presence of non-initiates, when the rites were supposed to be conducted only in the temple in the proper ceremony, with only initiates present. Pythonicus said that he would produce a slave who was not an initiate** but could described details of the ceremony that only initiates should know. All non-initiates were dismissed, and the slave, named Andromachus, entered and described details of the ceremonies that a non-initiate should not have known. Andromachus named ten men, three enacting the ceremony (including Alcibiades) and seven who watched.  Of these, one was arrested and executed; the others except for Alcibiades fled the country.  That a non-initiate was able to give details of the Mysteries that initiates recognized as accurate suggests that someone had been making improper disclosures.  But it shed no light whatever on the vandalism of the herms.

The next informant was Teucer/Teucrus, a metic who had withdrawn to Megara and returned to Athens only under a grant of immunity.  (This is the same Teucer that Plutarch quotes the comic poet as treating with such skepticism).  Teucer denounced twelve men, including himself, though not Alcibiades, as having mocked the Mysteries.  All the others promptly fled the country.  He also denounced 18 men for vandalizing the herms.  All of these either fled the country or, if they remained, were arrested and executed.  (Andocides does not specify how many were executed and how many fled).  There is no need to go over the lists of names, other than to say that there was almost no overlap among the lists, and that there are some prominent names on the lists, although we do not know if they are actually prominent individuals or simply others with the same names.

Two others came forward about the Mysteries.  Agariste, wife of Alcmaeonides, denounced Alcibiades and two others for holding a mock-ceremony in a private household.  The other two fled.  Lydus the slave denounced others, including Andocides' father.  Andocides does not give the list here, but says that some of these fled while his father stayed only because Andocides and others begged him.  A member of the Council apparently called for a trial in an irregular manner and was defeated.  Clearly, Andocides is accusing Lydus of being a liar; it is less clear what he thinks of the others, although he seems to imply that they were of declining accuracy.  He also reports that a body of initiates into the Mysteries were asked to determine who was most reliable in order to decide how to divide the reward money.  They ended up awarding 10,000 to Andromachus (the first informer) and 1,000 to Teucrus (the second).  Certainly by the time they reached Lydus' denunciation the moral panic was running out of hand, proper procedures had been forgotten, and hysteria reigned.

Things only got worse.  Perhaps the moral panic over the Mysteries may have begun to abate, but panic over the herms reigned full force.  Two democratic, or even demagogic politicians, Peisander and Charicles,*** insisted that there was a larger conspiracy afoot, responsible for mutilating the herms and plotting to overthrow the democracy.  Situations like these are made to order for scoundrels, and one named Diocleides came forward.  Diocleides said that he was out by the full moon to collect rent for one of his slaves he had rented to the mines when he saw a gathering of some 300 men and recognized many of their faces by moonlight.  When he learned of the mutilations the next day, he realized what they had been up to.  By Diocleides' own account, his immediate response was to blackmail the conspirators, demanding money and a place in their conspiracy.  (This implies a plot to overthrow the democracy, and that he was demanding to be included).  When they failed to pay, Diocleides went to the Council and gave then 42 names, including two members of the Council.  Peisander called for a suspension of the law banning torture of a citizen (under Athenian law, a citizen could not be tortured, a metic might or might not be, and a slave could not testify unless under torture).  When the rest of the Council endorsed the proposal, the two accused members took sanctuary and agreed to stand trial under the usual procedure.  They were allowed to leave if they provided hostages.  Once this was done, they promptly fled to the enemy and left their hostages to their fate.

The other accused were arrested, presumably to prevent any more defections, and the city placed under martial law.  The arrested included Andocides, his father, and many relatives, as well as Nicias' own brother.  Their womenfolk either joined them in prison or visited.  Andocides cousin Charmides apparently knew that he had inside information and persuaded him to come forward.  According to Andocides, the moving force behind the mutilation was his friend Euphiletus, on the list denounced by Teucrus.  According to Andocides, Euphiletus proposed the vandalism at a drinking party. Andocides talked him out of it for the time being, but later, when Andocides was out of action after he was thrown by his horse and had a broken collar bone and skull.  The others proceeded, thinking that he was also taking part.  According to Andocides, that was why the herm closest to his house was the only one spared.****  Andocides handed his slaves over for torture (recall that a slave could testify only under torture) to prove his alibi.  He came forward and confirmed the list provided by Teucrus and  added four others, all of whom were still at large but had reason to suspect they would come under suspicion soon.  All four promptly fled.

Andocides then gave his account to the Council and (he says) was corroborated by witnesses.  Diocleides admitted he had lied and said he was put up to it by two other men, a foreigner or metic named Amiantus one named Alcibiades and believed to be a cousin of the Alcibiades.  The two promptly fled, Diocleides was executed, the prisoners were released, and the moral panic ended.

With one exception.  There was still the matter of Alcibiades, who had by this time sailed and was engaged in the war in Sicily.  The Athenians sent their flag ship to recall Alcibiades home to stand trial.  It was always my understanding that he was recalled to face trial for the mutilation of the herms, which amounted to an invitation to an execution on false charges.  In fact, according to  Plutarch, the accusation was not of mutilating the herms, but of profaning the Mysteries.  The accusation appears to have been based on the testimony of the slave Andromachus, which initiates found to be credible, to contain a wealth of corroborating detail, and to have been made by Thessalus, son of Cimon, a conservative and highly respectable politician.  So while Alcibiades was certainly being invited home to an execution, it may at least have been on true charges.  In any event, he fled  and was sentenced to death in abstentia.  His flight proved disastrous to Athens because he did not escape to a neutral country, but to Sparta.

Next up: Some analysis.

*The same orator, incidentally, given as the purported author of the speech blaming Alcibiades for the massacre at Melos.  However, this speech is generally regarded as spurious.
**There does not appear to have been any bar to slaves being initiated.  The Mysteries appear to have been open to anyone, male or female, slave or free who spoke Greek and was not a murderer.  This particular slave just happened not to have been an initiate.  
***Keep an eye on these men.  We will be seeing them later.
****Presumably it was this omission that led Charmides to suspect that Andocides had inside knowledge, although Andocides also implies that his association with the men already denounced was fairly well-known.  

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