Ancient and modern

Boris Johnson may have found an advocate in ancient Greece

8 June 2019

9:00 AM

8 June 2019

9:00 AM

Boris Johnson is to be tried at the Crown Court on the grounds that, during the 2016 Brexit referendum campaign, he crucially affected the referendum result by arguing that the UK paid the EU £350 million a week, ignoring another interpretation that the sum was only £250 million a week. Ancient Greeks knew all about advocating one side of an issue, as a law suit exemplifies.

Euphiletus was the defendant in a homicide case brought against him by the relatives of one Eratosthenes. The relatives claimed that Euphiletus had murdered Eratosthenes after luring, or even forcing, him into his house as part of a premeditated plan. But Euphiletus’s defence (we do not possess the prosecution’s case) was that Eratosthenes had been seducing his wife. He had been able to do this because his wife had been sleeping downstairs in order to look after their child, leaving Euphiletus innocently asleep upstairs. This allowed Eratosthenes easy overnight access to her. The truth came out when Euphiletus was tipped off about what was happening by another of Eratosthenes’ squeezes, details of which were confirmed by his own slave-girl. Gathering local witnesses by night, Euphiletus ‘pushed open the bedroom door to find him lying beside my wife, then leaping up naked’. He tied him up and accused him of seduction. Eratosthenes begged for his life, offering a financial settlement. Euphiletus, quoting a 200-year-old law of Draco’s, killed him.


And that was the nub: there were other more recent laws relating to such cases, of which compensation was easily the most common. We can assume that the opposition quoted them, to make clear how unprecedented Euphiletus’s action was. But it was up to the opposition to make that point: Euphiletus did not have to.

And so to Boris: he claimed we paid £350 million a week to the EU and stuck to it, feeling no obligation to quote any other figure. But the riposte came that the real payment to the EU was £250 million. So both interpretations were out in the open, and the ball was in the voters’ court. Who is to say whether the £100 million difference had any effect on the referendum?

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10


Show comments
Close