“I am happy and I congratulate because that your daughter is engaged to Fuscus Salinator. His house is patrician; his father most honorable and his mother his equal; the boy himself is educated, literate and even an orator—a boy in his directness, a youth for his charm, yet an older man when it comes to serious matters. I certainly am not deceived by my adoration—for I love as fully as he merits for his actions and his reverence for me—but I have my judgment still and it is as much sharper thanks to the depth of my affection.
I promise you as one who has known him that you will have a son-in-law who will be better than any prayer could anticipate. The only task left is that he will make a grandson like himself sooner rather than later. How happy a day it well be which delivers his children from your embrace—your grandchildren—as if they were my own children or grandchildren and my equal right to care for them. Farewell!
C. Plinius Serviano Suo S.
Gaudeo et gratulor, quod Fusco Salinatori filiam tuam destinasti. Domus patricia, pater honestissimus, mater pari laude; ipse studiosus litteratus etiam disertus, puer simplicitate comitate iuvenis senex gravitate. Neque enim amore decipior. Amo quidem effuse (ita officiis ita reverentia meruit), iudico tamen, et quidem tanto acrius quanto magis amo; tibique ut qui exploraverim spondeo, habiturum te generum quo melior fingi ne voto quidem potuit. Superest ut avum te quam maturissime similium sui faciat. Quam felix tempus illud, quo mihi liberos illius nepotes tuos, ut meos vel liberos vel nepotes, ex vestro sinu sumere et quasi pari cure tenere continget! Vale.
“The time to bring a wife to your home
is when you are not too many years under thirty,
or just a few years older. This is the season for marriage.
Your wife should be four years in puberty and married in the fifth.
Marry a virgin so you may teach her proper habits,
And marry a woman who lives nearby, making sure you check
every detail so that you won’t be wed to a joke for your neighbors.
For nothing is better for a man than a wife,
a good one, and nothing is more horrible than a bad one,
one who lies down to eat, and who can cook her husband without a fire,
even though he is a strong man, she makes him age when he’s young.”
“But I am considered well-married, because I am called Hercules’ wife
And because my father-in-law is the one who sounds deeply with swift steeds.
Yet, this is how the unequal colts arrive unhappily at the plow,
The way that a lesser bride matches to a great husband.
This isn’t an honor but merely the appearance of it which pains who carries it more;
If you want to be married happily, marry your equal.
My husband is always absent—he’s more famous as my guest than husband
As he pursues is terrible monsters and beasts.”
At bene nupta feror, quia nominer Herculis uxor,
sitque socer, rapidis qui tonat altus equis.
quam male inaequales veniunt ad aratra iuvenci,
tam premitur magno coniuge nupta minor.
non honor est sed onus species laesura ferentes:
siqua voles apte nubere, nube pari.
vir mihi semper abest, et coniuge notior hospes
monstraque terribiles persequiturque feras.
Hipponax, Fr. 68
“A woman has two days which are the sweetest:
When someone marries her and when someone carries her out dead.”
δύ᾿ ἡμέραι γυναικός εἰσιν ἥδισται,
ὅταν γαμῇ τις κἀκφέρῃ τεθνηκυῖαν.
“The greatest contest in our life is this: getting a good husband
Or a bad one. For divorces do not bring women
A good reputation and it is impossible to refuse a husband.
When she enters the new ways and laws of his house
She needs to be a prophet, since she has not learned at home
How best to live with this partner. ”
“But the same story does not apply to both me and you.
You have your city and your father’s home,
A life’s benefit and the presence of friends.
I am alone, stateless, taken violently by this
Husband, kidnapped as spoil from a foreign land,
I have no mother, no brother, no cousin
To provide me safe harbor from this storm.”
“I am not like a tyrant in the least:
I have suffered much because of my sense of shame.
Now, even though I see you making a mistake, woman,
You will still get what you ask. But I am warning you:
If the sun rises tomorrow to see you here
And your children within the borders of this land,
You die. This speech is not uttered as a lie.
But, now, if you need to stay, remain for a day.
You won’t do any evil I fear in this time.”
Epictetus, Discourses According to Arrian 1.11: On Family Affection
“When someone came to him, asking him about some other matters, Epictetus asked if had had children and a spouse. When he learned from him that he did, Epictetus asked, “How is marriage going for you?” the man answered, “Terribly.” And Epictetus replied, “In what way? For people don’t marry and have children to be miserable, but to be happy instead!”
“Women know everything, even how Zeus married Hera.”
Homer has, “They traveled together to bed, avoiding their parents’ notice”. Aristokles in his work “On the Cults of Hermione”, provides something of an odd tale about the marriage of Zeus and Hera. For, as the story goes, Zeus was planning on having sex with Hera when he noticed that she was separated from the other gods. Because he did not want to be obvious and did not want to be seen by her, he changed his appearance into a cuckoo and was waiting on a mountain which was first called Thornax but is now just called Cuckoo.
Zeus made a terrible storm on that day and when Hera was going toward the mountain alone, she stopped at the very place where there is currently a temple to Hera Teleia. The cuckoo, flew down and sat on her lap when he saw her, shivering and freezing because of the weather. Hera saw the bird and pitied him and covered him with her cloak. Then Zeus suddenly transformed his appearance and grabbed a hold of Hera. Because she was refusing him due to their mother, he promised that he would marry her.
Among the Argives, who honor the goddess the most of all the Greeks, the cult image of Hera sits in the temple on a throne holding a scepter in one hand on which a cuckoo is seated.”
Pausanias (2.17.4) describes a statue in a temple to Hera outside of Corinth:
“The statue of Hera—extraordinarily huge—sits on a throne made of gold and ivory, a work of Polykleitos. She has a crown embossed with Graces and the Seasons and carries in one hand a pomegranate fruit and in the other a scepter. I must pass over the reason for the pomegranate, since the tale is protected by sacred rite. But people say that the cuckoo bird sitting on the scepter is Zeus: because he was in love with Hera when she was a maiden and turned himself into this bird which she hunted to have as a pet. I record this story as much as the others of the gods which I offer incredulously—but I record them still.”
Plutarch, Advice to Bride and Groom (Moralia138a-146a : Conjugalia Praecepta)
“These kinds of studies, foremost, distract women from inappropriate matters. For, a wife will be ashamed to dance when she is learning geometry. And she will not receive spells of medicine if she is charmed by Platonic dialogues and the works of Xenophon. And if anyone claims she can pull down the moon, she will laugh at the ignorance and simplicity of the women who believe these things because she herself is not ignorant of astronomy and she has read about Aglaonikê. She was the daughter of Hêgêtor of Thessaly because she knew all about the periods of the moon and eclipses knew before everyone about the time when the moon would be taken by the shadow of the earth. She tricked the other women and persuaded them that she herself was causing the lunar eclipse.”
“Septicia as well, the mother of Ariminum’s Trachali, because she was angry with her sons, married Publicius who was already old, even though she could no longer have children, as an insult against them. Then she took both of them out of her will. When they appealed to him, the divine Augustus criticized both the woman’s marriage and her final allotments. He ordered that the sons have their mother’s inheritance and the dowry since she had not begun the marriage for the purpose of having children.
If Fairness herself were to judge this affair, could she have come up with a more just or more substantial opinion? You spurn the children you bore, make a sterile marriage, make a mess of a final will because of your malicious spirit, and you don’t blush to hand all your wealth over to a man whose body you climb under even when it has already been laid out like a corpse? So, since you acted like this, you are struck by divine lightning even among the damned!”
Septicia quoque, mater Trachalorum Ariminensium, irata filiis, in contumeliam eorum, cum iam parere non posset, Publicio seni admodum nupsit, testamento etiam utrumque praeteriit. a quibus aditus divus Augustus et nuptias mulieris et suprema iudicia improbavit: nam hereditatem maternam filios habere iussit, dotem, quia non creandorum liberorum causa coniugium intercesserat, virum retinere vetuit. si ipsa Aequitas hac de re cognosceret, potuitne iustius aut gravius pronuntiare? spernis quos genuisti, nubis effeta, testamenti ordinem malevolo animo confundis, neque erubescis ei totum patrimonium addicere cuius pollincto iam corpori marcidam senectutem tuam substravisti. ergo dum sic te geris, ad inferos usque caelesti fulmine adflata es.
Perictione, On a Woman’s “Harmony”[=Stob. 4.28.19 p. 688]
“A woman must recognize that harmony is full of thought and wisdom. For a mind must be thoroughly trained for virtue in order to be just, brave, thoughtful, improved by self-sufficiency, and hateful to empty opinion. From these qualities, a woman gains noble deeds for herself and her husband. Her children and home benefit too. Often there is also benefit for the state if a woman like this governs cities or peoples as we observe in kingdoms.
For the one who rules her own desires and passion becomes divine and harmonious. Lawless lusts do not pursue her and she will be able to maintain her husband, children, and whole household in friendship. Indeed, all the women who become seduced by foreign beds also become hostile to all those in their home who are free and dedicated to the family. A woman like this works up tricks against her husband and manufactures lies about him so that she alone might seem to stand apart for her good mind and her conduct of the household when she really loves laziness. Truly, this is the ruin of all the things that are common for her and her husband.
But I have said enough about these things. It is necessary to arrange the body to the measure of nature for food, clothes, bathing, anointing, hair-dos, and everything that comes from gold and stone for jewelry. For all the women who eat, drink, dress, and carry these expensive things are prepared to fall into the folly of complete wickedness in their beds and criminal behavior in other things too. It is right only to sate hunger and thirst with things which are simple and to keep off the cold with wool or some cloak of hair.
No small a vice is forsworn by staying far away from food either sold for a a lot or of great renown. And it is great foolishness to don excessively thin clothing or garments decorated with due from seashells or any other expensive color. For the body wants only not to be cold or naked for the sake of propriety, but it asks for nothing else. Human opinion longs for empty and useless things because of ignorance. Also, a woman should not wrap gold around her, or Indian stone or anything coming from another place; she will not braid her hair with excessive artifice, nor will she anoint herself with scents smelling of Arabia, nor color the face by making it whiter or making it blush or darkening her eyebrows and eyes, making her hair light with dyes nor take lots of baths. The one who pursues these strategies is looking for someone who admires feminine lack of control.
“Beauty comes from intelligence and not from those things—and it commends women who do well. Necessity should not compel nobility and wealth and coming from great city and the repute and friendship of famous and royal men. If she misses these things, she does not grieve; if she does not miss them, she does not press to seek them. For a thoughtful woman is not hindered from living apart from these things. If she allows those things which she has been allotted, her mind must never doubt at the great and wondrous things, but instead let her depart far from them. For when they fall into misfortune it harms more than it helps. Conspiracy, envy, and betrayal are proper to these things so that a woman of this sort would never be at peace. Instead one needs to revere the gods to gain the good hope of happiness and to obey her country’s laws and customs.
After these precepts, I advise a woman to honor and revere her parents. For they are equal to the gods in all ways and act on behalf of their relatives. In respect to her husband it is right that she live lawfully and rightly, keeping nothing private in her thoughts but watching and guarding their bed. Everything is common in this. She must endure everything from her husband—if he is unlucky and if he makes any mistakes because of ignorance, or sickness or drunkenness or has relationships with other women. For this fault is at home with men, but never women, and vengeance is set for it.
“She must preserve custom and not be jealous. She needs to endure anger, and cheapness, and faultfinding, and envy, and evil speech and anything else he has his nature and will put everything in a way that will be dear to him in her prudence. For a woman who is dear to her husband and works for him well is harmonious and loves her whole household and makes those outside of it well-intentioned toward it. When she does not love the home, she is not willing to see her household, or her own children, or her servants or the possessions she has safe, but in stead she curses them and prays for every kind of ruin, as if she were an enemy, and she prays for her husband to die, as if he is hateful to her so that she is a neighbor to others and hates all those who tend to him.
“I think that a woman like this is harmonious, if she is full of intelligence and prudence. For she will not only help her husband, but also her children and relatives and slaves and the whole household in which her possessions and friends, citizens and guests, reside. Her body supports things things by not being excessive, by pursuing and heeding noble actions, by following her husband in the practice of shared opinion in their common life, by following along with those he admits to their family and friendships and by believing the same things are sweet and bitter as her husband, she is not disharmonious in any way.”
Late in 2021, I had the great honor of being asked to preside over the wedding of a former student and friend, Zach as he married his long time partner, Molly. In the midst of COVID19 still and all the chaos in the world, it was a moment of respite and celebration and a sign that life continues on. Here’s the better part of it to mark a commercial holiday with all the meaning that we make of it.
Welcome friends, family, and all of you who gather today to celebrate Molly and Zack. After nearly two years of uncertainty and fear, there are few things more life affirming and hopeful than this–two people confirming their love for each other and asking their community to stand with them to recognize that in a shifting and unsettled world, this is something to count on.
As a sage once said, how did we get here? When Zach first asked me before the Pandemic to officiate I said yes without hesitation–not because I have any authority or experience in doing so, but because I can think of an honor no greater than this, to stand here and help Molly and Zach speak into existence something they made for themselves, something to shape, define and comfort them for the rest of their lives.
As is the custom with these things, I am in a position to offer some reflection and advice to the soon to be wed couple on what marriage means. Three short stories; three things to think about: politics, passion, and age.
I was Zach’s teacher in the Department of Brandeis University in the Department of Classical Studies. I used to joke to Zach that the nicest thing said about marriage in all of classical literature comes in Homer’s Odyssey when Odysseus, naked and bedraggled, gives a blessing to the young princess Nausikaa
“May the gods grant as much as you desire in your thoughts,
A husband and home, and may they give you fine likemindness,
For nothing is better and stronger than this
When two people who are likeminded in their thoughts share a home,
A man and a wife—this brings many pains for their enemies
And joys to their friends. And the gods listen to them especially”
Doesn’t this sound great! The lesson here, it’s a political one, the promise of the married couple working as a team to achieve their goals and punish all those who oppose them. But there’s a limit too-a close reading shows that homophrosyne, likemindedness, means having shared aims and plans, but it really looks externally, to surviving the world outside the home.
If the Odyssey tells us about the politics of marriage, and dominating your neighbors, another famous story is about passion. Ovid’s Metamorphoses gives us the Babylonian Pyramus and Thisbe. Two young lovers, forbidden to be with each other, housed right next door. When they sneak out to meet, Thisbe runs from a lioness and leaves her veil behind only to have Pyramus arrive to see what he thinks is a predator with a bloody grin. The two end up taking their own lives in sorrow and inspiring tales like Romeo and Juliet.
This story is in a way an warning allegory about passion and excess–it reflects the kind of love that burns bright and then fades. The frantic love of youth is a memory. It inflames, but is hard to sustain.
The one story from the ancient world that has always seemed to me to understand love the most is Baucis and Philemon, also told by Ovid. They were an aging couple in a wicked city and when the gods came to test them, they were the only ones who offered strangers hospitality. In thanks, Hermes and Zeus turned their home into a temple and when they died, they turned into two trees, rooted near each other, and over time they grew so intertwined that you couldn’t tell where one started and the other ended but you could still clearly see the wood and character of each tree.
This too is an allegory for love: the way people grow together and change, shaping and shaped in turn, creating a life and story that is so intertwined that you cannot remember where one starts and the other ends. As I have learned in spending more than half my life with my partner, few gifts are more comforting and sustaining, to be part of something bigger while still yet becoming yourself. Passion inspires us to love; life requires us to team up and face the daily struggle, age and the passage of time brings this great, unexpected gift: becoming more than yourself by loving someone else.
May you bring joy to your friends and eliminate your enemies, may you feel the passion of youth for as long as it burns, and may you grow so close and strong together that no power on earth can move you apart.
I am presiding over another wedding this spring (!) and will have to come up with new stories to tell.
“There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded,” said Diana, Princess of Wales, and batted her eyes. That was 1995.
Deianeira, wife of Heracles, had to contend with similar, some years earlier:
Sophocles, Trachiniae 531-551.
Friends, while the stranger is inside
Taking leave of the captive women,
I’ve tiptoed outside
To tell you what my hands have done
And what’s being done to me.
You’ll come together in pitying me.
Like a sailor I’ve taken on board a heavy load,
Cargo humiliating for my heart—
A girl, but not still chaste. She’s his lover,
That’s my suspicion.
So now two women wait under one blanket,
As if one body, for my husband’s embrace.
This is how Heracles, the man they call trustworthy
and noble, thanks me for keeping his house all this time.
I don’t know how to be angry with the man
When this sickness so assails him.
And yet, what wife could share her house,
Share her marriage itself, with this woman?
I see her youth strutting and my own fading;
And we know the eye turns away
From the flower it once fondly plucked.
This frightens me.
Heracles may be called my husband
But he’ll be the younger woman’s man.