Last week the Lawyers Group of the charity Classics for All held its fifth moot (cf. ‘meet’) in the Supreme Court, under the stern gaze of Lady Arden. Previous moots have tried Socrates, Brutus and Cassius, Antigone, and Verres, corrupt governor of Sicily.
The Romans put such moots at the heart of their education. The purpose was to teach men how to win the political — and, even more, legal —battles necessary to climb the greasy pole to power. Pupils would be asked to make the best case they could for or against the sides involved in historical or mythical situations (suasoriae, e.g. ‘did Orestes legally kill his mother?’, ‘Should the Romans have destroyed Carthage?’) and invented ones (controversiae).
In the Supreme Court this time, Lysistrata, the heroine of Aristophanes’ comedy (411 bc), was under the spotlight. She ended the lengthy war between Athens and Sparta by persuading the women on both sides into a sex-strike. Lysistrata’s husband was petitioning for divorce on the grounds of her unreasonable behaviour.
Hannah Markham QC and Hannah Jones for the husband argued that Lysistrata’s actions did nothing but create an army of men so stricken with erectile hyperfunction that they were incapable of fighting. She had made her husband a laughing-stock, the sort of humiliation that Baroness Hale had described elsewhere as ‘destructive… of trust and confidence in a marriage’. Damian Garrido QC for Lysistrata argued it was disgraceful for the husband to appeal to English law on the matter, which was just a way of escaping the fact that under Athenian law, if he divorced her, he would have to pay back her gigantic dowry. As for the sex-strike itself, it was a way of restoring conjugal relations at a time when men were mostly away fighting. A little local rigidity was nothing compared with everyone living happily ever after.
The assembled classicists wisely found for Lysistrata and, with much play on erections and elections, speculated whether a sex-strike could solve Brexit and how the ERG ‘Spartans’ would react if their wives were to imitate Lysistrata.
Next year: Boadicea — freedom fighter or terrorist?