Lysias On The Pivotal Murder Of Eratosthenes

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The pivotal murder scene of Lysias’ On the Murder of Eratosthenes, described in 1.22-27, is one of the most carefully constructed passages in the speech. Andrew Wolpert praised it in 2001 as a “rhetorical masterpiece in self-fashioning”. Euphiletos, the speech giver, defends himself against the charge of murdering Eratosthenes by arguing that it was a justifiable homicide; according to fourth century Athenian law, a husband was reserved the right to kill his wife’s adulterer, if he caught them in the act. In Lysias 1.22-27, Euphiletos carefully recounts the events of the murder, traversing the territory of self-characterisation from
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The importance of tangible evidence of adultery is explicit in Euphiletos’ claim that “the first of us who entered saw him [Eratosthenes] still lying down beside my wife, and those who entered after saw him standing naked on the bed.” Here, ἔτι (still) and γυμνόν (naked) are significant; the couple remaining naked in the bed is irrefutable proof of the act of adultery. If Euphiletos had claimed only that he found the two in the room together, his actions would have been unjustified. So, Euphiletos had a precedent on which to kill Eratosthenes; the problem that he faced, and the reason for his precise appeals to law and civic order, is that he did not have to. The law that allowed husbands who caught their wives’ adulterers permitted them to kill the man, but did not command it – instead, husbands could demand a monetary penalty or take the adulterer to court, which many seem to have done. Euphiletos acknowledges as much in the speech, but then decides against …show more content…
Eratosthenes’ death isn’t described; Euphiletos never says that he killed him. Instead – “the man attained these things the laws command [be done to men doing such things].” Lysias uses the verb τυγχάνω – to happen, to chance upon, to attain – to describe Eratosthenes’ death. Verbs such as ἀποθνηίσκω, ἀποκτείνω, and ἀπόλλυμι, all of which explicitly pertain to killing and being killed or dying are entirely abandoned in favour of a general verb of chance when it comes to the fact of Eratosthenes’ death. Lysias gives no emphasis to the killing itself, instead shifting the focus onto Euphiletos’ actions – that fall in line with the law – before the death, and onto the crime. The verb τυγχάνω, translated with “attain”, implies deservedness; this evokes Euphiletos’ argument that he was acting on behalf of the law, that this is the punishment laid out for adulterers. Rather than killing Eratosthenes in a fit of passion, as Herman describes it, Euphiletos “executed

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