Friday, August 21, 2009

Taking an Oath

Citizens born in the United States are not required to take an oath of allegiance.We are citizens and that's it. Our loyalty is unquestioned and assumed,a gift of the place of our birth on United States soil.

How different for ancient Athenians who wanted to become citizens, andcitizenship was open only to males above the age of 18. But all whowanted to be citizens had to swear the oath even though they were bornin Athens. Being born in Athens did not matter. You were not a citizenuntil you said the words of the oath. They swore the oath before all inthe theatre, and received in front of all their sacred arms for defenseof the nation. Here is the text of the oath:

"I will never bring reproach upon my hallowed arms nor will I desert thecomrade at whose side I stand, but I will defend our altars and ourhearths, single-handed or supported by many. My native land I will notleave a diminished heritage but greater and better than when I receivedit. I will obey whoever is in authority and submit to the establishedlaws and all others which the people shall harmoniously enact. If anyonetries to overthrow the constitution and disobeys it, I will not permithim, but will come to its defense single-handed or with the support ofall. I will honor the religion of my fathers. Let the gods be mywitness."

The oath then goes on to list several gods as witnesses to the words ofthe oath, in particular the father of the gods, Zeus himself.To the ancient Athenian this oath was a civil and military oath. Theoath-taker promises to fight for home and country. I particularly likethe part about leaving the country better off than you found it. Perhapswe should require an economic oath for US citizens in trying to balanceour overwhelming debt. The Athenian oath binds the citizen to supportthe national institutions of the country and take up military duties ifnecessary. The gods witnessed the oath taking along with the citizen'spromise to honor the gods.

I like the part about fighting anyone who tries to overthrow theconstitution. And in my humble view, this oath is not too different forthose who signed our Declaration of Independence, might we say, the oathof Thomas Jefferson:"We mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and oursacred honor." I thought you might enjoy this reflection on oaths andcitizenship.

I have made of copy of the classical Greek version of the Athenian oath.If anyone would like a copy, just let me know.

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