Lysias 1: A Defense on Behalf of the Murder of Eratosthenes

Well, I was completely wrong about Lysias. He did not write primarily about the Peloponnesian War, but rather wrote speeches on behalf of defendants or prosecutors in trials. Or at least that is so in this case, a speech written for a man named Euphiletus, who killed a man named Eratosthenes, who was sleeping with his wife. Eratosthenes is an interesting case, because the name was rare in Athens. In fact, the only two known occurrences of the name are this one, and a certain man who was one of the Thirty Tyrants, the hated oligarchy who ruled Athens after the Peloponnesian War. Lysias had previously taken the latter Eratosthenes to court, and when Eratosthenes was later installed as a member of the oligarchy, Lysias and his brother Polemarchus made a short-list of resident aliens who were prosecuted as enemies of the new government. Polemarchus was made to drink hemlock, like Socrates would later be. Lysias escaped to Megara, where he stayed until the political climate was congenial to his return. So, Lysias had some reason to hate a man named Eratosthenes, but was it the same Eratosthenes murdered by Euphiletus? The question is subject to a great deal of debate among scholars.

I would reckon it of great value, gentlemen, that you become for me in this matter judges of this sort, men of the very sort you would be had you suffered these sorts of things for you yourselves; for well I know that, if you hold the opinion concerning other men, which you hold concerning you yourselves, then there would not be one man not vexed by what happened, but rather you would consider it all a small penalty for those who make a business of this sort of deed. And these things would not be thusly reckoned amongst you alone, but throughout the entirety of the Hellas; for concerning this injustice alone, in both democracies and oligarchies, the same right of vengeance has been rendered to the very weakest against those most mightily capable, such that the lowest men obtain the same as the very best: thus, gentlemen, all men reckon this insolence as the most terrible. And so, concerning the magnitude of the penalty here, I believe that you are all of the same mind, and that no-one is so carelessly disposed, who think it fit to offer a pardon or believe those culpable of these sorts of deeds merit small penalty; yet I believe, gentlemen, that I must point this out, that Eratosthenes was committing adultery against my wife, and further, he not only corrupted that woman but also dishonoured my children, and he committed outrage against me as well by entering my own house, and neither was there any hatred between me and him except this, nor did I act for the sake of wealth, so that I might be brought out of daily labour a wealthy man, nor again was there any other profit except rightful vengeance according to the law. Therefore I shall exhibit all of my affairs to you from the beginning, passing over nothing, but rather speaking the truth; for I consider this alone my salvation, if I could tell you everything that was done.

For, dear Athenians, it was seemly to me that when I married my wife and brought her into my home, for some time I was disposed such that I did not vex her but neither was it too much up to her to do whatever she might wish, but I protected her so far as I was able, and I paid attention just as it befitted me; whereas after my little boy was born, from then on I trusted her and I surrendered everything of mine into the hands of that woman, believing ours to be the best of kindred marriages. At first, dear Athenians, she was the very best of all, for she was also a cunning steward, both thrifty [noble] and strictly administering everything; but when my mother met her end, she who, by dying, became the cause of all my misfortunes; for my wife, following after her funeral procession, once she was seen by this man, she was, in time, ruined; for he watched out for her handmaiden going about in the market and by making a proposal, he destroyed her.

And so first of all, gentlemen (for it is indeed necessary to describe this for you in detail), I have a little two-story house that is equal above as for those below for the women’s apartments as well as for the men’s. And when a little child was born to us, its mother was suckling it; and so that, whenever it needed to be bathed, she would not have to risk climbing up and down the ladder, I lived above, the women below. And so this became customary, such that my wife often went away below, sleeping with the little child, so that she might give it her breast lest it cry out. This went on for a long time, and I was not once suspicious, but rather I was so foolishly disposed that I considered my wife to be the most chaste of all women in the city.

After some time had passed, gentlemen, I arrived unexpectedly from the field, and after dinner the little child cried and was being fussy, being purposefully vexed by the handmaiden, so that it might do this; for there was a man within; for afterward, I learned everything. And I bid my woman to be away, and to give her breast to the little child, so that he might cease crying. At first she refused, as if she were well-pleased to see me after being away so long, but when I became irritated and bid her to go away, “So that you,” she said, “might make a pass at the young girl here; like before, when you were drunk, you groped her.” I laughed, and the woman stood up and left, closing the door behind her, and pretending to jest, she drew the bolt. And so I, since I did not make much of any of this, nor did I suspect, was laying down to sleep, a well-pleased man come home from the field. But when it was nearly daylight, the woman came and she opened the door. And when I inquired why the doors made noise during the night, she began to explain that the lamp by the little child had gone out, and so she kindled it from that of the neighbours. I kept silent and I believed that these things were so. It seems to me, gentlemen, that her face was made-up, although her brother had died not thirty days ago; nevertheless, saying nothing more about the matter and departing, I left in silence.

After this, gentlemen, once some time had passed between, and I had been left much unaware of my misfortunes, a certain elderly person approached me, secretly sent by a woman whom that man had seduced, as I later heard; this woman, angered and believing herself to have been wronged, since he no longer visited her like he used to, was keeping watch until she found what the reason was. And so, approaching near to me, since the woman had been keeping an eye on my house, “Euphiletus,” she said, “believe me to be driven toward you not by any meddlesome nature; for the man who commits insolence against you and your wife happens to be hated by both of us. If you go seize the handmaiden while she is about in the market and ministering to you, and you interrogate her, you will learn everything. And it is,” she said, “Eratosthenes from Oe who is doing this, who has been corrupting not your wife alone, but also many others; for he makes an art of it.”

By saying this, gentlemen, that woman was released, whereas I was immediately troubled, and it all came to mind, and I was full of suspicion, and I thought carefully about how I had been shut up in the bed-chamber, and I recalled that during that night the inner court door and the outer court made noise, which had not ever happened before, and it seemed to me that my wife had put on make-up. All these thoughts entered my head and I was full of suspicion.

Going home, I bid the handmaiden to follow me to the market, and leading her to one of my close friends, I started to say that I was informed of everything that happened in my home; “For you, therefore,” I said, “it is permitted to choose which of the two you prefer, either to go whipped to the mill-house and never once cease to be afflicted with misfortunes of that kind, or by cataloguing the whole truth, to suffer no misfortune, but rather obtain from me a lenient judgement of your misdeeds. Tell no falsehood, but rather speak the whole truth.” At first the woman denied it, and she told me to do whatever I wanted; for she had seen nothing; but when I mentioned Eratosthenes to her, and I said that this man had been visiting my wife, she was panic-stricken, believing that I knew everything precisely. And after that, she fell upon my knees, and after she received an assurance that she would suffer no misfortune, she confessed first that he was at her side after the funeral procession, and thereupon that, in the end, she took his messages, and that in time my wife was persuaded, and his entrances, in what ways she permitted them, and how at the Thesmophoria,1 when I was in the field, she went to the temple with his mother; and she accurately went through everything else that happened. And once everything had been said by her, I said, “Make sure, then, that not one person learns these things; or else, nothing will hold valid of your agreement with me. I require that you show me these things in the very act; for I don’t need words, but rather for the deed to be manifest, if indeed this is so.” She promised to do this.

And after four or five days passed, [ … ]2 as I will show you with the greatest evidence. But first I wish to go through things that were done on the following days. Sostratos was a dear and dependable friend to me. After the sun had set, I came face to face with him coming from the field. Since I knew that, having arrived home at that hour, he would find no necessities, I bid him to dine with me. And coming to my house, we climbed to the upper floor and we dined. And when he was good and done, he got up and left, and I was going to sleep. But Eratosthenes, gentlemen, comes in, and the handmaiden woke me up and immediately tells me that he is within. And after I told her to watch over the doors, descending in silence, I go out, and I arrive at one friend and another, and some I came upon within, while others I discovered were not staying at home.3

But when I had gotten as many as I could of those who were present, I proceeded. And after we took torches from the nearest tavern, we went in, with the doors thrown open and made ready by the woman. Pushing through the door of my bedroom, we who entered first saw him still lying with my wife, those afterward that he stood naked on the couch. And I, gentlemen, I beat him and struck him down, and drawing his hands around his back and binding him, I asked due to what did he commit insolence by coming come into my home. And although that man agreed that he had done wrong, he was begging and pleading me not to kill him but rather to exact payment. And I said, “I will not kill you, but rather the law of the city will, which you, by your transgression, considered worth less than your own pleasures, and you preferred to commit this sort of wrong against my wife and against my children than to be obedient and orderly.”

Thus, gentlemen, that man obtained that very thing which the laws command for those who do that sort of thing, he was not dragged in from the street, nor did he appeal to the sacred hearth, as those men say; for how could he, anyone who, stricken, he fell in the bedroom at once, and I had tied his hands behind him, and there were so many men inside, whom he could not slip through, and he had neither iron nor wood nor any other tool with which he might fend off those who came against him? But, gentlemen, I believe that even you know that men who do what is not just do not grant that their hated enemies speak the truth, but rather these men, by telling lies and making such contrivances, they procure anger in those who hear them against men who do what is just. But first, read the law.


He did not dispute, gentlemen, but agreed that he did wrong, and so as not to die, he was begging and pleading, and he was ready to pay money as atonement. But I did not acquiesce to that man’s estimate of damages, I deemed the law of the city worthy to be the last word, and I took that penalty, which you, believing it to be the most lawful for those who make a business of this sort of deed, did prescribe. And now, witnesses of these events, come forward for me.


Read to me this law from the stele, the one outside the Areopagus.


Hear, gentlemen, that by this court here outside the Areopagus, for which it is both ancestral custom and has been handed down to us to render judgements on murder, it is explicitly said not to charge someone for murder who, having caught an adulterer upon his wife might taking this right of retribution. And the lawgiver did so much consider this to be lawful in the case of wedded wives, that even in the case of concubines, less important, the same right has been established. Indeed it is clear that if he had any greater retribution than this in the case of wives, he would have imposed it; and presently, since he was unable to discover a stronger retribution than this in that case, he deemed it good that the same occur in the case of concubines. And read to me also this law.


Hear, gentlemen, that it commands, if anyone should disgrace a free person or a child by force, that they owe twice the penalty; and if against a woman, in those cases for which it is permissible to kill, that he is subject to the same; thus, gentlemen, it considers those who use force to be worthy of a lesser penalty than those who use persuasion: for it condemned the latter to death, whereas it imposed twice the penalty to the former, believing that while those who accomplish their goals by force are hated by those who suffer violence, those who use persuasion so corrupted their very souls that they make women belonging to another closer kin to themselves than to their own husbands, and the whole household is put in their power, and it is unclear whose of the two the children happen to be, the husband’s or the adulterer’s. In requital for which, the established law makes death the penalty for them. Therefore, gentlemen, the laws have not only acquitted me of doing wrong, but have also commanded me to take this right; whereas it is on you whether it is befitting that these be powerful or worth nothing.

For I believe that all cities established their laws for this, so that concerning those sorts matters which we have in view, we might, by going to them, scrutinize what it is that must be done by us. These laws, therefore, concerning matters of this sort exhort those who have been wronged to take this very right. With respect to which, I expect you to hold the same opinion; or else, you will make this an amnesty for adulterers, such that you would incite even thieves to say that they are adulterers, since they will well know that if they claim this crime for themselves, and allege that they entered the house of another for this purpose, no one will lay hold of them. For everyone will know that he should kiss off the laws for an adulterer, and dread your ballot; for that is the most authoritive thing of all in the city.

Look close, gentlemen; for they charge of me that I commanded the handmaiden on that day to go after the young man. But I, gentlemen, would believe it to be working justice, by any means whatsoever that I might catch the man who ruined my wife: for if, with words spoken but no deed done, I commanded her to go after him, I would have been unjust: but if, once everything had been done, and he had come into my house many times, if I caught him by any means whatsoever, I would consider myself to be restrained.

And consider that they also tell lies in this regard: you will easily understand by the following. For, to me, gentlemen, as I already said earlier, since Sostrates was a dear friend and in a kindred spirit, when he came from the field and met me around sunset, he dined with me, and once he was well-fed, he got up and left. And therefore, gentlemen, first consider that if I were contriving against Eratosthenes on that night, which would have been better for me, to dine elsewhere myself or to bring along someone to dine with me? For thus, that man would have been less likely to dare come into the house. And next, does it seem right to you that I, having discharged my dinner partner, would be left alone and be on my own, or would I have bid that man to stay, so that he could exact vengeance on the adulterer with me? And further, gentlemen, does it not seem to you that I would send word to dependable men during the day, and bid them to gather in the closest house of one of my friends, rather than run around during the night as soon as I perceived, not knowing whom I would encounter at home and whom away? And since I came to both Harmodious and also a certain other man, who were not at home (for I did not yet know this), and others I found were not within, once I got those whom I could, I proceeded. And furthermore, had I known beforehand, does it not seem to you that I would have prepared the servants, and sent for my friends, so that I might go in as sure-footed as possible (for why would I have already known whether that man also had iron), and also so that I might exact my vengeance with the most witnesses? But as it was, since I knew nothing of what was to be on that night, I took along those whom I was able. Indeed, come forward for me, witnesses of these events.


You have heard from the witnesses, gentlemen: examine amongst yourselves thus concerning this affair, and seek whether there was ever any hatred between me and Eratosthenes aside from this. For you will find nothing. For he did not slander by indicting me with a public charge, nor did he try to cast me out of the city, nor did he take me to court for personal trials, nor had he been privy to any evil for which I, fearing lest someone learn it, set my heart on destroying him, nor, having accomplished this, could I hope to receive wealth from somewhere: for there are some who, for the sake of these sorts of things, do contrive death for one another.

So far, therefore, was any reproach, or drunken behaviour, or any other disagreement from having occurred between us, that I had not ever even seen the man, except on that night. For desire of what, would I hazard a risk of this sort, unless I had been wronged the greatest of wrongs by him? Furthermore, would I then commit sacrilege, having myself summoned witnesses, although it was possible for me, if indeed I had set my heart on destroying him unjustly, that no one else might bear witness against me of the deed?

So then, gentlemen, I consider this retribution to be not personal, enacted on my own behalf, but rather on behalf of the whole city: for those who do this sort of thing, seeing what sort of prizes are proposed for misdeeds of this sort, will less commit wrongs towards others, if they see that you hold the same opinion. Or else, it would be much better to blot out the laws laid down and establish others, ones that would fine penalties against those who protect their women, and upon those who would commit misdeed against them, impose a great amnesty. For thus would be much more just than for citizens to be ambushed by the law, which command, if someone should capture an adulterer, that he do whatever he might wish, whereas the trials have come to be more terrible for those who are done wrong than for those who, contrary to the law, have shamed the wives of other men. For now, concerning my person, and concerning my wealth, and concerning everything else, I run a risk simply because I was obedient to the laws of the city.

1. The Thesmophoria was a festival for women.
2. Clearly there is something missing here.
3. For some reason, the editor of the edition I am reading (Oxford, ed. C. Carey) chose to insert οὐκ … οὐδε into this sentence, so that it reads, “and some I did not come upon within, while others I discovered were not even staying at home,” suggesting that he found no one at all. I chose to read it as though the editor had not made that decision.
4. The testimony of the laws and the witnesses is not preserved.

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