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H. Meyer-Laurin has claimed that the Athenian courts took a stricti iuris approach to the law and did not take extenuating circumstances into account. Other scholars (Mirhady, Todd) have claimed that the courts sometimes ignored the law and took extra-legal considerations into account, which was called ‘fairness’ (epieikeia). The essay begins with a careful reading of Aristotle's analysis of ‘fairness’ (epieikeia) in the Nicomachean Ethics and the Rhetoric and draws on an important essay by J. Brunschwig. Fairness was not a doctrine that attempted to undermine the authority of the law or placed the law of the city in opposition to the unwritten laws or the common law of mankind. Nor did the application of fairness introduce non-legal factors into adjudication. Rather, fairness dealt with the problem of treating exceptions to the general rule contained in a specific written law. The essay then shows how litigants used arguments based on fairness and how the courts sometimes took extenuating circumstances into account. When Athenian judges swore to decide according to the laws of Athens, they did not just consider the law under which the accuser had brought his case. They could also take into account general principles of justice implicit in the laws of Athens as a whole. In this way, they avoided a rigid positivist approach to law. Finally, the essay sheds some light on the relationship between Aristotle's Rhetoric and the arguments used in the Athenian courts.