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Women's Voices


33. Pasiphae. Athens, mid-5th cent. B.C. (Euripides, Cretans, GLP 11. Tr. H. Lloyd-Jones. G)

Pasiphae, condemned to death for having had intercourse with a bull and having given birth to the monster Minotaur, speaks in her own defence. In Euripides' Trojan Women 914-51, Helen puts responsibility for her adultery on Paris' mother Hecuba and the goddess Aphrodite.

If I were to deny the fact you would never believe me; it is clear enough. Now if I had prostituted my body in clandestine love to a man, you could have rightly said I was a whore. But as things are, it was a god who drove me mad; I am sorry, but it was not my fault.

It makes no sense; what is it about the bull that could have stirred up my feelings with such a shameful passion? Did he look so splendid in his robes? Did his auburn hair and his eyes flash brilliantly? Was it his dark beard? It can hardly have been the symmetry of his form! This is the love for which I got into the skin and went on all fours; and this makes Minos angry! I could hardly wish to make this husband the father of children; why was I afflicted with this madness?

It was Minos' evil genius who afflicted me with his curse; the one human being who bears all the guilt is Minos! It was he who broke the promise he had made to sacrifice the bull that came as a portent to the sea god. It was for this that Poseidon's vengeance came upon you, and it is on me that it descended! And then you cry aloud and call all the gods to witness, when the doer of the act that put me to shame is you yourself!

I who gave birth to the creature have done no harm; I kept secret the god-sent affliction of the curse. It is you who publish to all your wife's disgrace, handsome as it is and proper to display, as though you had no part in it, maddest of madmen!

You are my ruin, because the crime is yours; you are the cause of my affliction! Well, if you wish to drown me, drown me! You are expert in bloody deeds and murder. Or if you lust to eat my flesh, then eat it, feed to your heart's content! I shall perish free and guiltless, for a crime for which you are guilty!