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§ 98. The Heathen Family.


In ancient Greece and Rome the state was the highest object of life, and the only virtues properly recognized—wisdom, courage, moderation, and justice—were political virtues. Aristotle makes the state, that is the organized body of free citizens632632    Κοινωνία τῶν ἐλευθέρων.32 (foreigners and slaves are excluded), precede the family and the individual, and calls man essentially a "political animal." In Plato’s ideal commonwealth the state is everything and owns everything, even the children.

This political absolutism destroys the proper dignity and rights of the individual and the family, and materially hinders the development of the domestic and private virtues. Marriage was allowed no moral character, but merely a political import for the preservation of the state, and could not be legally contracted except by free citizens. Socrates, in instructing his son concerning this institution, tells him, according to Xenophon, that we select only such wives as we hope will yield beautiful children. Plato recommends even community of women to the class of warriors in his ideal republic, as the best way to secure vigorous citizens. Lycurgus, for similar reasons, encouraged adultery under certain circumstances, requiring old men to lend their young and handsome wives to young and strong men.

Woman was placed almost on the same level with the slave. She differs, indeed, from the slave, according to Aristotle, but has, after all, really no will of her own, and is hardly capable of a higher virtue than the slave. Shut up in a retired apartment of the house, she spent her life with the slaves. As human nature is essentially the same in all ages, and as it in never entirely forsaken by the guidance of a kind Providence, we must certainly suppose that female virtue was always more or less maintained and appreciated even among the heathen. Such characters as Penelope, Nausicaa, Andromache, Antigone, Iphigenia, and Diotima, of the Greek poetry and history, bear witness of this. Plutarch’s advice to married people, and his letter of consolation to his wife after the death of their daughter, breathe a beautiful spirit of purity and affection. But the general position assigned to woman by the poets, philosophers, and legislators of antiquity, was one of social oppression and degradation. In Athens she was treated as a minor during lifetime, and could not inherit except in the absence of male heirs. To the question of Socrates: "Is there any one with whom you converse less than with the wife?" his pupil, Aristobulus, replies: "No one, or at least very few." If she excelled occasionally, in Greece, by wit and culture, and, like Aspasia, Phryne, Laïs, Theodota, attracted the admiration and courtship even of earnest philosophers like Socrates, and statesmen like Pericles, she generally belonged to the disreputable class of the hetaerae or amicae. In Corinth they were attached to the temple of Aphrodite, and enjoyed the sanction of religion for the practice of vice.633633    Their name ἑταῖραι was an Attic euphonism for πόρναι. In the temple of Aphrodite at Corinth more than a thousand hetaerae were employed as hierodulae and were the ruin of foreigners (Strabo, VIII. 6, 20). Κορινθία κόρη was a synonym for hetaera, and expressive of the acme of voluptuousness. A full account of these hetaerae and of the whole domestic life of the ancient Greeks may be found in Becker’s Charicles, translated by Metcalf, third ed. London, 1866. Becker says (p. 242), that in the period of the greatest refinement of classical Greece, "sensuality, if not the mother, was at all events the nurse of the Greek perception of the beautiful." Plato himself, even in his ideal state, despaired of restricting his citizens to the lawful intercourse of marriage.33 These dissolute women were esteemed above housewives, and became the proper and only representatives of some sort of female culture and social elegance. To live with them openly was no disgrace even for married men.634634    Aspasia bewitched Pericles by her beauty and genius; and Socrates acknowledged his deep obligation to the instructions of a courtesan named Diotima.34 How could there be any proper conception and abhorrence of the sin of licentiousness and adultery, if the very gods, a Jupiter, a Mars, and a Venus, were believed to be guilty of those sins! The worst vices of earth were transferred to Olympus.

Modesty forbids the mention of a still more odious vice, which even depraved nature abhors, which yet was freely discussed and praised by ancient poets and philosophers, practised with neither punishment nor dishonor, and likewise divinely sanctioned by the example of Apollo and Hercules, and by the lewdness of Jupiter with Ganymede.635635    Lecky (II. 311) derives this unnatural vice of Greece from the influence of the public games, which accustomed men to the contemplation of absolute nudity, and awoke unnatural passions. See the thirteenth book of Athenaeus, Grote on the Symposium of Plato, and the full account in Döllinger’s Heidenthum und Judenthum, 1857, p. 684 sqq. He says: "Bei den Griechen tritt das Laster der Paederastie mit allen symptomen einer grossen nationalen Krankheit, gleichsam eines ethischen Miasma auf; es zeigt. sich als ein Gefühl, das stärker and heftiger wirkte, als die Weiberliebe bei andern Völkern, massloser, leidenschaftlicher in seinem Ausbrüchen war ... In der ganzen Literatur der vorchristlichen Periode ist kaum ein Schriftsteller zu finden, der sich entschieden dagegen erklärt hätte. Vielmehr war die ganze Gesellschaft davon angesteckt, und man athmete das Miama, so zu sagen, mit der Luft ein." Even Socrates and Plato gave this morbid vice the sanction of their great authority, if not in practice, at least in theory. Comp. Xenophon’s Mem. VIII. 2, Plato’s Charmides, and his descriptions of Eros, and Döllinger, l.c. p. 686 sq. Zeno, the founder of the austere sect of Stoics, was praised for the moderation with which he practiced this vice.35

The Romans were originally more virtuous, domestic, and chaste, as they were more honest and conscientious, than the Greeks. With them the wife was honored by the title domina, matrona, materfamilias. At the head of their sacerdotal system stood the flamens of Jupiter, who represented marriage in its purity, and the vestal virgins, who represented virginity. The Sabine women interceding between their parents and their husbands, saved the republic; the mother and the wife of Coriolanus by her prayers averted his wrath, and raised the siege of the Volscian army; Lucretia who voluntarily sacrificed her life to escape the outrage to her honor offered by king Tarquin, and Virginia who was killed by her father to save her from slavery and dishonor, shine in the legendary history of Rome as bright examples of unstained purity. But even in the best days of the republic the legal status of woman was very low. The Romans likewise made marriage altogether subservient to the interest of the state, and allowed it in its legal form to free citizens alone. The proud maxims of the republic prohibited even the legitimate nuptials of a Roman with a foreign queen; and Cleopatra and Berenice were, as strangers, degraded to the position of concubines of Mark Antony and Titus. According to ancient custom the husband bought his bride from her parents, and she fulfilled the coëmption by purchasing, with three pieces of copper, a just introduction to his house and household deities. But this was for her simply an exchange of one servitude for another. She became the living property of a husband who could lend her out, as Cato lent his wife to his friend Hortensius, and as Augustus took Livia from Tiberius Nero." Her husband or master, says Gibbon,636636    Chapter XLIV., where he discusses at length the Roman code of laws.36 "was invested with the plenitude of paternal power. By his judgment or caprice her behavior was approved or censured, or chastised; he exercised the jurisdiction of life and death; and it was allowed, that in cases of adultery or drunkenness, the sentence might be properly inflicted. She acquired and inherited for the sole profit of her lord; and so clearly was woman defined, not as a person, but as a thing, that, if the original title were deficient, she might be claimed like other movables, by the use and possession of an entire year."

Monogamy was the rule both in Greece and in Rome, but did not exclude illegitimate connexions. Concubinage, in its proper legal sense, was a sort of secondary marriage with a woman of servile or plebeian extraction, standing below the dignity of a matron and above the infamy of a prostitute. It was sanctioned and regulated by law; it prevailed both in the East and the West from the age of Augustus to the tenth century, and was preferred to regular marriage by Vespasian, and the two Antonines, the best Roman emperors. Adultery was severely punished, at times even with sudden destruction of the offender; but simply as an interference with the rights and property of a free man. The wife had no legal or social protection against the infidelity of her husband. The Romans worshipped a peculiar goddess of domestic life; but her name Viriplaca, the appeaser of husbands, indicates her partiality. The intercourse of a husband with the slaves of his household and with public prostitutes was excluded from the odium and punishment of adultery. We say nothing of that unnatural abomination alluded to in Rom. 1:26, 27, which seems to have passed from the Etruscans and Greeks to the Romans, and prevailed among the highest as well as the lowest classes. The women, however, were almost as corrupt as their husbands, at least in the imperial age. Juvenal calls a chaste wife a "rara avis in terris." Under Augustus free-born daughters could no longer be found for the service of Vesta, and even the severest laws of Domitian could not prevent the six priestesses of the pure goddess from breaking their vow. The pantomimes and the games of Flora, with their audacious indecencies, were favorite amusements." The unblushing, undisguised obscenity of the Epigrams of Martial, of the Romances of Apuleius and Petronius, and of some of the Dialogues of Lucian, reflected but too faithfully the spirit of their times."637637    Lecky, II. 321.37

Divorce is said to have been almost unknown in the ancient days of the Roman republic, and the marriage tie was regarded as indissoluble. A senator was censured for kissing his wife in the presence of their daughter. But the merit of this virtue is greatly diminished if we remember that the husband always had an easy outlet for his sensual passions in the intercourse with slaves and concubines. Nor did it outlast the republic. After the Punic war the increase of wealth and luxury, and the influx of Greek and Oriental licentiousness swept away the stern old Roman virtues. The customary civil and religious rites of marriage were gradually disused; the open community of life between persons of similar rank was taken as sufficient evidence of their nuptials; and marriage, after Augustus, fell to the level of any partnership, which might be dissolved by the abdication of one of the associates. "Passion, interest, or caprice," says Gibbon on the imperial age, "suggested daily, motives for the dissolution of marriage; a word, a sign, a message, a letter, the mandate of a freedman, declared the separation; the most tender of human connections was degraded to a transient society of profit or pleasure."638638    Gibbon (ch. XLIV.) confirms the statement by several examples, to which more might be added. Maecenas, "qui uxores millies duxit" (Seneca, Ep. 114) was as notorious for his levity in forming and dissolving the nuptial tie, as famous for his patronage of literature and art. Martial (Epigr. VI. 7), though in evident poetical exaggeration, speaks of ten husbands in one month. Juvenal (Satir. VI. 229) exposes a matron, who in five years submitted to the embraces of eight husbands. Jerome (Ad Gerontiam) "saw at Rome a triumphant husband bury his twenty-first wife, who had interred twenty-two of his less sturdy predecessors." These are extreme cases, and hardly furnish a sufficient basis for a general judgment of the state of society in Rome, much less in the provinces. We should not forget the noble and faithful Roman women even in the days of imperial corruption, as Mallonia, who preferred suicide to the embraces of Tiberius; Helvia, the mother of Seneca, and Paulina his wife, who opened her vein to accompany him to the grave; the elder Arria who, when her husband Paetus was condemned to death under Claudius (42), and hesitated to commit suicide, plunged the dagger in her breast, and, drawing it out, said to him with her dying breath: "My Paetus, it does not pain" (Paete, non dolet); and her worthy daughter, Caecinia Arria, the wife of Thrasea, who was condemned to death (66), and her granddaughter Fannia, who accompanied her husband Helvidius Priscus twice into banishment, and suffered a third for his sake after his execution (93). See Pliny, Epist. III.16; Tacitus, Ann. XVI. 30-34; Friedlaender, I. 459 sqq. . Nor should we overlook the monumental evidences of conjugal devotion and happiness in numerous Roman epitaphs. See Friedlaender, I. 463. Yet sexual immorality reached perhaps its lowest depths in imperial Rome, far lower than in the worst periods of the dark ages, or in England under Charles II., or in France under Louis XIV. and XV. And it is also certain, as Lecky says (II. 326), "that frightful excesses of unnatural passion, of which the most corrupt of modern courts present no parallel, were perpetrated with but little concealment on the Palatine." Prenuptial unchastity of men was all but universal among the Romans, according to Cicero’s testimony. Even Epictetus, the severest among the Stoic moralists, enjoins only moderation, not entire abstinence, from this form of vice. Lampridius relates of Alexander Severus, who otherwise legislated against vice, that he provided his unmarried provincial governors with a concubine as a part of their outfit, because "they could not exist without one" (quod sine concubinis esse non possent)."38

Various remedies were tardily adopted as the evil spread, but they proved inefficient, until the spirit of Christianity gained the control of public opinion and improved the Roman legislation, which, however, continued for a long time to fluctuate between the custom of heathenism and the wishes of the church. Another radical evil of heathen family life, which the church had to encounter throughout the whole extent of the Roman Empire, was the absolute tyrannical authority of the parent over the children, extending even to the power of life and death, and placing the adult son of a Roman citizen on a level with the movable things and slaves, "whom the capricious master might alienate or destroy, without being responsible to any earthly tribunal."

With this was connected the unnatural and monstrous custom of exposing poor, sickly, and deformed children to a cruel death, or in many cases to a life of slavery and infamy-a custom expressly approved, for the public interest, even by a Plato, an Aristotle, and a Seneca! "Monstrous offspring," says the great Stoic philosopher, "we destroy; children too, if born feeble and ill-formed, we drown. It is not wrath, but reason, thus to separate the useless from the healthy." "The exposition of children"—to quote once more from Gibbon—"was the prevailing and stubborn vice of antiquity: it was sometimes prescribed, often permitted, almost always practised with impunity by the nations who never entertained the Roman ideas of paternal power; and the dramatic poets, who appeal to the human heart, represent with indifference a popular custom which was palliated by the motives of economy and compassion .... The Roman Empire was stained with the blood of infants, till such murders were included, by Valentinian and his colleagues, in the letter and spirit of the Cornelian law. The lessons of jurisprudence and Christianity had been insufficient to eradicate this inhuman practice, till their gentle influence was fortified by the terrors of capital punishment."639639    Ch. XLIV. See a good chapter on the exposure of children in Brace, Gesta Christi, p. 72-83.39



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