I recently read an Athenian court speech traditionally attributed to Antiphon (second half of the 5th Century B.C.). In the Loeb translation, it’s called “Prosecution of the Stepmother for Poisoning.” I won’t bother you with the details of the case. Basically, the stepson who is bringing the action against his stepmother has a pretty flimsy case resting on a few sketchy circumstantial details. This forces him back on appeals to probability. And so the speaker returns several times to what he clearly considers the most damning detail: the refusal of the stepmother to simply allow her slaves, who would be in a position to know the truth, to be questioned under torture. Since it’s obvious this would yield the truth, and it’s obviously no trouble to the stepmother, he clearly feels that the refusal to do so is tantamount to an admission of guilt.
But, commenter DC will surely ask, what does this have to do with the Bush administration? Not much, except that I was naturally led to reflect on whether, allowing for different attitudes towards slaves, the Bush administration and its defenders had yet taken this particular line with anyone. Answer: Not yet, as far as I know, but since the Bush administration’s attitude to a slippery slope always seems to be to slap on skis, I wonder if it’s only a matter of time.
(Find other fun cases here.)