Skip to Content

Category Archives: Uncategorized

Tabula Cortonensis

by May 11, 2018

By Natalia Klimczak, Contributing Writer, Ancient Origins
2,200 years ago, a pair of skilled Etruscan hands crafted a tablet that became a key to the language of this remarkable civilization. This unique bronze artifact is known as the Tabula Cortonensis and, apart from its role in deciphering a lost language, it also contains untold secrets of the Etruscan civilization if you read between the lines of its text.
The Etruscan civilization is a mysterious one. They created their own language, religion, architecture, and other cultural aspects. Their culture has been separated as one of the treasures of ancient times due to their amazing achievements before Romanization. However, there are still more questions than answers about the enigmatic people. Therefore, a discovery like the Tabula Cortonensis is priceless because it brings us one step closer to the Etruscans.
Tablets in Cortona

The Etruscan tablets.

A Curious Tablet
The tablet was discovered near the city of Curtun, which was known as Corito in the Roman Empire, and is now called Cortona. It lies in Arezzo Provincia in Tuscany. The site is well-known for the discovery of a 4th-century tomb that may have belonged to the famous mathematician and philosopher, Pythagoras.
Cortona, Italy

Modern Cortona, Tuscany, Italy.

The tablet was unearthed in 1992, however it wasn’t exhibited for many years. This artifact is made of bronze and, for unknown reasons, it had been cut into eight fragments. Unfortunately, one of the pieces is lost. The tablet is 2-3 millimeters (.08-0.12 inches) thick and measures about 50 by 30 cm (19.69 x 11.81 inches). Researchers discovered that the tablet was made using the lost wax process. It has been suggested that the sheet may have been cut so it could be used for different purposes.
Some researchers believe the tablet was created in this way to be hung. However, there is no place for a ring or hook, so this seems unlikely. It is also uncertain if the Etruscans had specific measurements for different documents created on bronze tablets. There are some suggestions that the tablets for religious purposes had a specific size, but it is possible that contracts like the Tabula Cortonensis were also created with a precise pattern.
The Transfer Agreement
The text on the Tabula Cortonensis is a common record of a land transfer agreement between two parties. The text itself was written with skill, but its content is not unique. Although it is relatively wordy, the document isn’t the longest Etruscan writing discovered either – the Capua Tablet and the Liber Linetus from Zagreb are both longer.
The tablet was carefully studied by Luciano Agostiniani and Francesco Nicosia. They found that the inscription was clear in its content, but also full of specific information for the situation. For example, the names of the people who agreed to the contract are provided. The text also provides information about the Etruscan style and language used for this kind of agreement – a language which was thought to be the same in every region of Etruria.
Keys to a Forgotten Language
The lengthy text makes this artifact a useful tool in research on the Etruscan language. However, the researchers were surprised by the differences between the language they thought they knew and the text which had been written on the tablet. According to Agostiniani and Nicosia:
The letters are, with a few exceptions, those of the normal north Etruscan alphabet of the later 3rd or 2nd century BC. The absence of Phi and of the aspirate H is probably a coincidence: there are no words in the inscription in which they would have occurred. The gamma has the curved shape that becomes the Latin C. (Etruscan did not have the sounds of B, G or D. Their neighbors, the Romans, first pronounced C either with the sound of K, the Etruscan way or as gamma, the Greek way. Until the letter G was invented, they pronounced Caius Julius Caesar as Gaius Iulius Kaisar.) Two signs are unusual. The backward E, epsilon, though rare, is known from other inscriptions from Cortona. The “paragraph” sign used to set off four of the seven sections of this legal document (lines 7, 8, 14, 23) is unique. It would be perfectly understandable to any modern proof-reader.
The tablet records a contract for the sale, or lease, of land, including a vineyard (vina), in the plain of Lake Trasimeno (celtineitiss tarsminass), between the Cusu family (Cusuthur), to which Petru Scevas belongs, and 15 people, perhaps a group of buyers, witnessed by a third group of names sometimes listed along with their children and grandchildren (clan, “son”, and papals, “grandson”).
Map of Etruscan civilization

Maximum extent of the Etruscan civilization and the twelve Etruscan League cities.

The ancient inscription is full of mistakes, or, it provides evidence of gaps in modern knowledge about the Etruscan language. Agostiniani explains this by saying that the tablet contains a unique language used by the people who lived specifically in Cortona. That would mean people could have used different language in various parts of Etruria.
Searching for the Lost Civilization
Researchers need to complete additional excavations and analysis of previously discovered Etruscan artifacts to reveal more fascinating information about this unique civilization. But every discovery like the Tabula Cortonensis provides new information that allows us to create a clearer picture of their daily life and language, something that looks to be more complicated than once believed.

The Only Library Ever Recovered from Antiquity

by May 3, 2018

By Wu Mingren, Contributing writer, Ancient Origins
Ancient Books

Fresco depicting a young man reading a scroll from Herculaneum

The Villa of the Papyri is the name given to a private house that was uncovered in the ancient Roman city of Herculaneum. This city, along with nearby Pompeii, is perhaps best remembered for its destruction during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. Because of this natural disaster, the buildings of these cities were preserved under a thick layer of volcanic ash.
Drawing of the city of Herculaneum

1859 Imaginative drawing of the city of Herculaneum. ( Public Domain )

The Villa’s Elaborate Presence
One of these buildings was the Villa of the Papyri, named as such due to the discovery of a library in the house that contained about 1800 scrolls of papyri (known today as the ‘Herculaneum Papyri’), which were carbonized due to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.
Villa Ruins

Ruins of the Villa of the Papyri in Herculaneum. (Erik Anderson/ CC BY SA 3.0 )

Researchers believe the Villa of the Papyri belonged to Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus, Julius Caesar’s father-in-law. This villa is located in the northwestern part of Herculaneum, on a slope of the volcano overlooking the Bay of Naples. Built in terraces down to the sea, the villa was a grand structure, covering an area of 30,000 square feet (2787 sq. meters). The front of the villa stretched for more than 820 ft. (250 meters), and offered its inhabitants an unobstructed view of the bay. The villa included two peristyles, a swimming pool, gardens, living and reception quarters.
Rediscovering the Villa
It was only during the 18th century that the villa was rediscovered. In 1709, the city of Herculaneum was rediscovered when workmen digging a well in the town of Resina stumbled upon the upper level of the ancient town’s theatre. Excavations began to be carried out and were funded by the House of Bourbon. In 1750, the Villa of the Papyri was uncovered, and an excavation was soon undertaken under the direction of Karl Weber, a Swiss architect and engineer.
Map of the villa

Weber’s map of Villa of the Papyri Herculaneum. ( Public Domain )

A Very Special Library
Two years later, in October 1752, the villa’s library was discovered, and with it, the first cache of papyri was brought to light. Containing about 1800 scrolls, the collection of this library is relatively small. Yet, it is the only known library to have survived from the Classical world.
Hence, the library has a great importance in the eyes of both archaeologists and classicists. Exposure to the volcanic gas and ash meant the scrolls were carbonized – they were turned into charred cylindrical lumps. In fact, the papyri were initially mistaken for lumps of charcoal or burnt logs, and their value was only recognized later. The carbonization of the scrolls effectively preserved them, though at the same time, it made them extremely difficult to unroll.
Papyrus found in Herculaneum

Herculaneum Papyrus 1428: Philodemus, On Piety. ( The Friends of Herculaneum Society )

A Difficult Process Begins
Attempts have been made to read the contents of these scrolls. Some were unceremoniously hacked open with a butcher’s knife, whilst others were simply unrolled. Needless to say, damage was done to the fragile artifacts. An ‘unrolling device’ was even invented by Antonio Piaggio, a Piarist monk, specifically for the unravelling of these papyri. Though the scrolls were unrolled with this device, they remained fragile, and the process took a very long time. The first scroll took four years to unravel.
Nevertheless, progress was being made, and by 1790, reports on the contents of the library were being published. Over the next two centuries, various techniques have been developed in the hope that the contents of the papyri may be accessed. Some of the most recent attempts involve digital, rather than physical, unravelling of the scrolls. In order to do so, methods such as X-rays, digital photography, and microscopy have been utilized.
However, it is still very difficult to view the writings on the papyri. The main problem is that the ink and the papyri are physically similar, as the Romans used a carbon-based ink made from smoke residues. In other words, it is not easy to differentiate the writings from the carbonized papyri.

Plato’s Symposium: Always Change For Love

by May 1, 2018

By Van Bryan
So, that’s probably a strange thing to say, right?
SymposiumPlato’s Symposium
After all, the popular opinion today is that you shouldn’t change for love and that your spouse shouldn’t make you change. I am who I am and that’s all that I am!
That certainly seems to be the mindset these days; at least that’s what my single friends tell me. They spend their evenings swiping left on their smart phones and making connections with total strangers on Tinder or J-swipe or…whatever.
“Never change for love.” That’s the battle cry.
Besides, if you just be yourself, surely you will find somebody just like you and you will inevitably fall in love.
Right?
“Wrong!” says Plato.
The problem with never changing who you are for love, or never letting your spouse change who you are, is that who you are might very well be a terrible person. What if who you are is an inconsiderate sociopath? Or worse, what if you are a sophist?
What I’m trying to say is that maybe a bit of change wouldn’t be so bad. Perhaps we really should let our lovers change us. Who knows? Maybe they will make us better.
That seems to be Plato’s line of thought at least. Our particular topic of interest comes from Plato’s Symposium, that unique piece of philosophical literature that asks the question: “What’s love?”
Plato is a giant in the field of philosophy. He was easily one of the most, if not the most, influential philosopher in the Western tradition. His Symposium, for those of you who don’t already know, sounds more like the setup for a particularly funny joke than an actual piece of philosophical literature.
“Okay, okay, so a philosopher, a comic playwright, and a politician walk into a bar…”
See what I mean?
A symposium was like a dinner party in the days of ancient Greece. Except, instead of casually drinking beer and playing charades, the participants of a symposium would get rip-roaringly drunk off of wine and then commence to discuss some central topic of philosophical interest; although, that does sound pretty fun too.
symposium
Plato’s Symposium, by Anselm Feuerbach
In Plato’s Symposium, Socrates, Plato’s teacher and the man dubbed “the Father of Western Philosophy”, is joined by a handful of important Athenian figures of the age, the most notable of which are the general Alcibiades and the comic playwright Aristophanes. They all gather to discuss the topic of love.
For the more initiated of you, you will recall that there are no shortage of interesting ideas to discuss in Symposium. However, today we are looking at the speech of Pausanias and the assertion that we ought to let our lover change us.
Pausanias first notes that love is the only thing that can justify some questionable behavior. Under normal circumstances, we might look strangely at a man who lies all night on a front porch. However, when we learn that this man is doing this in pursuit of his lover, then his behavior not only becomes somewhat acceptable, but even admirable.
“And in the pursuit of his love the custom of mankind allows him to do many strange things, which philosophy would bitterly censure if they were done from any motive of interest or wish for office or power. He may pray, and entreat, an supplicate, and swear, and lie on a mat at the door, and endure a slavery worse than that of any slave…” –Plato (Symposium)
Heck, Pausanias tells us that even the gods will forgive you if you commit some transgression whilst in pursuit of your love, and we all know how unforgiving those gods can be.
So love seems to be something of great power and importance. However, Pausanias tells us that, just like anything, there can be good and bad love.
It all comes down to your motivations. Why do you love somebody? It may very well be that you love somebody because they are beautiful or wealthy. This, however, is not true love, and is actually quite dishonorable.
Pausanias tells us that we ought to love our lover’s soul, not their beauty or their bank account. To love either of the latter is truly a base thing, because both of these things are temporary. The beauty of youth invariable recedes, and misfortune may befall any rich man and reduce him to a peasant. Where will your love be then? It will take wings and fly!
“Evil is the vulgar lover who loves the body rather than the soul, inasmuch as he is not even stable because he loves a thing which is in itself unstable…” –Plato (Symposium)
So don’t love your spouse’s beauty and don’t love their account balance. What do you love? Their virtue!
“There remains only one way of honorable attachment which custom allows in the beloved, and this is the way of virtue.” –Plato (Symposium)
Okay, so Plato isn’t telling us that, come next Valentine’s Day, we write on the card, “Dear Honey, I love your virtue.”
Instead, he is telling us that we ought to be drawn to a person for their inner qualities. We should fall in love with the beauty of their soul and its capacity for virtue and goodness.
symposium
Pausanias tells us that we ought to love our lover’s soul, not their beauty or their bank account
Moreover, we should, ideally, find somebody who has different virtues than us. This is where the whole “let your lover change you” thing comes into play.
Find somebody who has different qualities than you. Perhaps they are brave when you are timid. Maybe they are organized while you are messy. Whatever the situation, you should find somebody who possesses qualities that you yourself lack, and then let that person seduce you into becoming a better version of yourself.
True love does not mean loving your spouse for who they are right now. True love means that two people are committed to educating each other in the ways of virtue and enduring the stormy seas that result of such a union.
“This is that love which is the love of the heavenly goddess, and is heavenly, and of great price to the individual and the cities, making the lover and the beloved alike eager in the work of their own improvement.” –Plato (Symposium)
Make sense?
So the next time you think your spouse is trying to change you, just remember that they probably are, and you really ought to let them.

The Mystery of the Roman Tunnels of Baiae

by April 27, 2018

By Ḏḥwty, Contributing Writer, Ancient Origins
Temple of Baiae

The so-called ‘temple of echo’ at Baiae. ( Wikipedia).

There are certain places on Earth in which nature is imbued with the supernatural. Over the ages, human beings attach mythological stories to these places of mystery; one such place is located at the ancient Roman resort of Baiae.
Baiae is located in the Southern Italian region of Campania. Situated on the Bay of Naples, Baiae was a seaside resort for the wealthy inhabitants of Rome. Consequently, Baiae became notorious for the hedonistic lifestyle of its patrons. Over the centuries, however, local volcanic activity has caused much of the ancient resort to be submerged underwater. Although one could view the Roman ruins in the Baiae Archaeological Park, one would be required to take an underwater tour to fully comprehend the splendour of Baiae. Yet, Baiae was not merely a getaway for Rome’s super-rich. The hot springs that attracted Baiae’s patrons also gave it a mythical attachment.
Painting of Baiae by Turner

Baiae as seen by J. M. W. Turner. Image source: Wikipedia

In 1932, the entrance to a hitherto unknown antrum (chamber) was discovered by an Italian archaeologist, Amedeo Maiuri. As Maiuri and his team did not continue with their exploration after penetrating the tunnel for a couple of feet, the mystery of the antrum was left alone. It was only in the 1960s that the antrum gained attention again. This time, it was a British amateur archaeologist, Robert Paget, who explored the antrum. Along with an American colleague, Keith Jones, and a small group of volunteers, Paget began a decade-long excavation of the antrum. What he discovered was a complex system of tunnels.
Based on his findings, Paget speculated that this was the legendary ‘Cave of the Sibyl’ that was described by ancient authors. The Cumaean Sibyl, meaning the prophetess, is said to be a woman named Amalthaea who lived in a cave in the Phlegraean Fields, the area where the tunnel was found. According to legend, she had the power of prophesy, and scribbled the future on oak leaves scattered at the entrance of her cave.
Cumeaen Sibyl

Cumaean Sibyl by Andrea del Castagno. Image source: Wikipedia

During the reign of Tarquin the Proud, the last of the mythic kings of Rome, the Sibyl is said to have offered the king nine books/scrolls of prophesy for an extremely steep price. The king refused her offer, and the Sibyl left. When she returned, the Sibyl had six books/scrolls left, as she had three burnt. She offered the king the remaining books/scrolls for the same price, but Tarquin again refused. The Sibyl appeared for a third time with only three books/scrolls left, and the king finally accepted her offer. The books/scrolls were safely stored away in a stone chest in a vault beneath the Temple of Jupiter for hundreds of years after Tarquin’s reign.
These books/scrolls were only consulted when Rome was facing a crisis. The books/scrolls, however, were used as a ‘how-to’ guide for the performance of rituals that were believed to be able to avert the looming catastrophe.
Cumean sibyl with scrolls

The Cumaean Sibyl with her scrolls. Domenichino (1617 AD). Image source: Wikipedia

According to Paget, the features of the tunnel system suggest that it was constructed to mimic the visit to the mythical Underworld of the Greeks. For instance, the underground stream of sulphurous water may have represented the River Styx, which the newly dead had to traverse in order to enter Hades. As there was a ‘landing stage’ on one end of the stream, Paget speculated that a boat would have been waiting to ferry visitors across. At the end of the stream was a flight of stairs that led to a hidden sanctuary. Paget reckoned that the sanctuary would have housed someone posing as the Cumaean Sibyl.
Sulfur Drifts

Sulfur drifts from a vent on the barren volcanic plateau known as the Phlegraean Fields, a harsh moonscape associated with legends of prophecy. Photo: Wikicommons.

Along with other observations, Paget supposes that the tunnel system served a ritual purpose for the ancient Romans. Nevertheless, this interpretation is debatable.
Furthermore, there are numerous questions yet to be answered. For instance, no one knows for certain the builder(s) of these tunnels, and the time when they were built. What is certain is that the tunnels will continue to be a mystery until further evidence is found.

The Rape of Sabine Women

by April 20, 2018

By Ḏḥwty, Contributing Writer, Ancient Origins
Painting of the Rape of the Sabine Women

The Rape of the Sabine Women by Pietro da Cortona, 1627-29 ( public domain )

According to tradition, the city of Rome was founded in the 8 th century B.C. by Romulus. The Roman historian Livy wrote that the city of Rome grew strong quickly, and was able to defend itself against the other tribes which lived beyond the city’s borders. At this point of time however, Rome was facing a threat not from without, but from within. The followers of Romulus were mostly men, as he had granted sanctuary to the rabble and outcasts of other cities. Whilst the population of Rome increased immediately, there was a shortage of women in the new settlement. As a result, it seemed that Rome’s greatness was destined to last only for a generation, as these pioneers would not have children to carry on their legacy.
The intervention of the Sabine Women

‘The Intervention of the Sabine Women’ by Jacques-Louis David, 1799 ( public domain )

Initially, the Romans sought to form alliances with and requested the right of marriage from their neighbors. The emissaries sent to the neighboring tribes, however, failed in their mission, as Rome’s neighbors were not bothered with entertaining her requests. Some were even afraid that Rome’s growing power would become a threat to them and their descendants. As a result, Romulus decided to take more drastic actions in order to secure the future of his city.
Statue in Florence

Famous statue in Florence depicting the abduction of the women of Sabine by Giambologna ( public domain photo )

Romulus found the perfect opportunity during the celebration of the Consualia. According to the ancient writer Plutarch, this festival was founded by Romulus himself. Apparently, Romulus had discovered an altar of a god called Consus hidden underground. This god was said to have been either a god of counsel or the Equestrian Neptune. To celebrate this discovery, Romulus established the Consualia, a day of sacrifices, public games and shows. Then, he announced the festival to the neighboring peoples, and many came to Rome. One of the neighboring tribes that attended the Consualia was the Sabines. According to Livy, the entire Sabine population, including women and children, came to Rome.
Romulus oversees the abduction

Romulus oversees the abduction of the Sabine women ( public domain )

According to Plutarch, Romulus’ signal to the men of Rome was to be whenever he rose up to gather up his cloak and throw it over his body. When this signal was seen, the Romans were to fall on the Sabine maidens and carry them away. According to Plutarch, only virgins were abducted, with the exception of one Hersilia, who was a married woman. This, however, was said to be an accident. According to some historians, the abduction of the Sabines was not perpetrated out of lust, but out of a desire to form a strong alliance with them.
Abduction of Sabine Women

Some depictions of the abduction event depict the Sabine women as being willing participants. ‘The Rape of the Sabines: The Invasion’ by Charles Christian Nahl ( public domain )

Instead of an alliance, however, the Romans ended up in a war with the Sabines, as they were obviously outraged that their women were forcibly taken by the Romans. After the allies of the Sabines were defeated, the Romans fought the Sabines themselves. By this time, the Sabine women had accepted their role as the wives of the Romans, and were quite distressed at the war between the two peoples. Finally, in one of the battles, the Sabine women stood between the Roman and Sabine armies, imploring their husbands on one hand, and fathers and brothers on the other to stop fighting. According to Livy, the Sabine women placed the blame for the war on themselves and said that they would rather die than to see bloodshed on either side of their families. Affected by their speech, the Romans and Sabines concluded a peace treaty, and the two peoples were united under the leadership of Rome, hence further strengthening the city of Rome.
References

Costello, J., 1947. The Rape of the Sabine Women by Nicolas Poussin. [Online] Available at: https://www.metmuseum.org/pubs/bulletins/…/3257295.pdf.bannered.pdf

Livy, History of Rome [Online] [Freese, J. H. et al. (trans.), 1904. Livy’s History of Rome.] Available at: https://ancienthistory.about.com/library/bl/bl_text_livy_rome_founding.htm

Plutarch, Parallel Lives: Romulus [Online] [Dryden, J. (trans.), 1683. Plutarch’s Parallel Lives: Romulus.] Available at: https://classics.mit.edu/Plutarch/romulus.html

www.louvre.fr, 2015. The Rape of the Sabine Women. [Online] Available at: https://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/rape-sabine-women

www.pablopicasso.org, 2015. The Rape of the Sabine Women, by Pablo Picasso. [Online] Available at: https://www.pablopicasso.org/the-rape-of-the-sabine-women.jsp

www.visual-arts-cork.com, 2015. Rape of the Sabine Women: A Marble Sculpture by Giambologna. [Online] Available at: https://www.visual-arts-cork.com/sculpture/rape-of-the-sabine-women.htm

The Dangerous Danaids

by April 13, 2018

By Carly Silver, Contributing Writer, Ancient Origins
Dangerous women

‘Kazen Danaid’ (1785) by Martin Johann Schmidt. Source: Public Domain

The ancient Greeks had no problem painting their mythological women as murderesses. Among the most lethal ladies were the Danaids, the fifty daughters of a king whose crimes condemned them to Sisyphean fates in the Underworld. But what was so bad about them that the Roman poet Horace dubbed these bad girls “Danaus’ seed / Ill-famed”?
The Greek Royals of Myth
The story begins, as most Greek myths do, with genealogy. Danaus and his twin brother, Aegyptus, were part of one of Greek mythology’s most regal families according to Pseudo-Apollodorus. This clan produced the likes of Perseus, Heracles, and Argos the many-eyed guardian.
Everything began when the river-god Inachus had a daughter, Io, who was a priestess of the goddess Hera in Argos; Zeus fell head-over-heels for her, swept her up, and turned her into a cow to protect her from her former divine mistress, Hera. Of course, Io wound up pregnant and, after being chased by a gadfly sent by Hera, she gave birth in Egypt to a son she named Epaphus.
Juno

Juno (Hera) discovering Jupiter (Zeus) with Io. (1618) by Pieter Lastman. ( Public Domain )

Eventually, Epaphus became king of Egypt (talk about appropriating other cultures’ mytho-histories to make that culture your own!). He fathered a daughter, Libya, who gave her name to the modern country. By Poseidon, Libya had twin boys, Agenor and Belus. You might know Agenor from his own illustrious descendants; as Pseudo-Apollodorus gushes, “Agenor departed to Phoenicia and reigned there, and there he became the ancestor of the great stock,” which included Europa (mother of King Minos) and Cadmus (founder of Thebes and ancestor of Oedipus). Belus, however, stuck around in Egypt and had twins: Danaus, father of the Danaids, and Aegyptus, whose name Homer and co. bestowed upon modern Egypt.
The Daughters of Danaus
As adults, Danaus and Aegyptus (who had fifty sons) got into a horrible fight. “As they afterwards quarreled concerning the kingdom, Danaus feared the sons of Aeyptus,” Pseudo-Apollodorus says, so Danaus packed up his daughters and fled to Greece, winding up in his ancestral town of Argos.
But Aegyptus’s fifty boys followed him, begging their uncle to forgive them—and to give them their cousins as brides! Danaus wasn’t loving it, but one might imagine that a king new to his throne could use husbands for his fifty girls. Those young men would also help him defend his realm. So he agreed to wed his fifty daughters to his fifty nephews…but with a twist. Danaus assigned each daughter to a nephew, but gave every one of his girls a dagger to use to kill her untrustworthy husband on her wedding night. What would make them do such a thing?
Danaides commit murder

The Danaides kill their husbands. ( Public Domain )

The Crime of the Danaids
In Aeschylus’s play The Suppliants, in which the Chorus is composed of Danaids deemed as Egyptian barbarians, the women excuse their violence by saying they each wished to avoid “a sinful marriage with the sons of Aegyptus.” They cry that they are “scared in soul” of these men and note that their cousins are prideful, lustful, and all-around bad guys.
The Aegyptids aren’t good Greek men, they say, but violent, impious, and rapacious. In the play, the Chorus deems the cousins’ marriage as sinful, but Danaus persuades them to wed their relatives to make alliances – his armed nephews are after him and his girls, and the last thing Danaus wanted was war.
“What followed is known to all alike: the crime the daughters of Danaus committed against their cousins,” recalls ancient travel writer Pausanias. The “crime” was how all but one of the Danaids assassinated their husbands before consummating their relationship.
Woodcut of the Danaids

Woodcut of 49 of the Danaids killing their husbands, while one tells her partner to flee. ( kladcat/CC BY 2.0 )

After killing their partners, forty-nine of the Danaids “buried the heads of their bridegrooms” and “paid funeral honors to their bodies in front of the city,” Pseudo-Apollodorus writes. Luckily for the Danaids, Hermes and Athena, on dad Zeus’ instructions, purified them. But after death, the forty-nine murderesses supposedly suffered a particularly nasty fate in the Underworld.
As Ovid notes in his Metamorphoses, they were engaged in a futile punishment for all eternity, similar to Sisyphus’ task of attempting to roll a boulder up a hill again and again. The Danaids had to draw water from a well (or, depending on the account, wine from craters), but the jugs they used had holes in them, so the liquid would flow away…and then they’d have to start again. Forever.
Danaides pouring water

‘The Danaides’ (1903) by John William Waterhouse. ( Public Domain )

Hypermnestra and Lynceus
So who was the one daughter who avoided this fate and saved her spouse? Her name was Hypermnestra, and she spared her bridegroom, Lynceus, because he respected her choice to remain a virgin for the time being. Furious at her disobedience, Danaus locked her up, but eventually let her return to her husband. He also found husbands for his other girls by offering their hands to winners in athletic contests.
Hypermnestra and Lynceus lived happily ever after. Their son, Abas, reigned over Argos, but he too had a set of troublesome twins – Acrisius and Proteus. Like any set of twins in Greek myth, these two fought—and, in the case of Acrisius, went on to father a dynasty of demigods (he was the grandfather of Perseus, who was in turn ancestor of Heracles).
Plate with Hypermnestra and her husband

Plate with Hypermnestra Watching Lynceus Take Her Father’s Crown (1537) by Francesco Xanto Avelli. ( Public Domain )