An Intellectual History of Political Corruption by Bruce Buchan, Lisa Hill (auth.)

By Bruce Buchan, Lisa Hill (auth.)

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231 In other words, the law says one thing, custom another; but the law in practice gives way to custom most of the time. 232 In a similar vein, the moralistic Cicero, who usually busied himself with lecturing others on their moral failings, invokes time-honoured custom to justify the treating of ‘friends’ and tribal conspecifics with dinners and ‘spectacles’. 4. 235 The influence of Homer in constructing this fabric through gift-giving has been surmised by more than one scholar. 238 This is, after all, what gift-giving is all about, as Marcel Mauss argued in his now-seminal work on the subject.

204 Hypereides makes a similar point: ‘Whether someone took money you see, is not as grave an issue as whether he took it from an improper source’. 207 Hypereides insists that it is quite acceptable to enjoy some perks from public office and, further, that it is Conceptions of Political Corruption in Antiquity 37 understandable that the courts might turn a blind eye in such circumstances. 208 In this case, Hypereides is referring to a case of embezzlement from the state involving vast sums in which the accused [Demosthenes and Demades] have, by their actions, ‘threatened the very body politic’.

It is also worth bearing in mind that many decuriae were former slaves, and it was common practice for slaves to ask for and receive tips from anyone who entered the house of the master, from tradesmen through to his rich friends. 225 In fact, tipping was carried on in all respectable Roman homes as well as in public, ensuring that the line between generosity and bribery was continually blurred. 3. Bribes or gifts? Despite all the legal strictures and high-minded moralising about bribery, the distinction between a gift and a bribe seems to have been very unstable in the classical period.

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