Disability and Infanticide in Ancient Greece

by Debby Sneed

Hesperia, Volume 90, Issue 4
Page(s): 747-772
Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2972/hesperia.90.4.0747
Year: 2021


This article confronts the widespread assumption that disability, in any broad and undefined sense, constituted valid grounds for infanticide in ancient Greece. When situated within their appropriate contexts, the oft-cited passages from Plutarch, Aristotle, and Plato contribute little to our understanding of the reality of ancient Greek practice in this regard. Other literary, material, and bioarchaeological evidence, however, demonstrates that ancient Greek parents, midwives, and physicians often took active and extraordinary measures to assist and accommodate infants born with a variety of congenital physical impairments. It was neither legally mandated nor typical in ancient Greece to kill or expose disabled infants, and uncritical (and unfounded) statements to the contrary are both dangerous and harmful.