By Kellam Conover

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Are these not bribery, as well? Are they somehow qualitatively and meaningfully distinct from the above definition? One response might be to narrow our scope to include only ‘political’ bribery—so that pay-for-grades and athletic bribery are not included—and to differentiate between bribery and extortion, which might eliminate the last example given. In this way, we might arrive at a satisfactory set of actions, all firmly located within the public sphere (however that is defined), and all readily described as bribery.

First, bribery is never conducted in a social vacuum: there are always at least two participants linked by some kind of social tie, even 29 Conover Bribery in Classical Athens Chapter One if that tie is as bare as an arms-length bureaucrat-citizen relationship. Second, and this is precisely the phenomenon captured by defining bribery as a kind of “illicit payment” or “abuse,” bribery implies a violation of some norm. The crucial distinction between the standard view and my own is how these two components—social relations and norms— are combined with each other to create the category ‘bribery’.

22 Conover Introduction Bribery in Classical Athens decided never to give anyone dōra again (Dem. 137). While we might take Demosthenes’ words with a grain of salt, it is significant that an Athenian like Demosthenes viewed the law’s deterrent effect in terms of bribe-givers, not bribe-takers. At the very least, we should reconsider our assumption that the law was intended primarily to deter potential bribe-takers. e. what the law actually says—but in terms of the law in action. He recalls how Epicrates happily took dōra and went unpunished, and it was this purported legal result, rather than the law itself, that influenced his own decision.

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