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PRAXITHEA

Euripides, Erechtheus, fr. 50 Austin=fr 360 N
(from Lycurgus, Against Leocrates 100)

Translation copyright 1996 Mary R. Lefkowitz, Wellesley College. All rights reserved.

This passage, from a lost drama by Euripides, was quoted as an example of women's heroism by the fourth-century Athenian orator Lycurgus. According to the myth, when the Thracian army, led by Eumolpus, threatens Athens, Erechtheus, king of Athens, consults the oracle at Delphi and learns that the city can be saved only if he agrees to sacrifice one of his three daughters. In this speech his wife Praxithea gives her assent to her husband, arguing that if her daughter were a son, she would have sent him forth to war. Her daughters meanwhile have taken an oath that if one of them is sacrificed, the others will die as well. The Thracians attack, and Erechtheus is killed, but he and his daughters are honored in cult, and Praxithea becomes the first priestess of the goddess Athena.

Praxithea:

People are better pleased when one grants a favor nobly and generously. To grant the favor, but to delay in doing so, that I say is less noble.

I will offer my daughter to be sacrificed. I have many reasons. First I could not have a better city than this, whose people were not brought in from outside, but rather, we were born from this very soil. Other cities are divided as if by throws of the dice, and some are colonized from others. A person who moves from one city to another is like a peg badly fixed on wood; in name he is a citizen, but not in his actions.

Secondly, our purpose in having children is to protect the altars of the gods and our fatherland. Although the city has a single name, we who live in it are many. How should I destroy all of them, when it is possible for me to offer one life on behalf of all the others? If I know how to count, and can distinguish greater from less, one household in its affliction does not add up to more than the whole city or have equal weight.

If there were in our household male offspring instead of female, and the fire of war occupied the city, would I not be sending my son into battle with the spear, because I feared that he might die? May I have children who fight and are preeminent among men, and not be mere figureheads in the city! Mothers who send their children off to battle with their tears make men behave like women as they set out for war. I detest women who instead of glory prefer that their children remain alive and approve of cowardice.

Indeed when children die in war they share a common tomb with many others and an equal fame. But my child shall have a crown that is unique as her reward for dying alone on behalf of this city.* * And she shall save her mother and you * * and her two sisters. Which of these things is not glorious? So I shall give my daughter, who is not mine except by nature, to be sacrificed for the land. For if the city is going to be destroyed, what share have I in my children?

Will not everything be saved so far as I can help? Others will be rulers, but I shall save the city. One thing that for the most part affects us all-- so long as I am alive or with my consent, no one shall shall destroy the ancient ordinances of our ancestors. In the place of Athena's olive and golden Gorgon, Eumolpus and the Thracian army will never place their garlands on the trident of Poseidon that stands upon the city's foundations, and dishonor the worship of Pallas Athena.

Citizens, take advantage of the fruit of my labor pains, save yourselves, win victory! One life will not stop me from saving the city. O my country, I wish that all who dwell in you would love you as much as I do! Then we would live in you at our ease and you would not suffer any harm.


Greek text:

Austin, C., ed., Nova Fragmenta Euripidea in Papyris Reperta (Berlin, W. de Gruyter, 1968).

Verse translation:

Burtt, J. O., Minor Attic Orators, vol. 2 (Cambridge, Mass., Harvard Univ. Press., 1954) 87-91.

Bibliography:

Connelly, J.B., "Parthenon and Parthenoi: A Mythological Interpretation of the Parthenon Frieze," American Journal of Archaeology 100 (1996) 1-28.

Kearns, E., "The Heroes of Attica," Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies Supplement 57 (London 1989) 59-63, 202.

Larson, J., Greek Heroine Cults (Madison, Univ. of Wisconsin, 1995) 101-104.

Lefkowitz, M. R., Women in Greek Myth (Baltimore, Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1986) 95-100.

_________, "The Last Hours of the Parthenos," in Pandora's Box: Women in Classical Greece, ed. Ellen Reeder. (Baltimore/Princeton, Princeton Univ. Press, 1995). 32-38.

Loraux, N. Tragic Ways of Killing a Woman (Cambridge, Mass., Harvard Univ. Press, 1987) 47-8.

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