how common an event nose-biting was in ancient Babylon.rnHammurabi took justice and punishment away from individualsrnand put it in the hands of the state, via its judges. It mustrnhave seemed a good idea at the time, but at the movies, I alwaysrncheered for Dirty Harry and Charles Bronson. Given the inabilityrnof the police to cope—it’s not their fault—there is a casernto be made for vigilante justice. But this can go wrong. Arnglance at Europe’s most primitive country, Albania, is instructive.rnThere, albeit curbed under the savage communist rule ofrnEnver Hoxha, vendetta and revenge are largely in private hands,rnthough subject to an elaborate set of rules laid out in the centuries-rnold Great Kanon: intent to avenge a family wrong mustrnbe registered with the authorities; only certain family membersrnmay qualify as the avenger; the hunted is given so many daysrnstart; if he takes refuge in a tower of sanctuary, he is safe whilernthere—some fugitives have been holed up for years. Talk aboutrnvengeance being a dish best taken cold! Recently, a man wasrnbeheaded with an axe in the lobby of Tirana’s best hotel as culminationrnof one such familv feud—his killer had been searchingrnfor him for 40 years.rnI doubt we want this particular Balkan brew. But other entrepreneurialrnaspects of justice might be considered, such as thernprivatized prison, which has made some headway in Americarnand Britain, in the latter thanks to Margaret Thatcher. Unlikernmost modern heads of Western states, Thatcher always votedrnto restore capital punishment. She defends it in characteristicallyrncrisp terms in the second volume of her memoirs. The Pathrnto Power: “The state has not just a right but a duty to deter andrnpunish violent crime and to protect the law-abiding public. . . .rnDespite all the uncertainties and complexities, the potentialrnvictim of the murderer deserves that highest protection whichrnonly the existence of the death penalty gives.”rnGreece and Rome are widely regarded as the cradle ofrnWestern civilization. Most of what we know as Greek historyrnis, in fact, Athenian history, since there was no such thingrnas a united Greece until the Romans imposed it, and no unityrnafter Rome until the 19th century. The first law code in Athensrnwas the work of a certain Draco. Most crimes carried the deathrnpenalty, a state of affairs prefiguring later times in some otherrncountries. The Stoics in Greece and Rome would cognately arguernthat all sins are equal, and their beliefs formed the mainstreamrnschool of philosophy for centuries.rnThen came Solon, who repealed Draco’s laws, which peoplernhad said were written in blood. When asked why he had attachedrnthe death penalty to neariy all crimes, Draco is supposedrnto have said that the lesser ones deserved it, hence for thernmajor ones there was nothing else. Solon disagreed, but retainedrncapital punishment for homicide. More to the point, tornprotect the weak, he gave every citizen the privilege of going tornlaw on behalf of anyone whose rights had been infringed, summingrnup his purpose in these words: “The city where those whornhave not been wronged show themselves just as ready to punishrnthe offender as those who have been is the best governed.”rnThis brings us back to the notion of who should punish: thernstate or the individual? We should recall that neither Greecernnor Rome had anything resembling the modern District Attorneyrnor Public Prosecutor.rnThis is the moment when an opponent of the present argumentrnis most likely to bring up the case of Socrates, executed inrn399 B.C. at the age of 70 on two unlikely-sounding charges: notrnbelieving in the gods of Athens and corrupting the youth. If thernfirst indictment is problematical, the other charge is sustainable.rnSocrates was tried four years after the defeat of Athens byrnSparta in the 27-year-long civil war. Her maritime empire wasrnlost, and for eight bloody months Athens was tyrannized by arn30-man junta, ruling with Spartan militar’ support. This wasrnoverthrown, and it was the restored democracy that putrnSocrates to death. Now, two of his most notorious pupils werernthe gilded youth Alcibiades, an Athenian John F. Kennedy ofrnsorts, who had at various times plotted against the democracyrnand gone over to the enemy Sparta; and Critias, who becamernleader of the aforementioned junta. As we would say, Socratesrnwas tried, convicted, and sentenced by a jury of his peers, notrn12 good men and true, but 501. With bitter war memories andrnemotions still high, one can understand if not excuse the verdict.rnIs his condemnation any more bizarre than some of thernNuremberg ones in 1946? How ever did the judges let AlbertrnSpeer escape the gallows while such purely military men as AdmiralrnJodl did not? Also, albeit one of the most odious defendantsrn(it was said that even I litler found his anti-Semitic newspaperrnDer Sturmer distasteful), Julius Streicher was no worsernthan a propagandist.rnIn his Seventh Letter, Plato denounced the execution ofrnSocrates as the one great crime of the democracy. It is understandablernthat this pupil of Socrates should deplore his oldrnteacher’s death—I wonder if my own students would take arnsimilar view? But it did not deflect the mature Plato from favoringrnthe death penalty and other condign punishments. Inrnhis RepubUc, he goes on about flogging, eye-gouging, and crucifixion,rnwhile in his last and most totalitarian manifesto. ThernLaws, he prescribes death for those who do not believe in therngods of his proposed state, which was one of the very things thatrnbrought Socrates down.rnSocrates is often thought of, somewhat romantically, as thernpagan Christ, a comparison encouraged by the early Church.rnBoth were artisans by pedigree and training, respectively sculptorrnand carpenter. Both were eloquent on a soapbox, good atrndebate, riposte, and asking awkward questions in public. Neitherrnpublished anything—they would have been denied tenurernin a modern university—and their ideas are chiefly knownrnthrough the versions of their students, not a form of literary immortalityrnI would choose for myself. Both were put to death byrnthe state, the Athenian democracy and the Roman Empire.rnGod, it would appear, was in favor of capital punishment, notrnto mention cruel and unusual forms. Why else would He arrangernit that His Son be flogged almost to death, then crucified?rnrhe Gospel writers spend no time denouncing the principlernof execution: what was wrong was that Christ had beenrnchosen for death rather than Barabbas, who “lay amongst themrnfor insurrection,” meaning he was an anti-Roman guerrilla, asrnthe two thieves on the cross may have been. What Christrnthought of these matters is not clear. His most memorable utterancesrnnot always being consonant with each other. Doesrn”thou shalt not kill” include capital punishment? What aboutrn”Render unto Caesar… “?rnWe may add in the case of God that Hell and its tormentsrnqualify as cruel and unusual punishments, a notion popularrnthrough Christian history from Roman and medieval times viarnHieronymus Bosch to Sunday morning television evangelists. Arnrather nice cop-out was once provided by the Catholic priest inrnthat popular British sitcom Bless Me, Father: “Impossible tornthink that Hell does not exist, impossible to think that there isrnanyone there.” Back on earth, we should stress that had ChristrnAUGUST 1997/23rnrnrn