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by Archaeology Newsroom

Authairetos Thanatos: From Suicide to Social Life.

Although the ancient Greek language has no single term for “suicide”, our sources-particularly the myths, the historians, funerary epitaphs and dream-books- abound in revealing information on how the Greeks regarded the self-killing of a member of their society. The article examines two representative cases from the mid- fourth century B.C. First, the case of the Athenian politician Timarchus who was alleged to have prostituted himself to other men in his youth, having welcomed upon his body the “sins of a woman”. After being sentenced to atimia (in effect, a humiliating and lifelong public silence and withdrawal), Timarchus is reported to have hanged himself. The report, based on a literal reading of a passage in Demosthenes XIX, 2, is late (pseudo-Plutarch), yet seems plausible enough in the light of the social dynamics of the fourth-century B.C. Athens: atimia could have provoked suicide in a society in which social cohesion and the need to conform were extremely intense. Second, the flamboyant, pseudo-altruistic suicide of Pausanias, Phili II’s eromenos, as recounted in Diodorus Siculus (XVI. 93. 3-7). Both suicides were triggered by the invective that alleged violation of dikaios eros, that is properly managed homosexual relations. Both allegations “feminized” the accused and thereby cast a shadow on his competence and solidarity as a citizen-soldier. As we hope to show, these parallel suicides-a kind of diptych-shed light on one another and together confirm a number of ancient mentalities regarding not only suicide but also masculinity and “male honor”.