An account of the various modes of punishment for adultery, in distant nations.
WE consider it a part of our duty to give our readers occasionally an account of the various modes of punishment, for the commission of crimes, in distant nations.
No guilt is more frequent than adultery, and none, in its progress, more tending to fatal consequences, involving whole families in ruin, and driving others to seek revenge in the blood of the spoilers of their honour.
That adultery is a crime which has been detested by all wise and good people, as scandalous in its nature, pernicious to society, and destructive of religion, appears by the various severe laws and punishments by which legislators and magistrates have endeavoured to restrain it.
The histories of the ancient heathens tell us that they thought it a crime so very black and abominable, that they have compared it to sacrilege, or to robbing of temples; and their philosophers judged it to be worse than perjury. The old Ethiopians ranked it with treason, as a crime of the like nature and guilt; and the Egyptians had a law that the man guilty of it should have a thousand stripes, and that a woman should lose her nose, as a mark of perpetual infamy.
The ancient Athenians punished all adulterers with death, and even those who were only suspected with some less penalty. It was the custom of the Persians to throw the adulteress down headlong into a deep well; for, as adultery was, at one time, a common crime among the nobility and gentry in the court of ancient Persia, it became the frequent cause of rebellions, murders, and other dreadful calamities, in that empire.
The tragedy of Mejistes and his whole family, occasioned by the adultery of his wife with Xerxes the emperor, is most horrible to relate; and the punishment of Appodines the physician, for debauching Amytis, the widow of Megabyzus, is also most shocking and terrible.
The old lawgivers of Greece punished this crime with death. Among the Lybians it was the custom to treat married women guilty of adultery in the most severe manner, without mercy and without pardon.
In a certain city of Crete, when an adulterer was caught in the fact, and judicially convicted, he was first adjudged to be covered with a crown of wool, in derision of his soft and effeminate nature, signified by that material and the animal from whence it was taken, then publicly to pay a heavy fine, and to be rendered incapable of bearing any office in the government.
The King of the Tenideans made a law that the adulterer should be beheaded with an axe; and commanded his own son, found guilty of this fact, to be put to death in that manner.
The Lepreans made a law that the men should be led round the city for three days together, and then burnt in the face with a brand of indelible infamy; and that the women should stand in the market-place for eleven successive days, clothed only with a thin transparent garment, which should hang loose and untied, in order to expose them more to public shame, contempt, and laughter.
Hippomines, one of the kings of Athens, having caught an adulterer with his daughter Limona, ordered him to be tied to the wheel of a chariot, and her to one of the horses, and to be dragged about the streets till they died; a shameful and horrid spectacle to the whole city, but a public example of the most severe and impartial justice.
Dio the consul, the first King of the Romans, made a law that the faulty wife should be put to death after what manner her husband or relations thought fit; which law was afterwards confirmed, and continued in force for many years. But the rigidly virtuous Cato allowed the husband to dispatch his wife immediately on finding her guilty, without staying for the forms of justice. Many also of the Roman emperors punished this crime with present death; though it must be confessed, indeed, that many others of them, with their empresses and daughters, and ladies of the highest quality, when Rome was declining, were notoriously guilty.
We read of many Julias and Messalinas in the reign of the twelve Caesars, and so downwards, for a great length of time.
This vice soon became very common among them in the days of their conquests, national influence, and prosperity; and yet, such diligence and labour had there been used to bring offenders to condign punishment, that Tacitus says, when he was a chief officer of Rome, he found in the public records the names of three thousand who had been put to death for committing adultery. Even the heathen Romans always punished malefactors convicted of this crime by banishment, and, in cases of the highest degree, with death.
The Hungarians, in those days when virtue was in more esteem than at present, made death the punishment, with dreadful infliction. The father was compelled to conduct and force his own daughter to the place of execution, the husband his wife, and the brother his sister.
In Old Saxony a woman convicted of this crime was punished precisely as the English law punished the murderer of her husband -- strangled, and then burnt to ashes. The adulterer was then hung up over her grave; or else the chaste matrons of the town where the fact was committed had liberty to scourge him with whips and rods, from one village to another, until he died.
The Turks adopted the Levitical law, and stoned such offenders to death; though, before the law of Moses, the adulteress, when condemned, was burnt alive.
In holy writ, the prophet Jeremiah intimates that the King of Babylon was more cruel than any other monarch, for he roasted to death Zedekiah, the son of Maaseiah, and Ahad, the son of Kolaiah, because they had committed adultery with their neighbours' wives.
At this day, in Turkey, adulteries are often punished by drowning the guilty woman, and castrating the man.
The Spaniards and the Italians, by nature jealous and severe, wherever they suspect a man guilty with their wives, wait an opportunity of plunging a dagger secretly in his heart.
In France, five hundred years ago, two gentlemen of Normandy, who were brothers, were flayed alive, and hung upon gibbets, for adultery.
Modern writers have stigmatized this crime with the name it deserves -- a most execrable villainy. Some of the old fathers of the Church have declared their minds with such sharpness and vehemence, as to pronounce it, in many cases, unpardonable.
If we look into the old books of the civil and canon laws we shall find that the several punishments made and ordained by them were either death by the sword or the loss of their noses, or some singular brand of infamy, or some large pecuniary mulct, or banishment; as we find by the old statutes of the Belgians and Hollanders. If a father caught his daughter in the fact, he might kill her and her gallant upon the spot; but a husband was empowered, in the like cases, to put the latter only to death, but the wife was reserved to the judgment of the law.
Adultery, from being more immediately an offence against the Church, has been generally excepted out of the acts of pardon and indemnity, as an evil in itself, or of that nature which kings themselves cannot or will not pardon.
It would be endless to recount the many kingdoms and republics, with all their different laws and customs, where this abominable crime hath been, and still is, chastised and exposed with very signal, infamous, painful, and terrible punishments. In England, we are sorry to say, its commission now too often goes unpunished, whether in the prince or the pickpocket.
Let, however, this short extract from eminent authors, contrasted with its barefaced commission in our own country, give the immoral and incontinent a specimen of the opinion of the wise and sober part of mankind; and let them dread the examples of the downfall of mighty empires from profligacy, lest its general adoption hurl their country into the like fate.