Areopagus

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Areopagus

Areopagus, name of both a low, rocky hill west of the Acropolis in Athens and of an ancient court that convened on the hill. The court, consisting of a council of nobles, met in the open; the accuser and accused stood on platforms cut from the rock.

The Areopagus could call any government

The Areopagus could call any government official to testify, and, because decisions of the court were final, its indirect power over the state is thought to have been considerable. Under the Athenian lawgiver Draco (flourished 650-621 bc), the Areopagus heard cases of murder. Another Athenian lawgiver, Solon, initiated a constitution in the 6th century bc that empowered the court to try officials and private citizens for moral offenses and acts contrary to the well-being of the community. Under Solon, however, the Areopagus could no longer take a direct part in administration and legislation. Despite this curtailment of its authority, the court remained the most venerated legal body in Athens and retained its prestige after the city was conquered by Rome in the 2nd century bc.

In Greek mythology

In Greek mythology, the Areopagus acquitted Orestes of blood guilt in the murder of his mother Clytemnestra. At this trial Athena, the goddess of wisdom, supposedly presided. The Areopagus is important in the history of Christianity as the place where St. Paul preached his sermon to the Athenians (see Acts 17:19 ff.).

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