Plutarch: Antiochus and Stratonice

ANTIOCHUS, the son of Seleucus, had fallen passionately in love with his stepmother Stratonice, the young queen, who had already made Seleucus the father of a son. He struggled very hard with the beginnings of this passion, and at last, resolving with himself that his desires were wholly unlawful, his malady past all cure, and his powers of reason too feeble to act, he determined on death, and thought to bring his life slowly to extinction by neglecting his person and refusing nourishment, under the pretence of being ill.

Erasistratus, the physician who attended him, quickly perceived that love was his distemper, but the difficulty was to discover the object. He therefore waited continually in his chamber, and when any of the beauties of the court made their visits to the sick prince, he observed the emotions and alterations in the countenance of Antiochus, and watched for the changes which he knew to be indicative of the inward passions and inclinations of the soul.

He took notice that the presence of other women produced no effect upon him; but when Stratonice came, as she often did, alone, or in company with Seleucus, to see him, he observed in him all Sappho’s famous symptoms,—his voice faltered, his face flushed up, his eyes glanced stealthily, a sudden sweat broke out on his skin, the beatings of his heart were irregular and violent, and, unable to support the excess of his passion, he would sink into a state of faintness, prostration, and pallor.

Erasistratus, reasoning upon these symptoms, and, upon the probability of things, considering that the king’s son would hardly, if the object of his passion had been any other, have persisted to death rather than reveal it, felt, however, the difficulty of making a discovery of this nature to Seleucus. But, trusting to the tenderness of Seleucus for the young man, he put on all the assurance he could, and at last, on some opportunity, spoke out, and told him the malady was love, a love impossible to gratify or relieve.

The king was extremely surprised, and asked, “Why impossible to relieve?”

“The fact is,” replied Erasistratus, “he is in love with my wife.”

“How!” said Seleucus, “and will our friend Erasistratus refuse to bestow his wife upon my son and only successor, when there is no other way to save his life?”

“You,” replied Erasistratus, “who are his father, would not do so, if he were in love with Stratonice.”

“Ah, my friend,” answered Seleucus, “would to heaven any means, human or divine, could but convert his present passion to that; it would be well for me to part not only with Stratonice, but with my empire, to save Antiochus.”

This he said with the greatest passion, shedding tears as he spoke; upon which Erasistratus, taking him by the hand, replied, “In that case, you have no need of Erasistratus; for you, who are the husband, the father, and the king, are the proper physician for your own family.”

Seleucus, accordingly, summoning a general assembly of his people, declared to them, that he had resolved to make Antiochus king, and Stratonice queen, of all the provinces of Upper Asia, uniting them in marriage; telling them, that he thought he had sufficient power over the prince’s will, that he should find in him no repugnance to obey his commands; and for Stratonice, he hoped all his friends would endeavor to make her sensible, if she should manifest any reluctance to such a marriage, that she ought to esteem those things just and honorable which had been determined upon by the king as necessary to the general good. In this manner, we are told, was brought about the marriage of Antiochus and Stratonice.


From the Life of Demetrius, in the translation published under the name of Dryden. First sentence slightly edited.

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