Translation copyright 2003 Neil W. Bernstein; all rights reserved.

The reason why Gnaeus Dolabella the proconsul sent the case of a female defendant who had confessed to poisoning to the court of the Areopagus. (1)

  1. A Smyrnean woman was led before Gnaeus Dolabella, the governor of the province of Asia with proconsular authority.
  2. This woman had killed her husband and her son at the same time by secretly giving them poison. She confessed that she had done this and said that she had a reason for doing it. It was because her husband and son had seized another son of hers (an excellent and most innocent young man, born to a previous husband) and killed him by treachery. There was no dispute that this had happened this way.
  3. Dolabella referred the case to his council.
  4. No one at all on the council dared to give an opinion in such an ambiguous case. On the one hand, the act of poisoning that she had confessed to, that had killed her husband and son, could not be allowed to pass without punishment. Nevertheless, it also seemed to be an act of retribution and a worthy punishment of the criminal men.
  5. Dolabella sent the case to the court of the Areopagus in Athens, as if to more serious and proficient judges.
  6. Having heard the case, the judges of the Areopagus ordered the woman’s accuser and the accused herself to appear in a hundred years’ time.
  7. Thereby the woman was not absolved of poisoning, which the laws do not permit. Although she was guilty, neither was she condemned and punished, which was a worthy pardon.
  8. Valerius Maximus recorded this story in the ninth book of his Memorable Deeds and Sayings. (2)


  1. The case was heard in 68 BC under Publius (not Gnaeus) Cornelius Dolabella. The Areopagus, the homicide court of Athens, continued to function up to the 4th c. AD. 
  2. Gellius cites incorrectly; the story occurs at Valerius Maximus 8.1 amb. 2. Cf. Ammianus Marcellinus 29.2.19.

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