A meditation on the fifth Delphic Law


Be overcome by justice (Ηττω υπο δικαιου)
“Hetto” comes from the verb hessaomai/hettaomai, which means only “to be vanquished, to be overcome” with all their possible nuances; it is frequent to meet this verb in unfavorable contexts, such as “vanquished by tôn edonôn, machen, tôn phobon, tôn chrematon etc- by pleasures, in battle, by fears, by riches etc.). However, it can be found also in favorable contexts (mostly in conjunction with Truth and Justice, Aletheia and Dike), such as “hetteìs toŷ dikaioy”, vanquished by justice, “tò mè dikaion tês dikes hessomenon”, the injustice vanquished by justice. “Dikaiou” has in itself the Idea of divine Dike, Justice, one of the Horai, daughter of Themis and Zeus, about whom Plato so perfectly says: “With Zeus follows Dike, as avenger of them that fall short of the divine law; and She, again, is followed by every man who would fain be happy, cleaving to her with lowly and orderly behavior.” So, each man must be proud to be vanquished by such a Goddess who sits at the side of the throne of mighty Zeus and “whenever anyone hurts Her with lying slander, She sits beside Her father, Zeus the son of Kronos, and tells Him of men’s wicked heart” because She’s the one who write the offences of men on the “tablet of Zeus” and, at the same time, is She who rewards the life of Justice for the just men. To accomplish Justice, to be righteous is the pure and disinterested observance of one’s own duties toward Gods and men.

‘Dike’ can also be translated as ‘balance,’ ‘order,’ ‘right,’ and ‘appropriate way’ (of something or someone). dike is the order of the universe, and this seems to me to be a fine way to sum things up. Dike, the goddess, enforces dike, enforces the overall balance of the universe as well as the balance within societies (which is ideally, or in principle, a function of the order of the universe). For example, the goddess Dike regulates the seasons and the cycles of life, so that cold periods are balanced by warm ones (in a specific order, winter-spring-summer-fall), wet periods are balanced by dry ones, birth and growth are balanced by death and decay that feed new birth and growth (plants and animals go through the stages of their lives in a specific order), a given star is in the same position in the sky tonight as it was exactly one year ago tonight, the lengths of the days and nights changes in a regular cycle, and so on.

The balance and order thus achieved was called dike. Notice that this means that there is a right time for everything (summer comes after spring and before fall, animals cannot breed at birth or in old age, each crop must be planted at a certain time and no other in order to achieve its potential for growth and fruit).

There is also a right way, or perhaps a range of right ways, for each thing to function; a right amount of nourishment and sunlight for each living thing to be able to survive and flourish; a right balance in diet in order to achieve health; a right way to balance the needs of one’s livestock with the needs of the plants one cultivates; etc. Failure to observe these “right measures,” or failure to enforce them, goes against the principle or standard that Dike puts in place, and in fact results in illness, early death, failure to thrive, soil stripped of nutrients, etc.

Now, Dike is also the enforcer of social or human justice, balance, and order. Cities whose laws failed to manifest dike, or cities where lawbreaking and other unfair or unjust behavior (whatever that would be) was allowed to go on would end in disaster, so the experience teaches. Homer (Iliad 16.388) suggests that the god Zeus will punish cities that allow lawbreaking (the breaking of laws He set down or approved of) to go on. But other writers suggest a connection between injustice and disaster… that is much easier for humans to verify.


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