“On the Murder of Eratosthenes”, written by Lysias, was the defense argument used by Euphiletos during his murder trial. Euphiletos killed fellow Athenian Eratosthenes for committing adultery with his wife. He was on trial to determine if the killing was premeditated murder or justice. While the verdict of the trial is not known, the trial can be evaluated and much can be learned about daily life in an Athenian family and the Athenian views on women from this case that took place ca.
403-380 B. C. Euphiletos began his case by stating that he did not commit the killing for anything other than justice. At Euphiletos’s mother’s funeral, his wife met Eratosthenes. Eratosthenes was able to seduce Euphiletos’s wife by passing messages through the “… serving girl…” (97). Eupiletos’s wife would tell him that she was going downstairs to tend to their baby, while she was actually meeting Eratosthenes. After this went on for some time, “an elderly female slave” (98), who belonged to one of Eratosthenes mistresses, revealed the affair to Euphiletos.
The elderly woman told Euphiletos to talk to his serving girl. So, Euphiletos threatened his serving girl until she told him the truth about the affair. Four of five days had passed when, after taking a post dinner nap, Euphiletos was told by the serving girl that Eratosthenes was in his house. Euphiletos proceeded to gather a group of men in his neighborhood, who all caught Eratosthenes in the act. Euphiletos maintained that he killed him there because the “city’s law” (100) demands it.
He rests his case by refuting the prosecution’s claim. He was not dragged in off the street, nor did he take refuge at the hearth, as these people maintain. (100)”. His claim is that he killed Eratosthenes immediately after catching him with his wife, that it was not premeditated. Even though the verdict of the case is not known, the case can still be analyzed. For Euphiletos to be innocent, he had to persuade the jury that he killed Eratosthenes for justice and that it was not premeditated (Hamric). However, Euphiletos’s argument had many flaws. He knew about the affair up to five days before he killed Eratosthenes (99).
That aspect of the case, admitted by Euphiletos, shows that he had time to think about how he would react to his knowledge of the affair. A contrasting point could be that Euphiletos wanted proof of the affair before reacting. While that is a fair point, Euphiletos still had several days to plan what he would do if he caught Eratosthenes in the act. Even his gathering of neighbors (99) reveals that he had some plan to kill Eratosthenes. If he had truly killed him in the heat of the moment, why would he have gathered a group of men to go with him?
He may have gathered them so that he would have witnesses to see him kill Eratosthenes in the moment. However, him needing witnesses shows that he had thought about and planned for that situation. Questions such as this and why no witnesses were addressed, although this could be a piece of the case lost over time, make it difficult to see the murder not being premeditated. Euphiletos waiting four or five days before killing Eratosthenes coupled with gathering a group of men to join him show that Euphiletos committed premeditated murder and was likely found guilty.
Euphiletos’s speech depicts life in an Athenian household and the Athenian view on women. In most Athenian households, the husband would sleep downstairs next to the door (Hamric), however, Euphiletos trusted his wife enough that he slept upstairs with her, even allowing her to sleep downstairs with the baby on occasion (98). The man would sleep near the door to control access in and out of the house, as he had more social power and responsibility than the woman.
The patriarchal Athenian society is evident in the case since Eratosthenes committed adultery by sleeping with another man’s wife, yet Euphiletos having “… go at the serving girl…” (98) was not seen as adultery. The Athenian view that it is only adultery when it is with another man’s wife (Hamric), shows that women had little value in Athens unless they were married to a man. Another aspect of Athenian lifestyle displayed by Euphiletos’s speech is that slaves were actively involved in the life of Athenians, doing chores and other work, freeing Athenian men to focus on other endeavors (Book, 74). This is observed in Euphiletos’s interaction with the elderly slave messenger (98) and his servant girl running various errands (97, 99).
Athenian slaves also could face harsh punishment at the hands of their owners. Euphiletos threatens his serving girl with being “… whipped and thrown into a mill and never have any release from miseries of this sort…” (99). The views on women and slaves expressed by Euphiletos in his speech show the average Athenian’s views on the subject. “On the murder of Eratosthenes” was the defense written for Euphiletos’s by Lysias. Euphiletos killed Eratosthenes, who was having an affair with Euphiletos’s wife.
Euphiletos had to prove that him killing Eratosthenes was not premeditated. Euphiletos’s five day period after learning about the affair and gathering of neighborhood men show that he did contemplate killing Eratosthenes. While the verdict is not known, the speech shows the patriarchal and slave based society of Athens. Cases such as this covey much about Athenian society and justice, and demonstrate how society has evolved and, in some cases, stayed the same in the thousands of years since Euphiletos gave his speech.