chapter  10
10 Pages

“You Shall Not Kill [Yourself]”: Prohibiting Suicide

In a fourth-century confrontation between Roman authorities and a Christian woman named Agathonice, the crowd shouted angrily at the woman for her to burn a bit of meat as an offering to the emperor. In response, she said, “Let me do what I have come for!” and she flung off her cloak and threw herself joyfully on the fire that had been built for the sacrifice.1 In another incident, a Christian named Euplus stood outside the Roman prefect’s council chamber, shouting, “I want to die; I am a Christian!” So they obliged him, brought him in and killed him.2 Did these two and many others like them commit suicide, or were they martyrs? Did martyrs commit suicide by stepping forward during times of persecution? If so, should they have done so? These questions have plagued ancient and modern writers, and the results of their deliberations have had an effect on our ideas about suicide long after the age of martyrdom has passed.