Happy Reformation Day, and welcome to all my word nerd friends. Last week I did a Top Ten Tuesday post focusing on villains, which mentioned “the Draconian Mr. Murdstone”—David Copperfield’s step-father. And that lead to the inevitable question: where did the word Draconian come from?
The word is used to describe someone or something that is cruel or harsh, and it turns out there’s a reason why it’s often used specifically in relation to law and punishment. Draco (sometimes written as Dracon) was the first recorded legislator of Athens during the 7th Century BC, and—you guessed it! He became known for his particularly harsh laws.
Up until his appointment, the Athenian legal system relied on oral law and blood feud to exact justice. I’m sure you can imagine what that looked like! So the Athenian people elected Draco to be their law-giver—and probably rued their choice ever after. He made liberal use of the death penalty, even for minor offenses such as stealing a cabbage. The Greek biographer Plutarch wrote:
“It is said that Drakon himself, when asked why he had fixed the punishment of death for most offences, answered that he considered these lesser crimes to deserve it, and he had no greater punishment for more important ones”.
I sure hope he wasn’t a parent . . .
Not surprisingly, he was eventually driven out of Athens, but I get the feeling he would be particularly gratified by the knowledge that his name has lived on for more than two and a half millennia.
It’s not what I’d want to be remembered for, but to each his own!