Athenian freedom

In an essay on sacred law in ancient Athens (The Cambridge Companion to Ancient Greek Law, 67), Robert Parker assesses the scope and limits of freedom of speech and religion.

He notes, “If one asks how tolerant of
unorthodox teachings (and cults) Athenian society
was in practice, the answer will fluctuate depending on how one judges
doubtful cases, but nothing would justify talk of systematic
repression. If one asks whether the Athenians recognized an ideal of freedom
of thought or of religious tolerance, the answer is unequivocally
no: no text suggests that they did, and the decree of Diopeithes (if
historical) and the successful charge against Socrates show them untroubled
by such ideals. Freedom of speech l’Athenienne meant the right
of the poor man to make his voice heard alongside
that of the rich, not a licence for impious talk.”

By the same token, private religious practices were allowed in Athens, but “if they came to be perceived as being socially undesirable,
the undesirable behavior they encouraged could be rolled up along with ‘innovation
in religion’ in a charge of impiety against their
leader.” This wasn’t merely theoretical: “We know of three such prosecutions in the fourth century, all brought
against women, two of which resulted in condemnation and execution.”

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