Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

offer devotion to the selfish, and love to the unloving! But, when some weak or outraged creature failed in the due exercise of this superhuman insensibility to wrongwhen the neglected wife, the bereaved mother, the despised companion, the unregarded household drudge, broke down under her grievances, or, awakening to her wrongs, escaped to the temple or the bath, and, being denied happiness at home, sought pleasure abroad-when she went out by day without the stately habit that marked her class, or by night without the torches that notified her whereabout, then shame and penalty were her portion.

Innocent, however, or offending, injuring or wronged, the low estimate of the sex has been notified to posterity, in the contemptuous language of the finest of the Greek poets, and of the most spiritual of the Greek philosophers: and Euripides and Plato, however elevated their ideas of the capacity of the sex, stand alike accused as the unwearied traducers and unsparing calumniators of their contemporary women.

Although in Athens, as in Sparta, to furnish a legiti mate son and citizen to the state was the great object of marriage, and fidelity to their husbands the only high moral virtue exacted from the women, still the grossness of Greek sentiment (a strange solecism in a people so poetical) provided many by-laws in their marital code, at variance with the rigour of their early institutes. Though chastity was the only virtue required of the married woman, yet to borrow a wife was not an unusual event among the men. Alcibiades (who soon became weary of his own wife) is said to have incurred this obligation to Socrates; and the circumstance that the object of his selection was Xantippe, (there is no answering for tastes) may perhaps account for the graceful facility, with which the wisest of philosophers yielded to the prayer of the most licentious of his disciples.

But while the women were thus equally outraged by the love and by the injustice, by the passions and by the neglect of men, they were still, even in the worst days of Athenian corruption, models of domestic virtue. The ménage of the virtuous and the wise Ischomachus (for as such he is proclaimed by his admirer, Xenophon) was

held out to contemporary imitation, as the model of domestic excellence, the beau idéal of married life.

Socrates, who said so many wise things, while Xantippe accused him of doing so many foolish ones, was indeed wont to observe, that, "as a straggling flock accuses the shepherd, and an unruly or lazy horse convicts his master of neglect, so the careless and neglectful wife reflects upon the husband who has not reared her better."

But Ischomachus did not depend altogether on management; for his wife was evidently simple-minded, obedient, and inapprehensive of evil. He married her, when, in years and in ignorance, she was but a child; and when he asked her, some time after the festival of the nuptials was over, whether she supposed he had married her for love and pleasure,* replied timidly "her mother had given her no other instructions, than to be faithful to her husband; that she knew nothing, but was ready to learn any thing he might choose to teach her." Such was the spirit of that admirable and sage discourse, which has been handed down as a matrimonial breviary to posterity; and the scene and circumstances of this classical lecture may easily be conceived, when the well-known manners and customs of the high Athenian citizens are recalled to mind.

The Athenian husband, with his public and professional duties, his duly performed gymnastics, his bath, his supper, and delicious coterie abroad, was forced by one of the laws of Solon not to be too frequently found at home, nor to attend too assiduously the apartments of his wife. It was toward the ninth hour, (the carnival epoch of the day, "that shade of the sun," when after the heat and dust, and fatigue of the city, or gymnasium, the last toilet was made, preparatory to the evening rendezvous), that Ischomachus may be supposed to have sought his wife, fresh from the bath, and breathing its odorous unguents, preparatory to joining a party, to which the messenger from Pericles may have beckoned him. He has still some idle minutes on his hands, and ascends to the apartment,

*"It was long after their nuptials (says Xenophon) that these young women were so tame as to speak to their husbands."

where, as usual, he finds his young and solitary wife, seated haply, at her tapestry-frame, embroidering the border of a tunic, a votive offering for the statue of Juno.

The model of husbands on his entrance, sinks into his reclining chair, that exquisite model of the sedentary luxury of the Ischomachi of the nineteenth century,and probably presenting his wife with some childish emblematic toy, (such as a statue of Venus* with a tortoise at her feet, the symbol that "woman should never leave her home,") he hems portentously, knits his brow majesti cally, and then gives out, authoritatively, that discourse from Xenophon and Socrates, one which they have preserved for the benefit of all future wives of all countries. "The mistress of a family, oh, my beloved," said Ischomachus, "ought to resemble the queen of the bees. As the insect remains quietly in the hive, to send out the labouring bee, to store up the materials which they bring back, and to distribute them in due time, so a good housewife should attend to the interior of her habitation, despatch those slaves that are to work abroad, assign tasks to such as she keeps at home, and take under her care the produce of their labours. It is farther her duty to distri bute what is wanted for daily use; lest as much might be wasted in a month, as would suffice for the consumption of a year. It is her province to see that the wool of the flocks is manufactured into stuffs, for clothing and other purposes, and that all fruits, dry or moist, are stored away in such a manner that they may not spoil, or take any injury.

The mistress of a house should also deposit the arms, clothing, and furniture, in the safest and most suitable apartments of the house; she should take care that they are kept clean and in good order, and that after they have been used, they are returned to their appointed places. She ought to pay attention to the sick slaves of both sexes, to reward the industrious, and punish the negligent and the idle, and instruct the ignorant. If, my beloved," (continues Ischomachus)" you add to the careful performance

*The original statue of the domestic Venus was one of the happiest works of Phidias.

of all these domestic duties, fidelity to me and tenderness to your children, you may even make me your servant. You will have no occasion to fear any diminution of my love when you grow old; but, on the contrary, you may confidently expect to secure so much the more regard, the more attention you bestow, jointly with me, on your domestic concerns for all the comfort and happiness of matrimony, as of human life in general, depend not upon personal attractions, which the good and the bad may alike possess, but on virtues, by which the good alone are distinguished."

Ischomachus ceases, rises with dignity from his chair, salutes his patient and silent auditress with that infantile caress, which places her fair, dull head and little ears in his hand; and, impressing a conjugal kiss on her matron brow, gathers up his rich and perfumed robe, and issues majestically from the Gynæcium. He quickly descends to the outer portico of his dwelling; and before the deserted, solitary young wife has recomposed her thoughts, and got over some little burst of stifling indignation, at thus being for ever lectured, and for ever left, and has resumed her monotonous task at her embroidery frame, the grave husband has thrown off his gravity, and is already in the temple of the graces, in the salon of Aspasia-the circle of frolic nymphs, and an emancipated husband.

There Ischomachus may have found Alcibiades, who had just got rid of his wife, may have embraced Socrates, recently escaped from his Xantippe; while Pericles himself may have demanded his congratulations; for he, too, had obtained his divorce, and the chief of the Athenian people had become the husband of Aspasia, the quondam mistress of many lovers.

Ischomachus, the type of all conjugal wisdom, the moral Ischomachus, has already forgotten his " queen of the bees," in his homage to the queen of the Hetæræ; and he kisses, in token of felicitation, the hem of the hymeneal veil, which now replaces the airy drapery of the ex-high-priestess of the temple of Venus. Aspasia, the most celebrated of the Hetæræ, has become the arbitress

VOL. I.

16

of Greece, the wife of the most powerful of its rulers; affording the most glaring example of the weakness of the wisest, and of the inconsistency of man, when his passions and his reason, his egotism and his institutions, are exposed to collision.

CHAPTER III.

The Women of Sparta. Their Education-according to the Laws of Lycurgus.

To the descendants of Hercules is poetically ascribed the foundation of the free state of Sparta. The physical force of the warrior people is expressed in this their fabled origin; for, having completely reduced the aborigines to subjection, they converted them into slaves. Their earliest institution thus divided their future population into two classes. The first, being trained to war, formed an aristocracy, on which the fate of Sparta depended; the second, or Helots, were predestined to tillage, and to unmitigated personal subjugation.

The Spartan community, then, exhibited the first elements of modern feudality; and the intruding colonists and conquerors governed by that strange political paradox, which is well expressed in an Athenian proverb, declaring that," in Sparta liberty, like slavery, knows no bounds." The Spartan population, composed of iron-braced races, organically deficient in physical sensibility, soon became but the second state in Greece for political force, as it ever was the last in intellectual cultivation.

Lycurgus, the most influential of its legislators, one of those great master spirits, which impress the seal of their own genius on the society whose elementary characteristics they embody, Lycurgus, a Spartiate by birth, and a philosopher and stoic by temperament, constructed his

« ZurückWeiter »