|TO POLLIANUS AND
WITH PLUTARCH'S BEST WISHES.
WHEN they were shutting
you in your
bridal chamber, the
1. Solon bade the bride eat a piece of quince before
to the bridegroom's arms--apparently an enigmatical suggestion
that, as a first requirement, a pleasant and inviting impression
should be gathered from an agreeable mouth and speech.
2. In Boeotia, after veiling the bride, they crown her with
a wreath of thorny asparagus. As that plant yields the sweetest
eating from among the roughest prickles, so a bride, if the
groom does not run away in disgust because he finds her difficult
and vexatious at first, will afford him a sweet and gentle com-
panionship. One who shows no patience with the girl's first
bickerings is as bad as those who let the ripe grapes go because
once they were sour. Many a young bride is affected in the
same way. First experiences disgust her with the bridegroom,
and she makes as great a mistake as if, after enduring the sting
of the bee, she were to abandon the honeycomb.
3. It is especially at the beginning that married people should
beware of quarrel and friction. Let them note how vessels
which have been mended will at first easily pull to pieces on the
slightest occasion, but as time goes on and they become solid
at the seams, it is as much as fire and iron can do to separate
4. Fire is readily kindled in chaff, dry rushes, or hare's fur,
but quickly goes out unless it gets a further hold upon some-
thing capable both of keeping it in and feeding it. So with
that fierce blare of passion which is produced in the newly-
married by physical enjoyment. You must not rely upon it
nor expect it to last, unless it is built round the moral character,
gets a hold upon your rational part, and so obtains a permanent
5. Doctoring the water is no doubt a quick and easy way of
catching fish, but it renders them bad and uneatable. So when
women work artificially upon their husbands with philtres and
spells, and control them by the agency of pleasure, they have
but crazy simpletons and dotards for their partners. While
Circe derived no good from the men she had bewitched, and
made no use of them when turned into swine and asses, she
found the greatest pleasure in the rational companionship of
the wise Odysseus.
6. A woman who is more desirous of ruling a foolish husband
than of obeying a wise one, is like a traveller who would rather
lead a blind man than follow one who possesses sight and
7. Why should people disbelieve that Pasiphae, though
consort to a King, fell in love with an ox, when they see that
some women find a strict and continent husband wearisome, and
prefer to live with one who is as much a mass of ungoverned
sensuality as a dog or a goat?
8. When a rider is too weak or effeminate to vault upon a horse,
he teaches the animal itself to bend its legs and crouch. In the
same way some men who marry high-born or wealthy women,
instead of improving themselves, put indignities upon their
wives, in the belief that they will he more easily ruled when
humbled. The proper course is, while using the rein, to main-
tain the dignity of the wife, as one would the full height of the
9. When the moon is at a distance from the sun, we see it
bright and luminous. When it comes near him, it fades and is
lost to view. With a properly conducted woman it is the con-
trary. She should be most visible when with her husband;
in his absence she should keep at home and out of sight.
10. Herodotus was wrong in saying that when a woman lays
aside her tunic she lays aside her modesty. On the contrary,
a chaste wife puts on modesty in its place. Between married
persons the token of greatest regard is greatest modesty.
11. If two notes are taken in accord, the lower of the two is
the dominant. So, though every action in a well-conducted
house is performed by both parties in tune, it will reveal the
husband's leadership and priority of choice.
12. The Sun vanquished the North Wind. When the wind
endeavoured to take off the man's cloak by violence and blowing
a gale, he only tightened his mantle the more and held it the
closer. But when, after the wind, the sun became hot, the man
began to grow warm. When at last he sweltered, he took off
not only his cloak but his tunic. This parable applies to the
generality of women. When their husbands take violent
measures to do away with extravagant indulgence, they show
fight and temper; but if you reason with them, they give it
up peaceably and practise moderation.
13. Cato expelled from the Senate a man who had kissed his
own wife in the presence of his daughter. This, perhaps, was
too severe a step. But if--as is the case--it is unseemly to be
fondling and kissing and embracing each other in company, it
is surely more unseemly to be scolding and quarrelling in com-
pany, and, while treating your love-passages as a sacred secret
between you and your wife, to make an open display of fault-
finding and reproach.
14. A mirror,1 though decorated with gold and precious
stones, is of no use unless it shows you your form true to life.
Similarly there is no advantage in a rich wife, if her conduct
does not represent that of her husband and harmonize with
it in character. If the reflection which it offers is glum when
you are joyful, but wears a merry grin when you are gloomy and
distressed, the mirror is faulty and bad. A wife is a poor thing
and out of place if she is in the dumps when her husband is
disposed for frolic or love-making, but is all fun and laughter
when he is serious. In the former case she in disagreeable; in
the latter, she slights you. Geometers tell us that lines and
surfaces make no movement by themselves, but only in conjunc-
tion with the bodies to which they belong. In the same way
a woman should be free from peculiar states of mind of her
own, but should act as the husband's partner in his earnestness
and his jest, in his preoccupation and his laughter.
1 Made of polished bronze.
15. A man who dislikes to see his wife eating with him,
teaches her to satisfy her appetite when she gets by herself.
Similarly one who is never a merry companion to her, nor
shares in her sport and laughter, teaches her to look for private
pleasures apart from him.
16. When the Persian kings are dining or feasting, their
legitimate wives sit at their side. But when they wish to amuse
themselves or get tipsy, they send those wives away and summon
their minstrel-women and concubines. The practice is a right
one, at least to the extent that they do not permit their wives
to take part in wanton and licentious scenes. So, if a private
man, who lacks self-control or good-breeding in his pleasures,
is guilty of a lapse with a common woman or a menial, the wife
should not be indignant and resentful, but should reflect that,
out of respect for her, he finds some other woman to share his
riot and lasciviousness.
17. When kings are fond of music, they make many musicians;
when of learning, learned men; when of athletics, gymnasts.
So when the love of a husband is for the person, his wife will
be all for dress; when for pleasure, she becomes lewd and
wanton; when for goodness and virtue, she shows herself
discreet and chaste.
18. When a Lacedaemonian girl was once asked whether she
had already embraced a man, she answered, "No, indeed; but
he has embraced me." Such, I believe, is the right attitude for
a lady--not to shun or dislike caresses, when the husband
begins them, nor yet to begin them of her own accord. The
one course is bold and immodest, the other disdainful and
19. The woman ought not to possess private friends, but to
share those of the man. But first and greatest are the gods,
and it is therefore right for the wife to reverence or acknowledge
only those gods who are recognized by the husband. Her
street-door should be kept shut to out-of-the-way forms of
worship and alien superstitions. No deity finds gratification
in ceremonies which a woman performs in secret and by stealth.
20. Plato holds that a community is in a state of blissful
well-being when the expressions "mine" and "not mine" are
scarcely ever heard, inasmuch as the citizens enjoy, as far as
possible, the common use of everything worth considering.
Much more ought such language to be abolished from the
married state. In the same way, however, in which medical
men tell us that a blow on the left side produces an answering
sensation in the right, it is proper for a wife to sympathize with
her husband's concerns and the husband with the wife's. In
this way, just as ropes, when interwoven, lend each other
strength, so, through each party reciprocating the other's
goodwill, the partnership will be maintained by both combined.
Nature blends us through the body in such a way as to take
a portion from each, and by commingling produce an offspring
common to both, so that neither can define or distinguish an
"own" part from "another's". The same sort of partnership
between married persons should assuredly exist in respect of
money also. They should pour it all into a single fund, and
blend it in such a way that they never think of one part as
"own" and one as "another's", but treat it all as "own" and
none of it as "another's". And as we call a mixture "wine",
though it may contain a greater proportion of water, so the
property of the house should be said to belong to the man,
even though the wife may contribute the larger share.
21. Helen loved wealth, and Paris loved pleasure: Odysseus
was wise, and Penelope discreet. Hence the union of the latter
pair was happy and enviable, while that of the former brought
upon Greeks and Asiatics an "Iliad of Woes".
22. When the Roman was admonished by his friends for
having divorced a wife who was chaste, rich, and beautiful, he
stretched out his shoe and remarked: "Yes, and this looks
fine and new, but no one knows where it chafes me." The wife
must not rely upon her dowry, her birth, or her beauty. The
matters in which she touches her husband most closely are
conversation, character, and companionship. Instead of making
these harsh and vexatious day after day, she must render them
compatible, soothing, and grateful. Physicians are more afraid
of fevers which spring from vague causes gradually accumulating,
than of those for which there is a great and manifest reason.
So it is these little, continual, daily frictions between man and
wife, which the world knows nothing of, that do most to create
the rifts which ruin married life.
23. King Philip was once enamoured of a Thessalian woman
who was charged with bewitching him. Olympias [Philip's wife] thereupon
became eager to get this person into her power. When, upon
presenting herself, she not only turned out to be a handsome
woman, but spoke with considerable nobility and good sense,
Olympias said: "Those calumnies are all nonsense! Your
witchcraft lies in yourself." How irresistible a thing is a married
and lawful wife, if, by treating everything--dowry, birth,
philtres, the very girdle1 of Aphrodite--as lying in herself, she
conquers affection by means of character and virtue!
1 Which contained "every charm: love,
and sweet converse"
(Homer, Il. xiv. 214).
24. On another occasion, when a youthful courtier had
married a handsome woman of bad repute, Olympias remarked,
"The fellow has no judgement; otherwise he would not have
married with his eyes." Marriage should not be made with
tile eyes; neither should it with the fingers, as it is in the case
of some, who reckon up the amount of the dower, instead of
calculating the companionable quality, of the wife they are
25. To young men who are fond of looking at themselves
in the mirror Socrates recommended that the ugly should
correct their defects by virtue, while the handsome should
avoid spoiling their beauty by vice. It is a good thing for the
married woman also, while she is holding the mirror, to talk
to herself, and, if she is plain, to ask, "And what if I show
myself indiscreet?" if beautiful, "And what if I show myself
discreet as well!" The plain woman may pride herself on being
loved for her character, and the handsome woman on being
loved more for her character then her beauty.
26. When the Sicilian despot sent Lysander's daughters
a set of costly mantles and chains, he refused to accept them.
"These bits of ornaments," said he, "will rather take from my
daughters' beauty than set it off." Lysander, however, was
anticipated by Sophocles in the lines:
Nay, 'twould not seem,
poor fool, to beautify,
But to unbeautify, and prove thee wanton.
As Crates used to say, "Adornment is that which adorns," and
that which adorns is that which adds to a woman's seemliness.
This is not done by gold or jewels or scarlet, but by what-
ever invests her with the badges of dignity, decorum, and
27. In sacrificing to Hera as goddess of marriage, the gall
is not burned with the other portions of the sacrifice, but is
taken out and thrown down at the side of the altar--an indirect
injunction of the legislator that gall and anger should have no
place in the married state. The austerity of the lady of the house,
like the dryness of wine, should be wholesome and palatable,
not bitter like aloes or unpleasant like a drug.
28. Xenocrates being somewhat harsh in character, though
otherwise a high type of man, Plato recommended him to
sacrifice to the Graces. Now I take it that a woman of strict
morals stands in special need of the graces in dealing with her
husband, so that--as Metrodorus used to say--she may live
with him on pleasant terms and not "in a temper because she
is chaste". A woman should no more forget to be amiable
because she is faithful, than to be neat because she is thrifty.
Decorum in a woman is rendered as disagreeable by harshness
as frugality is by sluttishness.
29. A wife who is afraid to laugh and joke with her husband
for fear of seeming bold and wanton, is as bad as the woman
who, from fear of being thought to use ointments on her head,
does not even oil it,1 and, to avoid seeming to rouge her face,
does not even wash it. We find that when poets and orators
avoid appealing to the vulgar by bad taste and affectation in
respect of their diction, they practise every art to attract and
stir the hearer with their matter, their treatment, and their
moral quality. So the lady of the house, because she avoids
and deprecates--as she is quite right to do--extravagant or
meretricious demonstration, ought all the more to bring the
graces of character and conduct into play in dealing with her
husband, thus habituating him to proper ways, but in a pleasur-
able manner. If, however, a wife shows herself strait-laced and
rigidly austere, her husband must put the best face upon it.
When Antipater required Phocion to perform an improper and
degrading action, he answered, "I cannot serve you both as your
friend and your toady." In the same way, when a woman is
staid and strait-laced, our reflection should be, "The same
woman cannot behave to me as both a wife and a mistress."
1 The use of oil to soften the hair was practically universal.
30. By a national custom the Egyptian women wore no
so that they might keep at home all day. In the case of most
women, to deprive them of gold-worked shoes, bangles, anklets,
purple, and pearls, is to make them stay indoors.
31. Theano, in putting on her mantle, once showed a glimpse
of her arm. Upon some one saying, "A beautiful forearm!"
she retorted, "But not for the public!" A well-conducted
woman will keep, not only her forearm, but her speech, from
publicity. She will be as shy and cautious about her utterances
to the outside world as if they were an exposure of her person,
inasmuch as, when she talks, they are a revelation of feelings,
character, and disposition.
32. Pheidias, in representing the Elean Aphrodite with her
foot upon a tortoise, meant women to take it as a symbol of
home-keeping and silence. A woman should talk either to,
or through the medium of, her husband; nor should she resent
it if, like a player on the clarinet, she finds a more impressive
utterance through another tongue than through her own.
33. When rich or royal persons pay respect to a philosopher,
they do honour both to themselves and to him. But when
a philosopher pays court to rich people, he is not conferring
distinction upon them, bur lowering his own. The same is the
case with women. By submission to their husbands they win
regard; by seeking to govern them they demean themselves
worse than the men so governed. Meanwhile it is only right
that the husband, in controlling the wife, should not be like
an owner dealing with a chattel, but like the mind dealing with
the body--sympathetic with the sympathy of organic union.
It is possible to care for the body without being a slave to its
pleasures and desires, and it is possible to rule a wife and yet
do things to please and gratify her.
34. Compound objects are classified by philosophers as
follows. In some the parts are distinct, as in a fleet or army.
In some they are conjoined, as in a house or ship. In others
they form an organic unity, as in all living creatures. We may
say much the same of marriage. The marriage of love is the
"organic unity"; the marriage for a dowry or for children
is that of persons "conjoined"; marriage without sharing the
same couch is that of persons "distinct", who may be said to
dwell together, but not to live together. With persons marrying,
there should be a mutual blending of bodies, means, friends,
and relations, in the same way as, according to the scientists,
when liquids are mixed, the mixture runs through the whole.
When the Roman legislator forbade married couples to exchange
presents, he did not mean that they should not impart to each
other, but that they should look upon everything as joint
35. At Leptis in Africa it is a traditional custom for the bride,
on the day after marriage, to send to the bridegroom's mother
to borrow a pot. The latter refuses, saying she has none. The
intention is that the bride may realize from the first the "step-
mother" attitude of her mother-in-law, so that, if anything
more disagreeable happens afterwards, she may not be vexed
or irritated. The wife should understand this fact and apply
treatment to its cause, which is, that the mother is jealous of
her son's affections. There is but one treatment for this state
of mind. While winning the special affection of her husband
for herself, she must avoid detaching or lessening his affection
for his mother.
36. Mothers appear to be more fond of their sons, because
those sons are able to help them, and fathers of their daughters,
because daughters need their help. Maybe also it is out of
compliment to each other that both parties desire to be seen
making much of that which is more akin to the other. This,
perhaps, is a trait of no importance, but there is another which
is charming. I mean, when the wife's respect is seen to incline
rather to the husband's parents than to her own, and when,
in case of anything troubling her, she refers it to them and
conceals it from her own people. If you are thought to trust,
you are trusted; if you are thought to love, you are loved.
37. The Greeks who accompanied Cyrus received the follow-
ing order from their commanders: "If the enemy come shouting
to the attack, await them in silence; if they come in silence,
charge to meet them with a shout." When a husband has his
fits of anger, if he raises his voice, a sensible wife keeps quiet;
if he is silent, she soothes him by talking to him in a coaxing way.
38. Euripides is right in blaming those who have the lyre
played to them at their wine. Music is more properly called
in to cure anger and grief than to encourage further abandon-
ment on the part of those who are taking their pleasure. So
I would have you believe that it is a wrong principle to share
the same bed for the sake of pleasure, and yet, when you are
angry or fall out, to sleep apart. That is exactly the time to
call in the Goddess of Love, who is the best physician for such
cases. This is practically the reaching of the poet, when he
makes Hera say:
And their tangled strife will I loosen,
When to their couch I bring them, to meet in love and in union.
39. At all times and everywhere a wife should avoid
the husband, and a husband the wife; but especially should they
beware of doing so when together at night. In the story, the
wife, in the vexation of her throes, used to say to those who were
putting her to bed: "How can this couch cure a trouble which
befell me upon it." So quarrels, recriminations, and tempers
which are begotten in the chamber are not easily got over in
another place or at another time.
40. There appears to be a truth in Hermione's plea:
'Tis wicked women's visits have undone me.
This occurs in more than one way, but especially when connubial
quarrels and jealousies offer to such women not only an open
door, but an open ear. At such a time, therefore, should a
sensible woman shut her ears, keep out of the way of slanderous
whispers which add fuel to the fire, and be ready to apply the
well-known saying of Philip. We are told that when his friends
were trying to exasperate that monarch against the Greeks--
on the ground that, though he treated them well, they abused
him--he remarked, "Well, and what, pray, if we treat them
badly?" So, when the scandalizers say, "Your husband
grieves you, in spite of all your affection and chastity," you
should retort, "And what, pray, if I begin to hate and wrong
41. A man caught sight of a slave who had run away some time
before, and gave chase. When the slave was too quick, and
took refuge in a mill, he observed, "And in what better place
could I have wished to find you than where you are?''1 So
let a woman who is declaring for a divorce through jealousy
say to herself, "And where would my rival be more glad to see
me? And what would she be more pleased to see me doing, than
harbouring a grievance, at feud with my husband, and actually
abandoning the house and the marriage-chamber?"
1 A common punishment for a slave was to
him to hard labour
in turning the mill, in place of a horse or ass.
42. The Athenians observe three sacred ploughings; the
first at Sciron, in memory of the oldest sowing of crops; the
second in the Rharian district; and the third--known as the
Buzygian festival--close to the Acropolis. More sacred than
all of these is the connubial ploughing and sowing for the pro-
creation of children. It is a happy expression of Sophocles,
when he calls Aphrodite "fair-fruited Cytherea". Man and
wife should therefore be especially scrupulous in this connexion,
keeping pure from unholy and unlawful intercourse with others,
and forbearing to sow where they desire no crop to grow, or,
if it does, are ashamed of it and seek to conceal it.
43. When Gorgias the rhetorician once read to the Greeks
at Olympia a discourse upon peace and harmony, Melanthius
exclaimed, "Here is a man giving us advice about peace and
harmony, when in private life he has failed to harmonize three
people--himself, his wife, and his maidservant." For Gorgias,
it appears, was enamoured, and his wife jealous, of the domestic [maidservant].
A man's house ought to be in tune before he offers to set in tune
a state, a public meeting, or friends. The public is more likely
to hear of offences against a wife than of offences committed
44. They say that the cat is driven frantic by the smell of
unguents. If it had been the case that women were provoked
out of their senses by the same means, it would have been a
monstrous thing for men not to abstain from unguents, and to
let their wives suffer so cruelly for the sake of a trifling gratifica-
tion of their own. Now since, though the husband's use of
unguents does not so afflict them, his dealings with other women
do, it is unjust to cause such vexation and distress to a wife
for the sake of a little pleasure. On the contrary, husbands
should come to their wives pure and untainted by other
intercourse, just as they would approach bees, who are said
to show disgust and hostility rewards any one who has been so
45. People never dress in bright clothes when approaching
an elephant, nor in red when approaching a bull, since the
animals in question are particularly infuriated by those colours.
Of tigers it is said that, if you beat drums all around them, they
go mad and tear themselves to pieces. Surely, then, inasmuch
as some men cannot bear to see scarlet or purple clothes, and
some are irritated at cymbals and tambourines, it is not asking
too much for women to leave such things alone, and not harass
or exasperate their husbands, but practise quietude and con-
sideration in their society.
46. When Philip was once seizing upon a woman against her
will, she said, "Let me go. All women are the same when you
take away the light." While this applies well enough to adulterers
and sensualists, it is particularly when the light is taken away
that a wife should not be the same as any ordinary female.
Her person may not be visible, but her modesty, chastity,
decorum, and natural affection should make themselves palpable.
47. Plato used to recommend that respect should rather be
paid by elderly men to the young, so that the latter might
behave modestly to them in return. For, said he, "where old
men lie shameless" the young acquire no modesty or scruple.
A husband should bear this in mind, and show more respect
to his wife than to any one else, since the nuptial chamber
will prove to be her school of propriety or its opposite. The
husband who indulges himself in certain pleasures, while
warning her against the same, is as bad as the man who bids
his wife fight on against an enemy to whom he has himself
48. As to love of display, do you, Eurydice, read and endeavour
to remember what Timoxena wrote to Aristylla. And you,
Pollianus, must not expect your wife to refrain from showy
extravagance, if she sees that you do not despise it in other
matters, but that you take a pleasure in cups with gilding,
rooms with painted walls, mules with decorated harness, and
horses with neck-trappings. You cannot banish extravagance
from the women's quarters when it has the free run of the
men's. You are at the right age to cultivate philosophy.
Adorn your character, therefore, by listening to careful reasoning
and demonstration in improving company and conversation.
Be like the bees. Gather valuable matter from every source.
Carry it home in yourself, and share it with your wife by
discussing it and making all the best principles agreeable and
familiar to her. While
Thou unto her art father, and honoured mother, and brother,
it is no less a matter of pride to hear a wife say, "Husband, thou
unto me art guide, philosopher, and teacher of the noblest
and divinest lessons." It is studies of this kind that tend to
keep a woman from foolish practices. She will be ashamed
to be dancing, when she is learning geometry. She will lend
no ear to the incantations of sorcery, when she is listening
to those of Plato and Xenophon. When any one promises to
fetch down the moon,1 she will laugh at the ignorance and
silliness of women who believe such things; for she will possess
a knowledge of astronomy, and will have heard how Aglaonice,
the daughter of Hegetor of Thessaly, thoroughly understood
eclipses of the full moon, how she knew beforehand the date
at which it must be caught in the shadow, and how she
thereby cheated the women into believing that she was fetching
it down herself.
We are told that no woman produces a child without the
participation of the man, though there are shapeless and fleshlike
growths--called "millstones"--which form themselves spon-
taneously from corrupted matter. We must beware of this
occurring in women's minds. If they are not impregnated
with sound doctrines by sharing in the culture of their husbands,
they will of their own accord conceive many an ill-advised
intention or irrational state of feeling.
As for you, Eurydice, above all things do your best to keep
touch with the sayings of wise and good men, and to have
continually in your mouth those utterances which you learned
by heart in my school when a girl. By so doing, you will not
only be a joy to your husband, but the admiration of other
women, when they see how, at no expense, you can adorn
yourself with so much distinction and dignity.
This rich woman's pearls, that foreign lady's silks, are not to
be worn without paying a large price for them. But the orna-
ments of Theano, of Cleobuline, of Gorgo the wife of Leonidas,
of Timoclea the sister of Theagenes, of the Claudia of ancient
history, and al Cornelia the daughter of Scipio, you may wear
for nothing; and with this adornment your life may be as happy
as it is distinguished.
Sappho thought so much of her skill as a lyrist that she wrote--
addressing a wealthy woman--
When thou art dead, thou shalt lie with none to remember
For no portion hast thou in the roses Pierian. . . .
You will assuredly have more occasion to think highly and
proudly of yourself, if you have a portion, not only in the roses,
but also in the fruits, which the Muses bring as free gifts to
those who prize culture and philosophy.
1 A frequent pretence of ancient witches.
The preceding text is part of Plutarch's Moralia or Moral Essays, more specifically, it was taken from Selected Essays of Plutarch, Vol. 1, translated by T. G. Tucker, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1913, p. 96-112.
Certain minor modifications were made to the text to suit the medium and purpose used here. For example, page breaks and numbering were omitted, as well as marginal reference systems; footnotes were repositioned to fall under the numbered section in which they were used as opposed to the previous page bottom.
No attempt was made to Americanize or modernize the spelling, hopefully readers will have no trouble recognizing that, for example, connexion = connection.
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