Imágenes de páginas

lized, and war and pillage were almost the perpetual occupations of the brave, we shall easily trace sufficient evidence of the degradation of the female sex. Men might be governed by the laws, but subjection to man was the lot of woman. There was no reci. procity of duty, no mutuality of generous and connecting sentiment, no co-equality of right, no common obedience, to regulate the intercourse of wife and husband. Domestic union was impaired and corrupted by the unjust division of privilege and of authority; and the highest birth, and the most gentle virtues, did not secure the beauty, the delicacy, or the feebleness of woman from the rude and unfeeling despotism of command, nor from the toils and occupations of menial and of servile life.

The “chaste” Penelope seems to have enjoyed little authority as a queen or as a wife, and to have been considered as the economist and steward only of her husband's property *. She is perpetually engaged with her distaff among her maids. An upper chamber of her palace is allotted to her, where, with less exposure to intrusion, she may pursue her task, and, with less temptation to idleness, she may urge, by example and precept, the diligence of her attendants. After she had resisted for twenty years the artifices of her suitors, and demonstrated, with rare fidelity, an unyielding and undivided affection for her husband, her prudence and love were yet doubted by his incredulity, and he replied to her

[ocr errors]

• When she orders the bath and oil for Ulysses, yet unknown, she boasts of the surpassing economy of her household. The manners of her court were not very reserved. She was present when one of her attendants administered the bath to the still undiscovered Ulysses, and chafed his feet and legs with oil. Odyss. lib. xii. Odyss. lib. xix.

anxious inquiries by an artful fiction*. The conduct of her son was yet more insulting. When she was about to deliver the bow to the strange beggar, who had conciliated her charity, Telemachus interferes with no filial respect; and, coarsely reminding her that he alone possessed authority in Ithaca, commanded her to retire to her apartment, and there, exercising the proper duty of a female, to ply her spindle and her loom, and enforce the industry of her maidens t.

Females of the highest rank were to be occupied with duties yet more repulsive; and the poet, in assigning their offices, has testified the low opinion which, in his time, was entertained of the sex. By the hands of the most distinguished ladies, the steeds of their warlike husbands were sometimes fed, and sometimes supplied with strengthening and refreshing drinks f; and a princess might proceed, with the sullied garments of her family, to the river; and, having joined with her nymphs in laving the clothes in the “ pure wave,” and in spreading them to dry on the “pebbled beach,” conclude her toils by

* Ulysses, in the garb of a beggar, was, after some delay, permitted to discourse with her. She pathetically lamented the absence or death of her husband, discovered her reverence and affection for him by frequent tears, enumerated with admiration his exalted virtues, and unequivocally betrayed the tenderness of a faithful wife. Ulysses still preserved his coolness and his craft, and withheld his confidence. Odyss. lib. xix.

† The queen obeys with submissive humility, and without answering a word. Odyss. xxi. When Penelope, after she had been informed of the return of her husband, and his triumph over the suitors, approaches him in silence, as if yet doubtful of his identity, Telemachus again most irreverently upbraids her, and accuses her of a negligence unworthy of a wife. You possess a heart, he adds, as little susceptible as a stone. Odyss. lib. xxiii.

† Iliad. lib. viii. v. 185.

neatly folding up the cleansed apparel, and returning with them in a sumpter-carriage, to enjoy the delights of her “resplendent palace *."

If there be a scene of mutual tenderness in the Iliad or the Odyssey, it is that in which Hector meets Andromecha for the last time. Yet, even where the poet has exercised his best powers, and employed his softest colours, we discover little of the delicacy of genuine affection. The interview is distinguished by an incident of inexpressible beauty t. But it is short and hasty. The husband speedily reminds Andromecha of her duty, and she instantly obeys. “ Retire,” says he,

“ to your chamber. It is the “ woman's province to exercise the distaff, to spin “ and weave, and be vigilant in the regulation of " her servants."

The great bard, who describes the manners of his heroes with so much energy and vivacity, has almost universally painted his female characters in the rudest colours. The captive widow follows the warrior, who was still reeking with the blood of her husband or her children, as cheerfully as if she was quite contented with the melancholy servitude of her new hymæneals. The loftiest dames in the palaces of Troy scarcely depart from their chamber, or desist from their work. The wool is

with unreluctant labour by the fairest hands. And no dignity of station secures the sex from gross and offensive rebuke, or from commands to be as readily obeyed as they are authoritatively given.


• The garments with which the princess in the Odyssey proceeded to the river were pretty numerous.

Exclusive of her own robes, and those of her train, the sumpter-car was loaded with various articles of the royal wardrobe, and with the apparel of five brethren, “ who were desirous, when they danced, tu wear new-bleached garments." Odyss. lib. vi. 74-81.

+ The young child retiring to its mother's bosom, from the nodding plume.

Even the goddesses of the poet are unfeminine and indelicate. They reproach each other in language of grossness and of insult; and Juno merits to be suspended, in mid sky, by her offended husband, with heavy anvils fastened to her feet, that all heaven might witness her punishment and her shame. In these delineations we discover only the rough and rude features of savage life. But the poet was just to what he saw; and, in the virtues and vices of his deities, we detect the homely coarseness of the age in which he lived.

In subsequent and more civilized periods, the sex experienced as little respect in Greece, as they had found in the heroic age. Neither religion nor law exercised any favourable influence on domestic manners; and restriction, and jealousy, and contempt, mingled with, and disturbed, the most important and engaging connexions of life. Beauty and virtue, which would have improved and embellished the forms of society, and have softened and refined the temper and habits of men, were generally immured in distant and solitary apartments, and occupied in the drudgery of domestic stewardship. Prior to marriage, the daughter was carefully secluded from the world in the dull retirement of the gymnocæum, and subjected to restraints which contributed, at once, to retard or prevent the progress of her faculties, and to teach her how to submit and to obey *. After marriage, the ceremonies of which

In the dialogue of Socrates and Icomachus, for which we are indebted to Xenophon, it appears that the unmarried girl was watched with the utmost vigilance; instructed in little more

were, in some instances, singularly indecorous the whole duty of household management was imposed upon her fidelity and care; and she who had been denied the necessary instruction of a liberal and an early education, was to be regarded, at last, but as the prudent and patient guardian of her husband's property, and scarcely to be diverted from the drudgery of superintendence, even by the company of her nearest relatives f. At the same time she was to experience neither the delicacy nor the confidence which might have recompensed her assiduity ; but, on the contrary, was to be subject to a suspicion and a jealousy which argued, and issued from, an insulting doubt of her fidelity and her virtue. If she were permitted to leave her house, the prudent circumspection of the laws surrounded her with a number of precautions, offensive to her pride, and

than to make a vest, and attend the female servants at their tasks; impressed with the necessity of silence and reserve; and expected to restrain her eyes and her tongue on every rccasion, and to see, and hear, and interrogate, as iittle as possible.

* I am not permitted to enumerate them here, and may only allude to the éibadania and the xturia at the door of the bride chamber, and the singular office of the Ouçãgós, the bridegroom's friend.

+ In the dialogue of Xenophon, to which I have lately referred, a husband, immediately after his marriage, recapitulates, for the edification of his wife, the services and duties which she is required to fulfil. She must remain at home; send the servants, whose occupation is in the fields, in due time to their work; preside over those whose labours are confined to the house ; economize whatever provision is brought in ; distribute whatever is necessary for daily use; preserve the surplus for future occasion ; see that the wool is spun, and turned to account; inspect the quality of the grain supplied for the family maintenance; attend, not only to the conduct and diligence of the slaves, but to their infirmities and sickness; and be at the head of all culinary concerns,

« AnteriorContinuar »