Spartans Abroad: Rape and No Accountability

Another poorly named “erotic story” from Plutarch

Plutarch, Love Stories 3

“A poor man named Skadasos used to live in Leuktra (which is a village in the land of the Thespians). He had two daughters who were named Hippo and Milêtia or, as some say, Thenô and Euksippê. Skedasos was a good man and solicitous of strangers, even though he did not have much. When two Spartan youths came to him, he welcomed them happily. Although they were lusting after the maidens, they were hindered from bold action by the good character of the father. On the next day, they went to Delphi. The same road laid before them.

So, after they got an oracle from the god about which they were in need, they returned homeward again, traveling through Boiotia and returning to the home of Skedasos. But he did not happen to be in Leuktra at the time. Still, the daughters welcomed the strangers in the family’s usual manner. But when the youths found them alone, they raped the girls. When they noticed that the girls were taking the offense pretty badly, they killed them and rid themselves of the burden by throwing the bodies in a well.

When Skedasos returned and did not see his daughters, he discovered that everything else he left behind was safe. He was at a loss over the affair until a certain dog kept pawing at him and often ran up to him and from him back to the well. From this he figured it out, and he raised his daughters’ corpses up from the well. Once he learned from his neighbors that they had seen those Spartans on the previous day and returning again on the next one, he attributed the deed to them because they were constantly praising the girls on the earlier day and counting as blessed the men they would marry.

He went to Sparta in order to take his case to the Ephors. When he was near Argos, because night overtook him, he stayed in an inn. There was another old man in the same inn who was from the city of Oreus in the region of Hestiaia. After Skedasos heard him groaning and cursing the Spartans, he asked him what evil he had suffered at their hands. He explained that he was a Spartan subject and that after Aristodemos was sent to Oreus as a governor, he proved himself to be very cruel and lawless.

He explained, “He lusted after my son. When he couldn’t persuade him, he attempted to rape him and abduct him from the wrestling school. Because the teacher was preventing him and there were many young men helping, Aristodemos retreated out of necessity. But on the following day, he outfitted a trireme, kidnapped the boy and sailed to the opposite shore where he was trying to rape the boy. He killed him because he was fighting back. After returned, he threw a dinner party.” The old man continued, “Once I learned of what happened and took care of the body, I went to Sparta and met with the Ephors. But they showed this no concern.”

Hearing these things, Skedasos lost heart because he was imagining that the Spartans would ignore his case as well. But he did explain his own misfortune to the stranger in turn. The man was advising him not to meet with the Ephors but just to return to Boiotia and build a tomb for his daughters. Skedasos, nevertheless, was not persuaded, but he went to Sparta to meet with the Ephors. When they did not pay attention, he went to the kings and then went up and wept before each of the citizens. When he gained nothing else, he was rushing through the city raising his hands to the sun. Then he was striking his fists on the ground and calling on the Furies. Finally, he killed himself.”

Ἀνὴρ πένης Σκέδασος τοὔνομα κατῴκει Λεῦκτρα· ἔστι δὲ κώμιον τῆς τῶν Θεσπιέων χώρας. τούτῳ θυγατέρες γίνονται δύο· ἐκαλοῦντο δ᾿ Ἱππὼ καὶ Μιλητία, ἤ, ὥς τινες, Θεανὼ καὶ Εὐξίππη. ἦν δὲ χρηστὸς ὁ Σκέδασος καὶ τοῖς ξένοις ἐπιτήδειος, καίπερ οὐ πολλὰ κεκτημένος. ἀφικομένους οὖν πρὸς αὐτὸν δύο Σπαρτιάτας νεανίας ὑπεδέξατο προθύμως· οἱ δὲ τῶν παρθένων ἡττώμενοι διεκωλύοντο πρὸς τὴν τόλμαν ὑπὸ τῆς τοῦ κεδάσου χρηστότητος. τῇ δ᾿ ὑστεραίᾳ Πυθώδε ἀπῄεσαν· αὕτη γὰρ αὐτοῖς προύκειτο ἡ ὁδός· καὶ τῷ θεῷ χρησάμενοι περὶ ὧν ἐδέοντο, πάλιν ἐπανῄεσαν οἴκαδε, καὶ χωροῦντες διὰ τῆς Βοιωτίας ἐπέστησαν πάλιν τῇ τοῦ Σκεδάσου οἰκίᾳ. ὁ δ᾿ ἐτύγχανεν οὐκ ἐπιδημῶν τοῖς Λεύκτροις, ἀλλ᾿ αἱ θυγατέρες αὐτοῦ ὑπὸ τῆς συνήθους ἀγωγῆς τοὺς ξένους ὑπεδέξαντο. οἱ δὲ καταλαβόντες ἐρήμους τὰς κόρας βιάζονται· ὁρῶντες δ᾿ αὐτὰς καθ᾿ ὑπερβολὴν τῇ ὕβρει χαλεπαινούσας ἀπέκτειναν, καὶ ἐμβαλόντες ἔς τι φρέαρ ἀπηλλάγησαν. ἐπανελθὼν δ᾿ ὁ Σκέδασος τὰς μὲν κόρας οὐχ ἑώρα, πάντα δὲ τὰ καταλειφθέντα εὑρίσκει σῷα καὶ τῷ πράγματι ἠπόρει, ἕως τῆς κυνὸς κνυζωμένης καὶ πολλάκις μὲν προστρεχούσης πρὸς αὐτὸν ἀπὸ δ᾿ αὐτοῦ εἰς τὸ φρέαρ ἐπανιούσης, εἴκασεν ὅπερ ἦν, καὶ τῶν θυγατέρων τὰ νεκρὰ οὕτως ἀνιμήσατο. πυθόμενος δὲ παρὰ τῶν γειτόνων, ὅτι ἴδοιεν τῇ χθὲς ἡμέρᾳ τοὺς καὶ πρῴην καταχθέντας ἐπ᾿ αὐτοὺς Λακεδαιμονίους εἰσιόντας, συνεβάλετο τὴν πρᾶξιν ἐκείνων, ὅτι καὶ πρῴην συνεχῶς ἐπῄνουν τὰς κόρας, μακαρίζοντες τοὺς γαμήσοντας.

Ἀπῄει εἰς Λακεδαίμονα, τοῖς ἐφόροις ἐντευξόμενος· γενόμενος δ᾿ ἐν τῇ Ἀργολικῇ, νυκτὸς καταλαμβανούσης, εἰς πανδοκεῖόν τι κατήχθη· κατὰ τὸ αὐτὸ δὲ καὶ πρεσβύτης τις ἕτερος τὸ γένος ἐξ Ὠρεοῦ πόλεως τῆς Ἑστιαιάτιδος· οὗ στενάξαντος καὶ κατὰ Λακεδαιμονίων ἀρὰς ποιουμένου ἀκούσας ὁ Σκέδασος ἐπυνθάνετο τί κακὸν ὑπὸ Λακεδαιμονίων πεπονθὼς εἴη. ὁ δὲ διηγεῖτο, ὡς ὑπήκοος μέν ἐστι τῆς Σπάρτης, πεμφθεὶς δ᾿ εἰς Ὠρεὸν Ἀριστόδημος ἁρμοστὴς παρὰ Λακεδαιμονίων ὠμότητα καὶ παρανομίαν ἐπιδείξαιτο πολλήν. “ἐρασθεὶς γάρ,” ἔφη, “τοῦ ἐμοῦ παιδός, ἐπειδὴ πείθειν ἀδύνατος ἦν, ἐπεχείρει βιάσασθαι καὶ ἀπάγειν αὐτὸν τῆς παλαίστρας· κωλύοντος δὲ τοῦ παιδοτρίβου καὶ νεανίσκων πολλῶν ἐκβοηθούντων, παραχρῆμα ὁ Ἀριστόδημος ἀπεχώρησε· τῇ δ᾿ ὑστεραίᾳ πληρώσας τριήρη συνήρπασε τὸ μειράκιον, καὶ ἐξ Ὠρεοῦ διαπλεύσας εἰς τὴν περαίαν ἐπεχείρει ὑβρίσαι, οὐ συγχωροῦντα δ᾿ αὐτὸν ἀπέσφαξεν.  ἐπανελθὼν δ᾿ εἰς τὴν Ὠρεὸν εὐωχεῖτο. ἐγὼ δ᾿,” ἔφη, “τὸ πραχθὲν πυθόμενος καὶ τὸ σῶμα κηδεύσας παρεγενόμην εἰς τὴν Σπάρτην καὶ τοῖς ἐφόροις ἐνετύγχανον· οἱ δὲ λόγον οὐκ ἐποιοῦντο.” Σκέδασος δὲ ταῦτα ἀκούων ἀθύμως διέκειτο, ὑπολαμβάνων ὅτι οὐδ᾿ αὐτοῦ λόγον τινὰ ποιήσονται οἱ Σπαρτιᾶται· ἐν μέρει τε τὴν οἰκείαν διηγήσατο συμφορὰν τῷ ξένῳ· ὁ δὲ παρεκάλει αὐτὸν μηδ᾿ ἐντυχεῖν τοῖς ἐφόροις, ἀλλ᾿ ὑποστρέψαντα εἰς τὴν Βοιωτίαν κτίσαι τῶν θυγατέρων τὸν τάφον. οὐκ ἐπείθετο δ᾿ ὅμως ὁ Σκέδασος, ἀλλ᾿ εἰς τὴν Σπάρτην ἀφικόμενος τοῖς ἐφόροις ἐντυγχάνει· ὧν μηδὲν προσεχόντων, ἐπὶ τοὺς βασιλέας ἵεται καὶ ἀπὸ τούτων ἑκάστῳ τῶν δημοτῶν προσιὼν ὠδύρετο. μηδὲν δὲ πλέον ἀνύων ἔθει διὰ μέσης τῆς πόλεως, ἀνατείνων πρὸς ἥλιον τὼ χεῖρε, αὖθις δὲ τὴν γῆν τύπτων ἀνεκαλεῖτο τὰς Ἐρινύας καὶ τέλος αὑτὸν τοῦ ζῆν μετέστησεν.

Spartan warrior as depicted on a Greek red-figured vase, c. 480 bc. The Granger Collection, New Yor

Fragmentary Friday: Nemesis, Helen’s Other Mother

Pausanias, 1.33.7

“The Greeks claim that Nemesis was Helen’s mother and that Leda nursed her and raised her.”

Ἑλένῃ Νέμεσιν μητέρα εἶναι λέγουσιν Ἕλληνες, Λήδαν δὲ μαστὸν ἐπισχεῖν αὐτῇ καὶ θρέψαι


Scholia to Lykophron 88

“Zeus made himself look like a swan and joined Nemesis near the river Ocean. From this union, she laid an egg which Leda received, warmed, and then bore Helen and the Dioscouri”

κύκνῳ ἀπεικασθεὶς ὁ Ζεὺς Νεμέσει τῇ ᾿Ωκεανοῦ συνῆλθεν, ἐξ ἧς γεννᾶται ᾠόν, ὅπερ λαβοῦσα ἡ Λήδα ἐθέρμαινε καὶ ἔτεκε τὴν ῾Ελένην καὶ τοὺς Διοσκούρους.


Scholia to Callimachus’s Hymns 3.232

“Ramnos is a deme in Attica where Zeus slept with Nemesis who then produced an egg which Leda found, warmed and which produced in turn the Dioscuri and Helen.”

<῾Ραμνουσίδι:> ῾Ραμνοῦς δῆμος ᾿Αττικῆς, ἔνθα τῇ Νεμέσει ὁ Ζεὺς συνεκαθεύδησεν, ἥτις ἔτεκεν ᾠόν, ὅπερ εὑροῦσα ἡ Λήδα ἐθέρμανε καὶ ἐξέβαλε τοὺς Διοσκούρους καὶ τὴν ῾Ελένην.

Leda egg

The fragmentary poem from the  epic cycle dubbed the Cypria was attributed to lesser known poets like Stasinus and Hegesias by ancient authors. Its name, however, comes from the fact that it was largely believed to be composed in Cyprus (or by a Cypriot poet traveling abroad).

The first fragment of the poem tends to be its most well-known since it places the Trojan War in a context of global discussion and echoes the Iliad in making this all part of Zeus’ plan. But the ninth fragment has some frightening details. First, it alleges that Helen is not the daughter of Zeus and Leda (of the swan scene) but instead is the offspring of Zeus and the unwilling goddess Nemesis. Second, it shows Zeus pursuing her all over the earth no matter what form she took.

Cypria, Fr. 9 Benarbé [fr 10. West 2013]

“After them [he?] bore a wonder to mortals, a third child Helen—
Fine-haired Nemesis gave birth to her after having sex
With Zeus, the king of the gods, under forceful compulsion.
For she was not willing to have sex with Kronos’ son
Father Zeus, since her mind rushed with shame and opposition [nemesis].
She fled over the earth and the dark, barren sea,
But Zeus pursued her—and he longed to catch her in his heart.
At one time along the waves of the much-resounding sea,
He broke through the water as she took the form of a fish—
At another he followed her through the river Ocean to the ends of the earth.
Again, across the much-nourishing land. She became all the terrible
Beasts, the many the land raises up, in trying to escape him.”

τοὺς δὲ μέτα τριτάτην ῾Ελένην τέκε θαῦμα βροτοῖσι·
τήν ποτε καλλίκομος Νέμεσις φιλότητι μιγεῖσα
Ζηνὶ θεῶν βασιλῆϊ τέκε κρατερῆς ὑπ’ ἀνάγκης·
φεῦγε γὰρ οὐδ’ ἔθελεν μιχθήμεναι ἐν φιλότητι
πατρὶ Διὶ Κρονίωνι· ἐτείρετο γὰρ φρένας αἰδοῖ
καὶ νεμέσει· κατὰ γῆν δὲ καὶ ἀτρύγετον μέλαν ὕδωρ
φεῦγε, Ζεὺς δ’ ἐδίωκε—λαβεῖν δ’ ἐλιλαίετο θυμῶι—
ἄλλοτε μὲν κατὰ κῦμα πολυφλοίσβοιο θαλάσσης
ἰχθύι εἰδομένην πόντον πολὺν ἐξοροθύνων,
ἄλλοτ’ ἀν’ ᾿Ωκεανὸν ποταμὸν καὶ πείρατα γαίης,
ἄλλοτ’ ἀν’ ἤπειρον πολυβώλακα· γίγνετο δ’ αἰνὰ
θηρί’, ὅσ’ ἤπειρος πολλὰ τρέφει, ὄφρα φύγοι νιν.

As West (2013, 81-83) points out, there is some motif transference going on here in the fragment. For one, in many testimonia Thetis is said to change shapes to elude Peleus. In addition, we know the popular account of Zeus changing into a swan [or goose] to seduce Leda. Finally, Nemesis—as a concept and less as a character—is often associated with Helen’s behavior. She receives “nemesis and shame” for her actions. Much of this may linger in the mythopoetic background when the leaders of the Trojans declare upon seeing her again in the Iliad “there’s no nemesis for the Trojans and Achaeans, that they suffered pain for so long for this kind of woman….” (οὐ νέμεσις Τρῶας καὶ ἐϋκνήμιδας ᾿Αχαιοὺς
τοιῇδ’ ἀμφὶ γυναικὶ πολὺν χρόνον ἄλγεα πάσχειν).

But other accounts have Zeus changing to match Nemesis as well. Apollodorus (3.10.7) attempts to harmonize the two accounts:

“Some allege that Helen is the daughter of Nemesis and Zeus and that when she was fleeing Zeus’ sexual advance she changed her shape into a goose and that Zeus matched her and approached her as a swan. She produced an egg from this intercourse—people say that some shepherd found this egg in a thicket, fetched it and gave it to Leda who placed it in a box where she guarded it. When, after some time, it hatched and produced Helen, Leda raised her as her own daughter.”

λέγουσι δὲ ἔνιοι Νεμέσεως ῾Ελένην εἶναι καὶ Διός. ταύτην γὰρ τὴν Διὸς φεύγουσαν συνουσίαν εἰς χῆνα τὴν μορφὴν μεταβαλεῖν, ὁμοιωθέντα δὲ καὶ Δία κύκνῳ συνελθεῖν· τὴν δὲ ᾠὸν ἐκ τῆς συνουσίας ἀποτεκεῖν, τοῦτο δὲ ἐν τοῖς ἄλσεσιν εὑρόντα τινὰ ποιμένα Λήδᾳ κομίσαντα δοῦναι, τὴν δὲ καταθεμένην εἰς λάρνακα φυλάσσειν, καὶ χρόνῳ καθήκοντι γεννηθεῖσαν ῾Ελένην ὡς ἐξ αὑτῆς θυγατέρα τρέφειν…



Tawdry Tuesday: The Argives Say Helen is Iphigenia’s Mother


The tale I usually tell my myth students is that Helen was kidnapped as a baby by Theseus and returned fairly young as well.  According to Pausanias, the Argives (and some poets) told a rather different story about her.


“Near the shrine of the Lords is the temple of Eilêthuia, set up by Helen when Theseus was passing through to the Thesprotians with Peirthoos after Aphidna was captured by the Dioskouri and Helen was being taken to Lakedaimon. Some say that she was pregnant and that she gave birth in Argos and then built the temple of Eilêthuia but that she gave the child she bore to Klytemnestra—for she was already married to Agamemnon—and that she married Menelaos after these events. The poets Euphorion of Khalkis and Alexandros of Pleurôn have written poems on this matter; before them still, Stesikhoros of Himeria also agrees with the Argives that Iphigenia was Theseus’ daughter.”

πλησίον δὲ τῶν ᾿Ανάκτων Εἰληθυίας ἐστὶν ἱερὸν ἀνάθημα ῾Ελένης, ὅτε σὺν Πειρίθῳ Θησέως ἀπελθόντος ἐς Θεσπρωτοὺς ῎Αφιδνά τε ὑπὸ Διοσκούρων ἑάλω καὶ ἤγετο ἐς Λακεδαίμονα ῾Ελένη. ἔχειν μὲν γὰρ αὐτὴν λέγουσιν ἐν γαστρί, τεκοῦσαν δὲ ἐν ῎Αργει καὶ τῆς Εἰληθυίας ἱδρυσαμένην τὸ ἱερὸν τὴν μὲν παῖδα ἣν ἔτεκε Κλυταιμνήστρᾳ δοῦναι—συνοικεῖν γὰρ ἤδη Κλυταιμνήστραν ᾿Αγαμέμνονι—, αὐτὴν δὲ ὕστερον τούτων Μενελάῳ γήμασθαι. καὶ ἐπὶ τῷδε Εὐφορίων Χαλκιδεὺς καὶ Πλευρώνιος ᾿Αλέξανδρος ἔπη ποιήσαντες, πρότερον δὲ ἔτι Στησίχορος ὁ ῾Ιμεραῖος, κατὰ ταὐτά φασιν ᾿Αργείοις Θησέως εἶναι θυγατέρα ᾿Ιφιγένειαν.

In some accounts, Theseus kidnaps an older Helen.


Here’s a fragment from Euphorion (fr. 90)


“Because, in fact, Helen gave birth to her with Theseus who violated her with force”

Οὕνεκα δή μιν
ἶφι βιησαμένῳ ῾Ελένη ὑπεγείνατο Θησεῖ.


There is wordplay here with Iphigenia and iphi-biêsamenô.