On the Murder of Eratosthenes
On the Murder of Eratosthenes is a speech by Lysias, one of the "Canon of Ten" Attic orators. The speech, the first in the transmitted Lysianic corpus, is a defense written for Euphiletos who is charged with the death of Eratosthenes. The case is heard before the Delphinion, a court which hears proceedings for justifiable homicide
Euphiletos is accused of killing Eratosthenes, who was caught in the act of adultery with Euphiletos's wife. Euphiletos's defense is that his killing of Eratosthenes was an act of justifiable homicide and therefore not punishable.
The argument of the speech
Lysias's approach in this defense speech is not to introduce any tangible evidence, but to rhetorically persuade the Delphinion of Euphiletos's innocence by creating a favorable portrayal of him while discrediting and attacking Eratosthenes's character and shedding light on his reputation as a notorious adulterer.
Lysias’ main framework in this speech was to portray two characters of the society that each individual in the Delphinion could understand and relate to. Lysias’s characterization of Euphiletos became the most important part in this speech, as he created him to be a trusting and naïve individual who seems incapable of the kind of deception alleged by his accusers. This allows Euphiletos to claim justification for his act, because he is not a heinous murderer, but instead a man that sought out legal justice against a seducing adulterer. In contrast, Lysias shows Eratosthenes to have the personality of an “arch-seducer, and a threat to society.” With this unfavorable portrayal of Eratosthenes's personal characteristics, Lysias hopes to prove to the Delphinion that he received the punishment suited for him. Lysias needed to make clear that Eratosthenes was not the type of individual that deserved to roam the streets of Athens and that the entire community would be a safer place now that he is dead. Moreover, not only was Euphiletos not guilty of murder, he was actually upholding the law by carrying out a justifiable homicide. Lysias concludes the speech by saying that if Euphiletos is punished for the murder of Eratosthenes then the court is basically protecting seducers and corrupting society.
The question of premeditation
Because it was crucial that Lysias established that the murder of Eratosthenes was not premeditated, but a lawful act of justifiable homicide, Euphiletos states that when Eratosthenes entered the home, he left to gather witnesses that could provide testimony in the trial that would follow the murder. Lysias understood the importance of convincing the judging panel that Euphiletos did not plan to murder Eratosthenes so he incorporated the repetition of this point in varying places in the speech. In paragraph 23, Euphiletos says, “I caught some people at home. Some I found were abroad.” Later, in paragraph 43, Euphiletos adds more detail, he states, “I went to Harmodios’s house and to another person’s, and they were abroad - I didn’t know - others I did not find at home, but I took who I could and proceeded on my way.” These statements show that Euphiletos was responding, without premeditation, to the act of adultery being committed by his wife and Eratosthenes. He said that he went in search of witnesses and found that some people were home and others were not. Lysias is saying that if Euphiletos had planned to murder Eratosthenes and was just trying to make the murder appear to be justifiable, then he would have gone to the homes of people who he knew for certain were in town. Euphiletos recounts the same information regarding his spontaneous search in an attempt to leave a lasting impression on the court. These passages are consistent with Lysias’s portrayal of Euphiletos as a naive husband who, in being wronged, carried out a lawful act of murder.
Adultery and the role of women in Athenian society
A central theme in the speech is the role that women play in Athenian society. The idea that a woman’s role in society should remain subservient is maintained throughout the defense. Women have their own quarters in the house where they would conduct their working duties. In Athenian society, the seclusion of a woman reflects highly upon the character of the man whom she is married to or lives with. If he was able to seclude her from society and other men, he was regarded as a decent man; however, failure to control women in this society is an ultimate disgrace. With this in mind, once Euphiletos caught his wife engaging in an affair with Eratosthenes, he sought out justice through death for the seducer that persuaded his wife into bed. Lysias describes Eratosthenes as being a corrupter of minds, as if Euphiletos's wife had no control over her own actions. In addition, Euphiletos learns of his wife's infidelity through a servant girl who works for him. The servant girl was in effect an accessory because she passed notes between Eratosthenes and Euphiletos's wife.
The role of witnesses
Euphiletos produces many witnesses throughout his defense case, most of whom were his close friends. Witnesses were of monumental importance in the Athenian court system. Athenian court proceedings relied heavily upon word of mouth. This allowed for the testimonies of the witnesses in a case to hold a great amount of emphasis in these trials. Euphiletos uses this to his advantage, as many of his witnesses are those that he gathered on the night that he killed Eratosthenes. Witnesses in these cases were brought to offer their support for the speaker for whom they represented and to attest to what he was saying. The prosecution in this case were the kinsmen of the victim. They attempt to show that Euphiletos acted in a premeditated manner based on a previous quarrel between Euphiletos and Eratosthenes. They also make an effort to prove that the servant girl lured Eratosthenes to Euphiletos's house just so he could be murdered.
It is also mentionable that Euphiletos had non-violent options on how to deal with Eratosthenes under Athenian law, such as the implementing of a fine.
- Carey, Christopher. Trials from Classical Athens. New York: Routledge, 1997
- Todd, S.C. The Oratory of Classical Greece: Volume 2. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2000