Punishment Of Adultery

As fidelity to the marriage-bed, especially on the part of woman, has always been considered as one of the most essential duties of matrimony, wise legislators, in order to secure that benefit have annexed punishment to the act of adultery; these punishments, however, have generally some reference to the manner in which wives were acquired, and to the value stamped upon woman by civilization and politeness of manners.

It is ordained by the Mosaic code, that both the men and the women taken in adultery shall be stoned to death; whence it would seem, that no more latitude was given to the male than to the female. But this is not the case; such an unlimited power of concubinage was given to the men, that we may suppose him highly licentious indeed, who could not be satisfied therewith, without committing adultery. The Egyptians, among whom women were greatly esteemed, had a singular method of punishing adulterers of both sexes; they cut off the privy parts of the man, that he might never be able to debauch another woman; and the nose of the woman, that she might never be the object of temptation to another man.

Punishments nearly of the same nature, and perhaps nearly about the same time, were instituted in the East Indies against adulterers; but while those of the Egyptians originated from a love of virtue and of their woman, those of the Hindoos probably arose from jealousy and revenge. It is ordained by the Shaster, that if a man commit adultery with a woman of a superior cast, he shall be put to death; if by force he commit adultery with a woman of an equal or inferior cast, the magistrate shall confiscate all his possessions, cut off his genitals, and cause him to be carried round the city, mounted on an ass. If by fraud he commit adultery with a woman of an equal or inferior cast, the magistrate shall take his possessions, brand him in the forehead, and banish him from the kingdom. Such are the laws of the Shaster, so far as they regard all the superior casts, except the Bramins; but if any of the most inferior casts commit adultery with a woman of the casts greatly superior, he is not only to be dismembered, but tied to a hot iron plate, and burnt to death; whereas the highest casts may commit adultery with the very lowest, for the most trifling fine; and a Bramin, or priest, can only suffer by having the hair of his head cut off; and, like the clergy of Europe, while under the dominion of the Pope, he cannot be put to death for any crime whatever. But the laws, of which he is always the interpreter, are not so favorable to his wife; they inflict a severe disgrace upon her, if she commit adultery with any of the higher casts; but if with the lowest, the magistrate shall cut off her hair, anoint her body with Ghee, and cause her to be carried through the whole city, naked, and riding upon an ass; and shall cast her out on the north side of the city, or cause her to be eaten by dogs. If a woman of any of the other casts goes to a man, and entices him to have criminal correspondence with her, the magistrate shall cut off her ears, lips and nose, mount her upon an ass, and drown her, or throw her to the dogs. To the commission of adultery with a dancing girl, or prostitute, no punishment nor fine is annexed.


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