Ceteus, the general of the soldiers who had come from India, was killed in the battle after fighting brilliantly, but he left two wives who had accompanied him in the army, one of them a bride, the other married to him some years before, but both of them loving him deeply. It is an ancient custom among the Indians that the men who marry and the maidens who are married do not do so as a result of the decision of their parents but by mutual persuasion. Formerly, since the wooing was done by persons who were too young, it often happened that, the choice turning out badly, both would quickly regret their act, and that many wives were first seduced, then through wantonness gave their love to other men, and finally, not being able without disgrace to leave the mates whom they had first selected, would kill their husbands by poison. The country, indeed, furnished no few means for this, since it produced many and varied deadly poisons, some of which when merely spread upon the food or the wine cups cause death. But when this evil became fashionable and many were murdered in this way, the Indians, although they punished those guilty of the crime, since they were not able to deter the others from wrongdoing, established a law that wives, except such as were pregnant or had children, should be cremated along with their deceased husbands, and that one who was not willing to obey this law should not only be a widow for life but also be entirely debarred from sacrifices and other religious observances as unclean. When these laws had been established, the lawlessness of the women changed into the opposite, for as each one because of the great loss of caste willingly met death, they not only cared for the safety of their husbands as if it were their own, but they even vied with each other as for a very great honour.

Much rivalry appeared on this occasion. Although the law ordered only one of Ceteus’ wives to be cremated with him, both of them appeared at his funeral, contending for the right of dying with him as for a prize of valour. When the generals undertook to decide the matter, the younger wife claimed that the other was pregnant and for that reason could not take advantage of the law; and the elder asserted that more justly should the one who had the precedence in years have precedence in honour, for in all other matters those who are older are regarded as having great precedence over the younger in respect and honour. The generals, ascertaining from those skilled in midwifery that the elder was pregnant, decided for the younger. When this happened, the one who had lost the decision departed weeping, rending the wreath that was about her head and tearing her hair, just as if some great disaster had been announced to her; but the other, rejoicing in her victory, went off to the pyre crowned with fillets that her maidservants bound upon her head, and magnificently dressed as if for a wedding she was escorted by her kinsfolk, who sang a hymn in honour of her virtue. 4 As she drew near the pyre, she stripped off her ornaments and gave them to her servants and friends, leaving keepsakes, as one might say, to those who loved her. These were the ornaments: upon her hands a number of rings set with precious stones of various colours, about her head no small number of golden stars interspersed with stones of every kind, and about her neck numerous necklaces, some of them smaller, the others each a little larger in a constant progression. Finally, after taking leave of the household, she was assisted to mount the pyre by her brother, and while the multitude that had gathered for the spectacle watched with amazement, she ended her life in heroic fashion. For the entire army under arms marched three times about the pyre before it was lighted, and she herself, reclining beside her husband and letting no ignoble cry escape her during the onset of the fire, stirred some of those who beheld her to pity, others to extravagant praise. Nevertheless some of the Greeks denounced the custom as barbarous and cruel.

Bibliotheca historica by Diodorus Siculus

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