ElAnt v1n2 - Meditations on Lysias 1 and Athenian Adultery

Volume 1, Number 2
July 1993


Ruth Scodel,
Department of Classical Studies,
University of Michigan, 
Ann Arbor,
MI 48109,
e-mail: Ruth.Scodel@um.cc.umich.edu

1. Obsession and Reality

Athenian literature shows a great deal of evidence for male anxiety about female sexual behavior. In particular, it is a standing assumption Old Comedy that there are moichoi everywhere. There are two assumptions here: that women are sexually insatiable and that citizen men are committing adultery to satisfy them. In the first I am not for the moment interested, but I want to think a little, however, about the identity of these moichoi . Only once in Aristophanes is it said that women will have sexual relations with slaves if no other partners are available ( Thes. 491-492). Yet slaves would have been, surely, among the most available of sexual partners for elite Athenian women. Slaves, we may note, are also excluded from the rule that requires citizen men to avoid using women's names in public. Slaves, then, do not count. But anxiety also seems directed, in comedy, away from friends and relatives, to strangers and tradesmen. Adultery is assumed to belong to a realm of casual contact. In Lysistrata the Proboulos (404 ff.) delivers elaborate double- entendres in which women are sexually offered to a jeweler and a showmaker. That is comedy and the cliche of romance: a man sees a woman once and is seized by desire. It is also the narrative of Lysias 1. Eratosthenes sees the woman once, at her mother-in-law's funeral, and proceeds to engage in extensive negotiations through the slave in order to seduce here. Euphiletus insists that he had no other contact with Eratosthenes. Obviously, in a culture in which this is a stereotype, the stereotype itself may encourage the behavior. But this kind of relationship is inherently very difficult in a society like classical Athens. Strangers are very visible. Neighbors watch comings and goings, and among the well-off slaves are inevitably in the know and subject to pressure. The situation might in some ways be different among the poor, where there are no slaves and women go out alone to work. But clearly adultery is much easier among those who are actually intimate within a household and also likelier, if I may be forgiven, the universalising guess that people are generally more likely to feel the kind of intense sexual need that leads them into socially strongly disapproved relationships after prolonged familiarity rather than in casual contact.

From the prospective adulterer's point of view, the rewards in an affair with a married woman to whom he might be attracted in a casual way seem very limited compared to the risks. There is no sexual boasting in such relationships in Athenian society; sexual competitiveness is confined to boys and hetaerae. This element makes comparative analysis of Athenian sexuality dubious; modern Mediterannean cultures do not have any parallel for this arena of competition, as far as I know. The situation might be different outside the elite and especially in the rural demes. Here there would be far less sexual variety available for males. Again, we may guess that poorer women worked in the fields and so were potentially more available. But here all the men in village are neighbors. Adultery is still, in my terms, inside: among people who actually know each other. But most sources do not emphasise this possibility, apart from Aristotle. Cohen also cites Demosthenes 23.53-56, but there the emphasis on philioi is generated by the contrast with polemioi and does not necessary imply true intimacy.

In tragedy, on the other hand, adulterous relationships, or attempts at them, begin with guests who are staying in the house: Paris, Bellerophon, Peleus; or with relatives: Thyestes, Aegisthus, Hippolytus. In this respect tragedy seems to acknowledge a real fear that comedy avoids. One way of interpreting the evidence might be that comedy's presentation of the fear of adultery is, like other elements of Old Comedy, a representation of the anxieties of country people who have to adjust to life in a city, in this case to being surrounded by men they do not know. Cohen discusses Athens in comparison to modern 'face-to-face' societies, but it may be especially important for Athenian discourse about adultery that Athens was not quite such a society in the classical period. Anxiety about adultery with strangers is a form of the anxiety of urbanisation. The traditional fear of female sexuality thus becomes irrationally connected with strangers. One might argue that this is just a joke: women's sexual voraciousness is all the greater if they are imagined sleeping with anybody who comes along.

2. Why does Euphiletus say that he behaved as he did in collecting witnesses?

Euphiletus' behavior here shows the gray area in which his killing takes place. In the narrative of Lysias 1, Euphiletus says that when the slave told him Eratosthenes was in the house, four or five days after he first learned of the adultery, he told her to take care of the doors and went out to collect witnesses. He then went from house to house in order to collect a posse, not even knowing who was in Athens, let alone who would be home. When he had enough, he went home and caught and killed Eratosthenes. This seems the least sensible of the alternatives. It gave Eratosthenes time to get away. If he heard anything (and the doors we know creaked) and became alarmed, the locked doors would give away the trap, and he would have had only the female slave to deal with . The slave was in fact keeping the outer door open, ready for Euphiletus' return; an alarmed Eratosthenes could presumably have pushed the slave down and escaped. He is in an inner room, whose door the posse pushes in; is it locked from the inside? As Euphiletus tells it, he was still in bed when Euphiletus returned, so it can probably be assumed that the room door was not locked from the outside. Knowing that his wife had a lover, Euphiletus could presumably have prepared his witnesses more or less in advance: he could at least have investigated which of his friends and neighbors were away from home, and asked those he especially trusted not to go out at night for a few days. So why does Euphiletus do what he does? He may, of course, be lying. He claims to have wasted time going from house to house, and then the posse stops to buy torches, but the sexual act is still in progress when he returns, so he presumably did not actually take very long. But if he is lying, and did prepare some of his witnesses, he still feels the need to pretend not to have done so. Clearly, to have forewarned possible witnesses would make it very difficult to claim that he did not entrap Eratosthenes. This issue of enticement is more than legal. Carey comments that 'it seems that the victim lost the right to take take action against a moichos if he in any way connived in the act'. This may be too legal an approach, given that the goodwill of the Athenian jury is at least as important as the law. The laws certainly tried to prevent men from in effect prostituting their wives in order to blackmail their lovers and related behavior. But the issue here is somewhat different. Suppose he had sent a message to Eratosthenes, purporting to be from his wife, saying simply that Euphiletus was in the country? This would hardly be conniving at adultery, if his intention were to catch the adulterer. I think the problem has to do with the killing itself. To entice him in order to catch him in the act might not lose jury sympathy; to entice him in order to kill him probably would.

But why not simply kill the man and then summon witnesses? Or he could simply have taken a weapon and gone upstairs to kill Eratosthenes. This would have the advantage that he could then claim he did not know of the adultery in advance. For we can probably assume that the situation envisaged by the homicide law which exempted the man who killed a moichos was that of the unsuspecting husband who discovered the lover in the act and whose action was completely unpremeditated. Such a killer would be unlikely to have witnesses to the act itself, but would presumably summon them immediately afterwards: the location of the corpse would be sufficient evidence . He was clearly worried either that he could not kill Eratosthenes or that he could not make a convincing case for the adultery without witnesses. Carey (ad loc.) suggests from the stress Euphiletus lays on Eratosthenes' being still in bed and on his nakedness that his being in the room would not be enough; but why not?. By summoning witnesses before the discovery Euphiletus is in effect denying himself the possibility of claiming that he killed the moment he found out, and opening himself to the suspicion of entrapment. I find it hard to imagine that he was seriously worried that he could not kill a man surprised in the sexual act. So it would seem that he felt he needed not just convincing, but overwhelming proof that the adultery had occurred. This suggests to me that Athenians could be expected to be suspicious (even more suspicious than usual) about killing for adultery, and possibily unsympathetic to it. The law was quite clear in allowing it, but comedy never refers to it as a practice or a danger for the adulterer. Hence Euphiletus had a difficult balancing act. He obviously feared that a jury would be inclined to regard entrapment as murder, even though he says he would have thought it just. On the other hand, if he expected the jury to be prejudiced against him for killing an adulterer at all, or at least unwilling to believe that was his true and only motive, he needed witnesses so that he could rely on the legal fact that the law explicitly permitted the killing. Hence, perhaps, the uneasy compromise.

This nervousness about jury attitudes may also help explain his legalising description of the events immediately preceding the killing. Euphiletus does not rely only on the clear provision of the homicide law, but first cites another law, generally thought to be an adultery statute. He emphasises Eratosthenes' confession, and introduces the law by implying that death was the penalty set by the law for adulterers. Cohen argues that this reflects the law allowing adulterers to be subject to apagoge and immediate execution if they confessed. Cohen argues for an adultery law that specifies that adulterers are kakourgoi and subject to apagoge . M. H. Hansen's view (in Apagoge, Endeixis, and Ephegesis ) seems to me almost certainly right: there was a law describing the procedures for dealing with kakourgoi who had been caught in the act, but like so many Athenian statures, it was not precisely worded. Although it may have listed those categories which are repeatedly included among kakourgoi , it did not exclude others. So it is possible that the law Euhiletus has read here is the law about kakourgoi . Since the adultery law, to judge by the extracts paraphrased at [Demosthenes] Against Neaira 66, treated the situation where a man caught a moichos and did not kill him, the law can hardly have implied that adulterers should be killed by those who caught them; if there was a death penalty for adultery through the graphe moicheias (whose existence Cohen questions without good grounds) he may have cited that. But Euphiletus seems to want to imply both that the law called for moichoi to die and that adultery was an agon timetos .

Nobody would deny that murderers and adulterers were kakourgoi , in the non-technical sense, or would be likely to object to the use of apagoge against them in principle. On the other hand, when it came to cases, many Athenians would be troubled by the use of the same procedure for upper-class citizens that would be used on thieves. A kakourgos , if he confessed, was executed immediately by apotympanismos . I suspect there would be considerable squeamishness about this as applied to people who were not marginal at all, such as Eratosthenes of Oe. (It is likely, though it cannot be proven, that the Eratosthenes of Lysias 1 was a relative of the oligarch). Euphiletus may be trying to suggest that in killing Eratosthenes on the spot he was actually sparing him the penalty he might have faced as a kakourgos . It may not seem fair, he hints, that he acted as both prosecutor and jury in rejecting his proposed penalty; but he confessed before witnesses, and in a hearing before the Eleven that would have meant a more shameful death than he actually received.


C. Carey, Lysias, Selected Speeches (Cambridge, 1989)
D. Cohen, Law, Sexuality, and Society: the Enforcement of Morals in Classical Athens (Cambridge, 1991)
M. H. Hansen, *Apagoge, Endeixis, and Ephegesis against *Kakourgoi*, *Atimoi*, and *Pheugontes* (Odense, 1976)

Ruth Scodel
e-mail: Ruth. Scodel@um.cc.umich.edu

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Electronic Antiquity Vol. 1 Issue 2 - July 1993
edited by Peter Toohey and Ian Worthington
ISSN 1320-3606