The view on adultery and rape

Although Draco's laws were long gone by classical times, his law on adultery and rape is relevant to explain the ancient mindset, which was somewhat weird by our modern standards. My female readers are warned to take some tranquilizers before going on...

A man seducing a married woman could legally be killed, as we saw in the previous post, but if he had raped the wife, then under Draco's laws he would have been subject only to a fine paid to the husband.

The reasoning is that by rape he has damaged the husband's property. (I did warn you about the tranqilizers.) But if she consented then something much worse has happened: the seducer has stolen the wife's affections. Hence rape was the lesser crime.

Notice in both adultery and rape the husband is considered the victim. Xenophon had this to say: When a wife has sexual intercourse by accident (! he means rape), husbands do not honor them the less on this account, if the wife's affection remains unaffected.


Tabitha Bird said...

Gary you are a brave man :)
Think I'll go get my tranquilizers...

No women's lib back then I'm guessing.

Mimzy said...


...I sort of figured that this was going to be something horrible by modern standards. I mean, considering all the raping gods did of mortals and all.

The Writer said...

It's quite a touchy subject, but back then, I don't even think it was consider sex by force, more like a difficult woman, no?

Any resources you can recommend?

CKHB said...

So, weirdly enlightened regarding an understanding of sex vs. love, but completely moronic regarding women's place in society?

And, certainly better than the "honor killing" system some cultures have. "Husbands do not honor them the less on this account" is a GOOD thing.

Amalia T. said...

What I find really fascinating about the Greek culture, is the dichotomy between the honoring of the virgin goddesses like Artemis and Athena, and the dishonoring of women in general. From my research, it seems that Spartan women had much more freedom of movement and power within society than women of city-states more influenced by Athens, which was possibly the worst place to be a woman. At first glance this seemed kind of backwards to me, but upon reconsideration, it almost makes sense. Sparta honored its women as breeders of soldiers. Athens had no such reason to consider them worthy.

Gary Corby said...

Hi Everyone. I knew this was going to be a touchy subject! But I'm being an honest reporter of how things were back then. It wasn't all joy and happiness.

I'll try and answer all these in one big comment.

No Tabitha, there was nothing remotely like Women's Lib. But having said that, it's worth reading the hilarious comedy Lysistrata by Aristophanes. In fact, thanks for giving me the idea; I'll blog about her some time.

You're right Mimzy and Amalia, there was a weird conflict between what the Greek myths had their Gods doing, and what the Greeks considered good behaviour. The better educated Greeks were painfully aware of the problem, particularly Euripides, and it troubled them sorely. Some of them were getting dangerously close to atheism. I say dangerous considering what happened to Socrates.

Carrie (Writer), they did understand rape was badness, but it wasn't considered as serious a crime as it is today. There was too much sacking of cities where rape was the expected outcome for women on the losing side. An attitude which, btw, peristed well into modern times. Even during the Napoleonic Wars, it was more or less expected that if a city resisted a siege then the inhabitants were fair game if the besiegers broke in. Try looking up what happened after some of Wellington's sieges during the Peninsular War. What happened to Cassandra immediately after the fall of Troy is a good example too. There are probably a zillion academic books written about women in ancient society; the problem is, they'll be mostly written from a modern perspective.

Hi Carrie KHB, yes, that struck me very hard too, understanding in law the difference between sex and love.

You're right Amalia, Spartan women were the freest in all Greece. Thanks for another blog post idea!