Women in a man's world

Death of a seducer

A man who has killed his wife's seducer describes their domestic arrangements

"Athenians, when I decided to marry, and brought a wife to my house, for a while I was inclined not to bother her, but neither was she to be too free to do as she wished. I watched her as much as was possible, and took my duty as a husband seriously. But when my son was born, I began to trust her, and put all my possessions in her hands, presuming that this was the greatest proof of intimacy.

Veiled woman in the Metropolitan MuseumIn the the beginning, Athenians, she was the best of all wives. She was clever, economical, and kept everything neat in the house. But then my mother died; and her death was the cause of all my troubles. For when my wife attended her funeral, she was seen by this man, and, as time passed, he seduced her. He looked out for our slave who goes to market and, making propositions, he corrupted her.

Now first, gentlemen, I must tell you that I have a small two-storey house, with the women's quarters upstairs, the men's downstairs, each having equal space.

When our son was born, his mother nursed him; but in order that she might avoid the risk of climbing downstairs each time she had to clean the baby, I used to live upstairs and the women below. And so it became quite customary for my wife to go downstairs often and sleep with the chiId, so that she could give him the breast and keep him from crying.

This was the situation for a long time, and I never became suspicious, but I was so simple-minded that I believed my own was the chastest wife in the city. Time passed, gentlemen; I came home unexpectedly from the country and after dinner my son began crying and fretting. Actually, the slave was annoying him on purpose to make him do this, for the man was in the house - as I found out later.  

I told my wife to go and give the baby the breast, to stop his crying. At first she refused, as though glad to see me home again after my long absence. Then I became angry and told her to go.

"Oh, yes," she said, "so that you can have a try at the littIe slave girl here. You dragged her about before, when you were drunk!"

I laughed. She got up, went out of the room, closed the door, pretending it was a joke, and turned the key in the lock. I, thinking nothing about it, nor having the slightest suspicion, was glad to go to sleep after my journey from the country.

Toward dawn she returned and unlocked the door. I asked her why the doors had been creaking during the night. She said that the lamp beside the baby had gone out and she had gone to get a light at the neighbour's. I was silent, and thought it really was so. But it did seem to me, gentlemen, that she had put make-up on her face, despite her brother's death less than thirty days before. Even so, I said nothing about what she did. I just left, without a word.

What happened later ...

And after this four or five days went by ... as I shall demonstrate to you with important evidence. First I want to go through what happened on the final night. Sostratus was a a relative of mine and a friend. I met him as he was coming from the country after sunset. Knowing that he would not find anything at home, having arrived so late, I asked him to have supper with me. And having gone back home to my place, we went up to the upper room, and started to have dinner.

When it was all right with him, he went off home, and I went to sleep. But Eratosthenes, gentlemen, arrives, and the girl wakes me up immediately and tells me that he is inside. And I, telling her to mind the door, came downstairs quietly and went out, and went round to one friend and another, and some I didn't even find at home, others not even in town.

I walked on, rounding up as many as possible from those who were in. Taking torches from the nearest tavern we went in, the door having been opened and seen to by the girl. Pushing open the door of the bedroom, the first of us who entered saw him still lying next to my wife, those who came behind saw him standing up naked on the bed.

And I, gentlemen, hit him and knocked him down. I pinioned his hands behind his back and tied him up, and asked him why he had come into my house and committed a crime. And he admitted he was in the wrong, but started begging and beseeching me not to kill him, but make some money for myself.

I said: "It is not I that shall kill you, but the law of the city, which you broke, and considered less important than your pleasures, when you chose to commit such a crime against my wife and my children rather than obey the laws and be a decent citizen."

Thus, gentlemen, that man received what the laws prescribe for those who do such deeds. He was not dragged off the street, nor had he taken refuge at the hearth, as these people allege. For how could he - seeing he was a man who had been hit and knocked down on the spot in the bedroom, and I had him in an arm-lock, and there were so many people inside, whom he couldn't have got a way from, and he had no sword or club or anything else to defend himself with? (28) But, gentlemen I believe that you also know that those who do not do what is right do not admit that their enemies are telling the truth, but lying themsleves and creating distractions of this kind produce anger for those who listen to the ones acting justly. First read me the law.

From a speech written by LYSIAS (Lysias 1, Against Eratosthenes) for the man, Euphiletus, to use in his defence. He refers to an Athenian law which compelled citzens to kill a man caught committing adultery. The state did not concern itself with the punishment of the woman.