“If it is a girl…”: A Letter about Child Exposure

This letter contains a reference to disposing of a female infant. 

P. Oxy. 120 (1st Century BCE) From Hilarion to Alis

“Hilarion sends sends many, many greetings to his sister along with my lady Berous and Apollonarion. Listen, we are still in Alexandria. Don’t worry about this—if they go home completely, I will stay in Alexandria. I am asking you and begging you to take care of the little child and when we are paid, I will send it to you right away. If you happen to be pregnant again, if it is a boy, leave it; if it is a girl, throw it out.

You have told Aphrodisias “don’t forget me.” How could I possibly forget you? Please, do not be worried….”

Ἱλαρίων{α} Ἄλιτι τῆι ἀδελφῇ πλεῖστα χαίρειν καὶ Βεροῦτι τῇ κυρίᾳ μου καὶ Ἀπολλωνάριν. γίνωσκε ὡς ἔτι καὶ νῦν ἐν Ἀλεξανδρέᾳ ᾿σμεν. μὴ ἀγωνιᾷς· ἐὰν ὅλως εἰσπορεύονται, ἐγὼ ἐν Ἀλεξανδρέᾳ μενῶ. ἐρωτῶ σε καὶ παρακαλῶ σε, ἐπιμελήθ<ητ>ι τῷ παιδίῳ καὶ ἐὰν εὐθὺς ὀψώνιον λάβωμεν ἀποστελῶ σε ἄνω. ἐὰν πολλὰ πολλῶν τέκῃς, ἐὰν ᾖ{ν} ἄρσενον, ἄφες, ἐὰν ᾖ{ν} θήλεα, ἔκβαλε. εἴρηκας δὲ Ἀφροδισιᾶτι ὅτι μή με ἐπιλάθῃς. πῶς δύναμαί σε ἐπιλαθεῖν; ἐρωτῶ σε οὖν ἵνα μὴ ἀγωνιάσῃς.

Image result for medieval manuscript childbirth
Walters Art Museum Illuminated Manuscripts · Osée et Gomer. Birth of Yizréel Cote : Français 10 , Fol. 444 Guiard

2 thoughts on ““If it is a girl…”: A Letter about Child Exposure

  1. honorthegodsblog

    Interesting comparison to the elegy for Theiophilê. Wealthy families could increase their fortunes through the judicious marriage of a daughter, but pregnancy for the poor presented not only another mouth to feed, but limited the mother’s contribution to the family’s resources. Infant mortality rates were high, and parents tried not to become too attached to new-borns.

    Today in the U.S. elected officials publicly fret about declining population, yet continually decrease funding for women’s health care and food programs for women, infants, and children, and attempt to limit immigration. Like ancient Rome, it seems what they want to do is encourage more births among the “right sorts” of people, namely, the well-to-do.

  2. Pingback: Women’s History Month, Week 2 – SENTENTIAE ANTIQUAE

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