chapter  6
23 Pages

SACRED OLIVES AND OTHER CASES

The speaker is a landowner who has been charged with an offence in relation to the sacred olives. From the time of Solon the olive had enjoyed special protection in Attica and even in the fourth century there were limits on a landowner’s right to dispose of olive trees on his property. But there were still more stringent restrictions on the sacred olive trees. These were trees (called moriai) scattered about Attica, often on private land, which were believed to have been propagated from the sacred olive tree that Athene had planted on the Akropolis. The oil from the olives was used for the prizes for victors in the Panathenaic games. At this date, as our speech makes clear, the task of collecting the oil was farmed out. By the time of the composition of the Ath. Const. in the 320s (§60.2) the state charged a prorated levy in oil on the properties which contained one or more of these olives. The status of the olives meant not only that they could not be removed, even where they were awkwardly positioned, but also (as we learn from this speech) that there was a ban on working the land too close to them. The present case concerns a sekos, which literally means ‘enclosure’ and probably in this context denotes an enclosed stump of one of these olives. That these too should be protected makes sense, since olives have remarkable regenerative powers. Since the olives had a religious dimension, their protection was overseen by the Areiopagos, which also heard trials for offences against them. Aristotle Ath. Const. 60.2 tells us that at one point the penalty for destruction was death but adds that by the 320s trials had fallen into abeyance. The present case does not allow us to determine whether trials were more common earlier in the century or our speaker is the target of a rare prosecution. The speech seems however to envisage not death but exile as the penalty on conviction (§§2, 41; cf. also §§3, 25) and it seems that at some point by the end of the fifth century a change had been introduced which is not noted by Aristotle. The speech can be dated some time after the archonship of Souniades in 397/6 (§11) but how long is uncertain. There is a commentary on this speech in C. Carey, Lysias: Selected Speeches (Cambridge 1989) and a more substantial commentary with detailed introduction in S.C. Todd, A (Oxford 2007).