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Infanticide And Filicide In Ancient Greek Culture

1142 words - 5 pages

In current world culture, filicide and infanticide are seen as horrific and shocking crimes. In Greek culture, filicide was perceived quite differently. When reading through texts such as The Sayings of Spartan Women, Medea, Life of Lycurgus, and Spartan Society, the difference becomes apparent. Each text hints to the time period’s view of infanticide and filicide, and together, they show us a general view under which filicide fell – that is, if it were to benefit of the community as a whole, filicide was an appropriate action.
Spartan society had a more extreme perception of community than any of the other Greek city-states. Whether what they claimed to do was fact or rhetoric remains to ...view middle of the document...

Perusing through Medea, the reasons for legitimizing filicide take on a new theme. Medea admits to understanding that her children have not wronged her, yet because they are “accursed children of a hated mother (Medea 77),” she wishes them dead. In Medea 77-78, she states how she wishes the children dead “along with [their] father.” By placing the children squarely as her former husband’s offspring, she justifies their murder – provided that the murder satisfies the revenge she wishes to have on Jason. Here, filicide is used for reprisal. In a more general definition, as long as filicide fulfills a legitimate purpose, it is not viewed as all that terrible. In fact, the Nurse appears to share the same view. As she speaks to Medea, she foreshadows the children’s death, and pleads with Medea not to kill them. Even as she does so, the Nurse does not tell Medea that filicide is evil. Instead, she merely wonders why the children should “share in the guilt crimes of their father (Medea 78).” The sole reasoning behind the Nurse’s aversion to filicide is that here it contains an element of selfishness, rather than communal obligation. Medea’s lack of communal obligation is to be expected; she does not have ties to any community due to her chosen relationship with Jason. This directly results in her selfish mindset, and thereby her inability to use filicide solely as a means to bolster a community; as a result, Medea kills her children for revenge – a personal gain. In this form, filicide was considered inappropriate. This is implicitly shown through the Nurse’s response.
In his Life of Lycurgus, Plutarch praises some of Lycurgus’ instituted laws. Plutarch chose a select few because he believed that they were the laws that would contribute to an ideal society. Plutarch believed in Lycurgus’ institutions to such an extent he desired them to be reinstituted in the society he lived in. One of the laws that Plutarch discusses is the idea that “the father of a newborn child was not entitled to make his own decision about whether to rear it (Lycurgus, 16).” Instead, a father would bring his newborn to an elder of the city, who would decide if the child was worth raising. If the child wasn’t deemed worthy, the child was left to die in a...

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