31 March 2022

The origins of the advocacy - The trial of Phryne

It is often said that prostitution is the oldest profession, but it turns out that the first references are to advocacy. In this article we will not only see a historical event, but also one of the possible origins of the legal profession.

Phryné was famous in Ancient Greece for her beauty, she came from a humble family that fled to Athens when the Thebans destroyed her city. Later she would become rich and finance the reconstruction of the walls where they inscribed the words "Destroyed by Alexander, restored by Phryné the courtesan". Although her real name was Μνησαρέτη (commemorating virtue), she was nicknamed Φρύνη (toad) in reference to her olive skin. In the polis she met the most renowned sculptor Praxiteles, whose lover and model-muse she became, for example the Aphrodite of Cnidus who was the first female nude in Greece. She also inspired painters such as Apelles who was inspired by Phryné with her hair down going naked into the sea at a party. And the writer (rhetorician) Ateneo, thanks to whom all the anecdotes of her have reached us.

The beautiful Phryné was accused of immorality or impiety, depending on the source, and her trial ended up being the most well-known event of her life. For this very reason Socrates was sentenced to death, Phryné on her part was luckier and saved from the sentence… thanks to her beauty or a good lawyer. An anonymous treatise more specifically summarizes her accusations: that she had a "shameless komos" (meaning sense of humor), that she introduced a new god, and that she organized illegal thiasoi (an entourage made up pre-eminently of maenads, female companions, and orgy participants starring Dionysus).

Euthias, one of her former lovers, was the one who presented the case, as he had a dispute with Hyperides, Phryne's new lover and one of the ten most talented Attic orators, over a disagreement on a decree. Hyperides thus became Phryne's defense attorney, and perhaps the first of the profession on record.

In Greek democracy, the areopagus (popular justice) was made up of a large number of citizens who changed randomly, and both parties had to tell their version without the intervention of a third party, lawyers were prohibited because their oratory could seduce the judges, although Solon's law only applied to men to defend themselves, and apparently not applicable to women.

Hyperides gave the best speech of his life in defense of Phryné, his intervention was moving, however, the jury did not acquit the woman until her lawyer used the last of his ideas; he undressed her clothes exposing her body. The beauty of Phryné was such, an Aphrodite, that the jury was enthralled and considered that something so divine could not be sentenced to death, so Phryné and Hyperides won the trial against Eutias, who did not speak in public again.

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