by attorney at law Thomas Wehrli

Other countries, other court proceedings

Phryne was one of the most famous courtesans of ancient Greece, known for her breathtaking beauty and charm. One day she was brought before the Areopagus, the highest court in Athens, and accused of shameless behaviour in the Lyceum and the introduction of a new deity. The situation seemed bleak. Whether Phryne’s lawyer, the skilful Hyperides, had the ingenious plan of revealing Phryne’s beauty to the judges by dropping her cloak, or whether it was Phryne’s idea to tear her clothes and throw herself to the ground with her naked breasts in front of the judges, as her beauty was more convincing than her defence lawyer’s speech, remains to be seen. In any case, the judges were so overwhelmed by her grace that they acquitted her, allowing Phryne to escape the threat of judgement.

This event became a legend about the power of beauty and the art of defence. Her story is a reminder that sometimes unconventional means and a pinch of charm can work wonders, even before the strictest of judges. There is also no denying that the trial was probably much more entertaining. Nevertheless, Phryne’s approach was probably the reason why a decree was drawn up after the acquittal that no judgement should be passed while the defendant(s) were present, so that no speaker would endeavour to arouse pity.

Image source: Jean-Léon Gérôme: ‘Phryne before the Areopagus’ (1861); Hamburger Kunsthalle