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Lysias 1: The Murder of Eratosthenes.

Updated on February 17, 2013

kinda looks like my hubby.

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This is a story of the trial of Euphiletos who is accused of killing his wife’s lover immediately after being caught in the act of adultery. Because he committed this murder in front of witnesses, Euphiletos must prove that he did so not out of premeditation but out of legal recourse. To accomplish this proof, Euphiletos must provide his jury with an accounting of his life prior to the murder as well as the murder itself. He does this by outlining in his speech the way of life of an ordinary man. While Euphiletos obviously utilizes the art of rhetoric in his speech, the rhetoric nonetheless provides the reader with the history of the Athenian people, their lives and their law. This is introduced in the first and second paragraphs by his indication of his connection to his jury, the ordinary people of Athens.

It is interesting that the one who is blamed for the adultery is not Euphiletos’ wife, rather the seducer Eratosthenes. It is as if the wife was too weak to resist, therefore, it wasn’t really her fault that she would fall victim to Eratosthenes. Understandably, this may be because it had already come to the attention of Euphiletos that Eratosthenes was a seducer of many women, not just simply a man who was in love with another man’s wife. In that respect, it would make sense that the wife would really be treated as one not at fault. Of course, there is also the psychological aspect of a man who loves his wife so much that anything she does wrong cannot possibly be her fault, but the fault of someone else, i.e., the lover’s seduction. However, there are some keys in the speech to Euphiletos’ attitude towards his wife.

The first key is in paragraph 4 where Euphiletos states that “Eratosthenes seduced my wife and corrupted her, that he brought shame on my children and insulted me by entering my house and there was no cause for enmity between him and me apart from this…” The beginning of Euphiletos’ argument is based on his own personal injury, not the injury of the wife. This is evidenced in repeated word “my”. While this could fit into the rhetorical realm, it really is about property issues. In Athens, unlike many other parts of Greece, such as Sparta, women were placed into three categories, slave, prostitute and citizen. In this case, the wife was citizen. The wife was raised protected and sheltered under the father, brother or husband. There is some controversy today on whether the wife would have actually been subservient to the husband or if she was protected and therefore revered because of religious rites and purposes since the Athenians worshipped powerful goddesses. However, the Athenian women, wives included, had little rights. They had no property rights and the only ones afforded education were the prostitutes, seemingly to be able to entertain the men. While the word “my” may be rhetorical for emphasis on why he would commit murder, it is likely that he considered his wife belonging to him just as his children did, and just as his house and property.

In paragraph 6, Euphiletos states that he brought his wife into his house but did not impose on her by giving her too much freedom to do what she wanted. This would indicate that he felt that by giving her too much freedom, she would not be wise in her decision-making. This would make sense being sheltered and protected before marriage. Also, not having a child at that point, still made her a young wife who might be desirable to other men. I was not able to ascertain a woman’s legal rights in the marriage prior to having children, but it seems likely given typical cultures that having a child secured the marriage. Therefore, perhaps it’s possible that before a child was born, there was some ability for a woman to go back to the household of her father if her marriage did not work out. The other side of the coin is the inheritance rights. Protection prior to a child would secure the inheritance of the male child by insuring the blood line. Euphiletos also states that he believed the best arrangement for a household was to have the wife have full responsibility of it. He did not feel comfortable giving her that full responsibility until his son was born. This could be an indication that she has matured from a young frivolous bride into a woman. Theoretically, being a mother would make her less desirable than being a maiden (which is not based on marital status) and therefore, she is safe from indiscretion. That is, unless there is a rogue seducer. In paragraph 7, it is obvious that in every other way, the wife was a good wife. Of course, the time Euphiletos does let his wife out for the funeral of his mother, she is seen by the seducer. In essence, everything that Euphiletos believed to be true has just ended.

The fact that before his son was born, Euphiletos’ wife lived in women’s quarters upstairs suggests that there was a protection ideology. This was not based on protection of the woman from fire or invasion. That is obvious because there would be no chance for escape. It’s for the protection of her virtue. The way this speech is written in paragraph 9 would suggest that this was either common practice or his is just a very good husband. Once the baby was born, her virtue was no longer in need of protection because she was now a mother. But Euphiletos does not state this. It may be because it is common practice or he again, may just simply be showing his concern for her and the son’s welfare. However, since it leads to his foolish belief that she was a most proper woman in the city, this would indicate to me that it was expected that she would be downstairs after the baby was born. He was just simply tricked.

The fact that the wife was so quick to accuse Euphiletos of wanting the young slave woman shows that improprieties of men, at least if done within the household, were unacceptable. However, it is also a burning barn move used by guilty people. Interestingly, there is also the scorned woman who was having an affair with Eratosthenes. She was angry because he no longer visited her. This is unjustifiable anger since her relationship with him was based on improprieties as well. Both of these examples do not indicate a cultural issue, but rather a human nature issue in the depths of the heart. They are irrational emotions based on wrongs that cross all cultural borders. They are the part of the core of the heart that cannot be tamed by culture.

It is interesting that Euphiletos could not put two and two together when he saw the signs of infidelity in his wife. This could be from blind emotion towards his wife and not believing she could anything wrong like adultery, but I think it is perhaps because she crossed the line in a time of her life when she was not expected to, in her mother stage of life. Contrasting this dependency on his wife’s cultural obligation is his ability to threaten his slave with beating and endless torture to confess the truth. Once the slave told him what had happened, it was the proof, even if confessed under duress.

Taking witnesses with him to catch the seducer with his wife is interesting to me. Besides the premeditated factors or the unusual fact that he had time to do all of this before Eratosthenes left his home, it is obvious that the pride factor of the wronged husband is not present. Most husbands in this situation would be too prideful to admit that his wife had betrayed him, much less show them the betrayal firsthand. That pride is usually determined by actual love for the person. This would indicate again that the relationship was not based on love but by arrangement. The fact that the wife did not keep the arrangement would not be a reflection on his or her love for each other but on an unemotional arrangement not being met by one party. Euphiletos throughout his speech does not indicate that he is heartbroken because of the betrayal, but that an arrangement had been broken by his wife by a man who deliberately set out to destroy everything Euphiletos had. Euphiletos indicates several times that he did nothing to provoke this seducer into taking what belonged to him. However, once Euphiletos has struck Eratosthenes, tying him up and questioning him, he is offered financial recourse by Eratosthenes. The damage to his wife and children is irreparable in Euphiletos’ eyes and there is no price to place on that damage. The wife was not just seduced; she was seduced in the home. This again leads to the conclusion that in Athens, this was more damaging than if done outside the home. As stated above, it is irrational in some respects because there is the thought that adultery is adultery. But it is justified that adultery in the haven of your home is worse than adultery outside of it because it violates the whole being of the other spouse, especially the man who owns the property. It seems in this case to be that Eratosthenes not only took Euphiletos’ wife but also his children, slave, home, land and livelihood. The offence to the wife and children that Euphiletos mentions in paragraph 26 is not because of the infidelity but because it has taken the protection of the wife and children away from them by invasion of the home. Perhaps if done outside the home, financial compensation would have sufficed. It was a legal alternative. Euphiletos’ argument of this shows that Athenians would understand the difference and sees the reason why there are two alternatives of justice, financial compensation and death. The fact that Euphiletos brought witnesses to acknowledge the adultery in the home may show that it is more serious than adultery committed outside the home. This did not just happen once, but repeatedly. Euphiletos is suggesting that there was a deliberate attempt to destroy everything that belonged to him. It was an invasion of the home, not unlike a foreign enemy invading a city. Euphiletos’ reference to city law would imply that seriousness of this. It is different than simple adultery.

In paragraph 27, Euphiletos makes the argument first, that Eratosthenes was not snatched from the streets. He was in Euphiletos’ home and this would indicate the punishment of death fit the crime. Second, he states that Eratosthenes did not seek protection of the hearth of the home. By stating this, he is not only counteracting the prosecution’s claim of premeditation, he is suggesting that had Eratosthenes sought that protection, Euphiletos would have honored the cultural protection, rather acceptable to him or not. This would indicate not only Euphiletos’ strong reliance on Athenian culture but everyone’s strong reliance on it.

Finally, while the actual law regarding these matters is not written in the story, it shows that there are the same penalties for mistresses, who are worth less than wives. But he is obviously placing the life of a woman, mistress or wife, at the same importance. He goes on to explain that there are cases where the death penalty is appropriate in the raping of a woman. What those cases are, Euphiletos does not state but it is obvious that there are more severe cases. I think Euphiletos is trying to show that adultery in the home is more serious than outside of it. Besides the obvious things like the fatherhood of the children, he states that seducers “make the whole house theirs”, (paragraph 33). This is more serious than just corrupting the soul of their victims and making other men’s wives more intimate with the seducer than the husband, both of which may be able to be righted with financial compensation. Eratosthenes deserved death because he made Euphiletos’ whole house his own.

Whether this was strictly an Athenian cultural issue or not at the time, I do not know but the protection of the home was obviously extremely important to them. It seems to be of the same importance in other cultures and even by today’s standards, at least emotionally if not legally. The contemporary “crime of passion” law is based on this standard. If you walk in on your spouse with a lover in your own home and kill either one of them, it is considered a crime of passion because the effect of the shock of finding the adultery in your own home led you to instantaneous irrational behavior. However, if you found them in a hotel, it is presumed that you obviously felt it was a possibility and so had time to rationally think it through. Any action you take would therefore be premeditated. I think this distinction between adultery in the home and adultery outside the home is the main argument that Euphiletos makes and it is based on cultural taboo, regardless of the position of women within the Athenian culture. – Karre.

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    • thelyricwriter profile image

      Richard Ricky Hale 5 years ago from West Virginia

      Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting. Very well written and a great story. I find it interesting that they would discuss adultery at home and away from home. Makes sense though about one's rational thoughts about the matter at hand. Interesting perspective on the witness. When it comes to that pride you speak of, I would think the same, much less speak of it. I always enjoy reading about history. I enjoyed this story very much, the first I have ever heard of this. Once again, great work:)

    • Karre profile image
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      Karre Schaefer 5 years ago from Eskridge, Kansas

      Thank you thelyricwriter. I too love history. This was an assignment for an advanced Greek language class I took and really enjoyed putting it together. Thanks again for your comments and vote up. Karre.

    • profile image

      Pam 2 years ago

      Is this Erastosthenes the geographer? Wow.. Interesting :)

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