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adultery, Greek

At Athens, a law (attributed to Draco or Solon) allowed a man who killed another he found in the sexual act with his wife, mother, sister, daughter, or concubine held for the purpose of bearing free children, to plead justifiable homicide; such adulterers might also be held for ransom. It is probable that there was also a graphē against adulterers, possible that those caught in the act were delivered to the Eleven for summary execution or trial. Adulterous wives had to be divorced, and were excluded from public sacrifices. As for unmarried women, Solon supposedly permitted a κύριος (‘controller’, male representative at law) to sell a daughter or sister into slavery if he discovered she was not a virgin. No instances are known, however, and indeed some husbands too probably preferred to respond (or not) to adultery without recourse to the law, so avoiding public dishonour. Many states are said to have allowed adulterers to be killed with impunity (Xen. Hiero 3. 3). But the law code of Gortyn envisages adulterers paying ransoms, varying with the status of the parties and the setting of the acts, and pecuniary penalties are stipulated in some marriage contracts from Hellenistic Egypt. Punishments in other (mostly later) communities stress public humiliation. Laws at both Athens and Gortyn provided protection against entrapment and false accusations. There was allegedly no Lycurgan (see lycurgus (2)) law against adultery at Sparta, a tradition informed by the custom by which Spartans could share their wives with fellow citizens for procreative purposes. (See marriage law (Greek)).


S. G. Cole, Classical Philology 1984, 97–113.Find this resource:

    G. Hoffman, Le Châtiment des amants dans la Grèce classique (1990).Find this resource:

      D. Cohen, Law, Sexuality and Society (1991).Find this resource:

        D. Ogden, ‘Rape, Adultery and Protection of Bloodlines in Classical Athens’, in S. Deacy and K. F. Pierce (eds.), Rape in Antiquity (2002), 25–41.Find this resource:

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