Burial Practices, Death, and Exposure


As for the exposure and rearing of children, let there be a law that no deformed child shall live. But as to an excess in the number of children, if the established customs of the state forbid the exposure of any children who are born, let a limit be set to the number of children a couple may have; and if couples have children in excess, let abortion be procured before sense and life have begun; what may or may not be lawfully done in these cases depends on the question of life and sensation.
— Aristotle, Politics, Bk. 7, 1335b

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The elder lord spoke aloud before them:
"My fate is angry if I disobey these,
but angry if I slaughter
this child, the beauty of my house,
with maiden blood shed staining
these father's hands beside the altar.
What of these things goes now without disaster?
How shall I fail my ships
and lose my faith of battle?
For them to urge such sacrifice of innocent blood
angrily, for their wrath is great—it is right. May all be well yet."
But when necessity's yoke was put upon him
he changed, and from the heart the breath came bitter
and sacrilegious, utterly infidel,
to warp a will now to be stopped at nothing.
The sickening in men's minds, tough,
reckless in fresh cruelty brings daring. He endured then
to sacrifice his daughter
to stay the strength of war waged for a woman,
first offering for the ships' sake.
Her supplications and her cries of father
were nothing, nor the child's lamentation
to kings passioned for battle.
The father prayed, called to his men to lift her
with strength of hand swept in her robes aloft
and prone above the altar, as you might lift
a goat for sacrifice, with guards
against the lips' sweet edge, to check
the curse cried on the house of Atreus
by force of bit and speech drowned in strength.
Pouring then to the ground her saffron mantle
she struck the sacrificers with
the eyes' arrows of pity,
lovely as in a painted scene, and striving
to speak—as many times
at the kind festive table of her father
she had sung, and in the clear voice of a stainless maiden
with love had graced the song
of worship when the third cup was poured.
— Aeschylus, Agamemnon, 205–247


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Clytemnestra:
Not for you to speak of such tendance.
Through us he fell,
by us he died; we shall bury.
There will be no tears in this house for him.
It must be Iphigeneia
his child, who else,
shall greet her father by the whirling stream
and the ferry of tears
to close him in her arms and kiss him.
— Aeschylus, Agamemnon, 1551–1559

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Hermes: For in the famous city of the Greeks
Called after Pallas of the Golden Spear,
Phoebus compelled Erechtheus' daughter Creusa
To take him as her lover—in that place
Below Athene's hill whose northern scarp
The Attic lords have named the Long Rocks.
Her father, by the god's own wish, did not
Suspect her, and she carried her child in secret.
And when the time had come, her son was born,
Inside the palace. Then she took the child
To the same cave where she had lain with Phoebus,
And in a wicker cradle there exposed
Him to his death. She kept an ancient custom
Begun in Athens when Athene placed
By Erichthonius, son of Earth, two snakes
As guardians, when the daughters of Aglaurus
Were given charge of him.
And so Creusa tied
To him whatever girlish ornaments
She had, before she left him to his death.
— Euripides, Ion, 9–28

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Ion: Well, did your father sacrifice your sisters?
Creusa: He had the courage. They were killed for Athens.
Ion: How was it you were saved, the only one?
Creusa: I was a baby in my mother's arms.
— Euripides, Ion, 277–280


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Old Man: Where is the child? You need not be childless.
Creusa: Dead. He was left for beasts to prey upon.
Old Man: Dead? Then Phoebus was false, gave you no help?
Creusa: He did not help. The child grew up in Hades.
Old Man: But who exposed the child? Of course not you?
Creusa: I did: I wrapped him in my robes at night.
Old Man: And there was no accomplice in your deed?
Creusa: No, nothing but the silence and my grief.
Old Man: How could you leave your child there, in the cave?
Creusa: How, but with many tender words of pity?—
Old Man: Ah, you were harsh; Apollo harsher still.
Creusa: If you had seen the child stretch out his hands!
Old Man: To find your breast, lie in your arms?
Creusa: To find what I was cruelly refusing.
Old Man: But why did you decide to expose your child?
Creusa: Because I hoped the god would save his own.
— Euripides, Ion, 950–965

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Ion: This cradle—has it anything inside?
Creusa: It has the things you wore when I exposed you.
Ion: And can you give their names before you see them?
Creusa: I can; and, if I fail, consent to die.
Ion: Then speak. Your audacity is strange indeed.
Creusa: Look for the weaving which I did in childhood.
Ion: Describe it; girls do many kinds of work.
Creusa: It is unfinished, a kind of trial piece.
Ion: And its design—You cannot cheat me there.
Creusa: There is Gorgon in the center part.
Ion: O Zeus! What fate is this to track us down!
Creusa: The stuff is fringed with serpents like an aegis.
Ion: And here it is—found like an oracle!
Creusa: The loomwork of a girl—so long ago.
Ion: And anything else? Or will your luck fail now?
Creusa: Serpents, the custom of our golden race.
Ion: Athene's gift, who bids you wear them?
Creusa: Yes, in memory of Erichthonius.
Ion: What do they do with this gold ornament?
Creusa: It is a necklace for a newborn child.
— Euripides, Ion, 1412–1431

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Agamemnon:
After the army was mustered in here at Aulis, we were delayed
by the dead calm. It was then the prophet Calchas spoke to all of
us in despair at the weather and urged that my daughter, Iphigenia,
be sacrificed to the goddess of this place. He predicted that
if she were sacrificed we would sail and take and overthrow utterly
the land of Troy. But if she were not sacrificed none of these
things would happen. So when I heard this, I ordered our herald,
Talthybius, to make a loud proclamation and dismiss the whole
army. I would never have the cruel brutality to kill my own daughter!
— Euripides, Iphigenia in Aulis, 86–96


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Chorus: I appeal to you
From aged mouth:
Old, I fall at your knee.
Free my children—
Left by lawless men
To body-slackening death,
Food for mountain beasts!
See the piteous
Tears at my eyelids
And wrinkled tearings of hands
At hoary flesh
Because I could not lay out
My dead sons in my house
Or see their tombs of earth!
— Euripides, The Suppliant Women, 43–53

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Chorus: As from a towering rock
Cool water flows
Unceasing ever: I wail,
For to bear the death of children brings
A labor of lament to women.
Would that in death
I might forget these griefs!
— Euripides, The Suppliant Women, 80–87

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Chorus: Children! I bid you now in death
A bitter farewell for loving mothers.
— Euripides, The Suppliant Women, 801–803

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Chorus: O my child, to an evil fate I bred you!
I carried you in my womb
And felt the pangs of birth;
Now alas! Hades holds my burden,
And I have none to cherish me in age,
Though I bore a child, to my sorrow.
— Euripides, The Suppliant Women, 918–924

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No bed-chamber and sacred rites of marriage for you.
Instead, your mother put upon this marble tomb
A likeness which has your girlish shape and beauty
Thersis; you can be addressed even though you are dead.
— Grave inscription, taken from Palatine Anthology 7.649,
....trans. J. Snyder, The Woman and the Lyre: Women Writers
....in Classical Greece and Rome
, 68

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Over Asklepidotos who died before his time, Father Noetus piled up this well-enclosed mound, and before the grave of his poor son, he placed this finely smoothed stone and let be carved on it the picture of a five-year-old child: an empty delight for the eyes; for he had saved all joy and all hope in the earth; at home, however, the suffering mother mourns and with her own laments overcomes the mournful nightingale.
— Inscription on a second-or third-century child's stele in Bithynia

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Here stands the monument of Mnesagora and Nikochares.
They themselves are not able to be shown.
Fate took them away, and they left great grief
To both their dear father and mother
Because having died, they went to the house of Hades.
— Inscription on an Athenian stele, currently located in the National
.....Archaelogical Museum in Athens

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I hold this my daughter's dear child
whom I held on my lap, when we were alive
and looked at the rays of the sun with our eyes
and now being dead, I hold it dead.
—Inscription on the late-fifth-century gravestone of Ampharete,
....currently located in the Kerameikos Museum

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For her grasshopper, the nightingale of the fields, and her
Cicada, dweller in the oak, Myro made a common tomb
A girl shedding a maiden's tear. For Hades,
Hard to dissuade, took away her playthings.
— Hellenistic epigram by Anyte

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