A Day in Old Athens; a Picture of Athenian Life eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 215 pages of information about A Day in Old Athens; a Picture of Athenian Life.

Chapter V. The Women of Athens.

27.  How Athenian Marriages are Arranged.—­Over this typical Athenian home reigns the wife of the master.  Public opinion frowns upon celibacy, and there are relatively few unmarried men in Athens.  An Athenian girl is brought up with the distinct expectation of matrimony.[*] Opportunities for a romance almost never will come her way; but it is the business of her parents to find her a suitable husband.  If they are kindly people of good breeding, their choice is not likely to be a very bad one.  If they have difficulties, they can engage a professional “matchmaker,” a shrewd old woman who, for a fee, will hunt out an eligible young man.  Marriage is contracted primarily that there may be legitimate children to keep up the state and to perpetuate the family.  That the girl should have any will of her own in the matter is almost never thought of.  Very probably she has never seen “Him,” save when they both were marching in a public religious procession, or at some rare family gathering (a marriage or a funeral) when there were outside guests.  Besides she will be “given away” when only about fifteen, and probably has formed no intelligent opinion or even prejudices on the subject.

[*]The vile custom of exposing unwelcome female babies probably created a certain preponderance of males in Attica, and made it relatively easy to marry off a desirable young girl.

If a young man (who will marry at about thirty) is independent in life, the negotiations will be with him directly.  If he is still dependent on the paternal allowance, the two sets of parents will usually arrange matters themselves, and demand only the formal consent of the prospective bridegroom.  He will probably accept promptly this bride whom his father has selected; if not, he risks a stormy encounter with his parents, and will finally capitulate.  He has perhaps never seen “Her,” and can only hope things are for the best; and after all she is so young that his friends tell him that he can train her to be very useful and obedient if he will only take pains.  The parents, or, failing them, the guardians, adjust the dowry—­the lump sum which the bride will bring with her towards the new establishment.[*] Many maxims enjoin “marry only your equal in fortune.”  The poor man who weds an heiress will not be really his own master; the dread of losing the big dowry will keep him in perpetual bondage to her whims.

[*]The dowry was a great protection to the bride.  If her husband divorced her (as by law he might), the dowry must be repaid to her guardians with 18 per cent. interest.

28.  Lack of Sentiment in Marriages.—­Sometimes marriages are arranged in which any sentiment is obviously prohibited.  A father can betroth his daughter by will to some kinsman, who is to take her over as his bride when he takes over the property.  A husband can bequeath his wife to some friend who is likely to treat her and the orphan children with kindness.  Such affairs occur every day.  Do the Athenian women revolt at these seemingly degrading conditions, wherein they are handed around like slaves, or even cattle?—­According to the tragic poets they do.  Sophocles (in the “Tereus”) makes them lament,

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A Day in Old Athens; a Picture of Athenian Life from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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