Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

The happiness of domestic life was, in fact, considered, in Greece, as of little moment. The state was every thing; the wife, but as she gave robust citizens to the state, was nothing. In Sparta she might seek, without shame or dishonour, to remedy an unfruitful union, by a temporary departure from her husband ; and her husband might not only transfer her, for the same reason, and against her inclination, as freely as he might lend a tripod or a vase, but invite into his house the auxiliary husband whom he was to impose on the obedient acceptance of his wife*. If she bore a sickly child, her maternal feelings were to be outraged ; and the infant, because likely to become a burden to the public, was to be cast into a cavern to perisht. If her child proved to be healthy and robust, it was considered as the property of the state, and unfeelingly removed from the superintendence of her fondness and her caref. In her earlier days' she had been regarded only as an instrument of political advantage. She was required to mingle in the public exercises of wrestling, of the quoit, and of the race, for the purpose of increasing her stature and her strength; and, in order to extinguish the weakness of jealousy by which society is so much disturbed, and to provoke young men to marriage, that they might become more serviceable to the commonwealth, she was taught to exhibit herself without reserve in the naked dance, and, at all times, to robe her person in a manner that might best disclose the beauty and symmetry of her limbs ll. After her

• Plutarch. In Lycurg.

+ Id. ib. | Id. ib. || Plutarch. In Lycurg. expatiates on these exercises with evident pleasure; and that they produced the intended effect is pro

marriage she was to be no less instrumental to public purposes. Her value was to be estimated by the addition which she made to the sound and robust population of the state ; and, on this principle, the right of her husband to her exclusive fidelity, was to be measured only by the political rule of public benefit.

At Athens and at Rome many of these degrading institutions were adopted or extolled. It has been already observed that the profound and accomplished Plato approved of the community of women, of the naked dance, and of the exposure of children *; and Pericles, devoted to the charms of Aspasia, is said not only to have repudiated his wife, but to have transferred her to another. The Roman rivalled the Greek in these flagrant violations of decorum and of justice. The grave and formal moralist, the dignified senator, the distinguished statesman, they who were the judges, and they who were the makers, of the laws, admitted and practised the Spartan doctrine, by which the husband was authorized to dispose of the person of the wife *. The unfortunate matron was sometimes to be consigned, without divorce, 'to the temporary possession of her husband's friend, and to be again received by her wedded master, only to be again exposed to the same indignity. With similar barbarity her child was to be exposed, whenever the prudence or parsimony of the father should incline him to prevent the increase of his family, and, what was yet more execrable, she might be commanded and compelled by her legal tyrant, to become herself the murderer, on its birth, of her unoffending infant t.

bable. The lady Lampito, in the play of Aristophanes, is extolled by her associates for her various merits; but it is mentioned as her chief glory, that she possessed strength and vigour enough to fell a bull. Aristoph. Lysistrat.

The sage of Cheronæa is as much pleased with the naked dance, and the managed robe, as with the exercises imposed on the Spartan girls; and he admits, that the indecent drama was represented in the presence of the whole public, and that the young men joined in the dance with an equal contempt of the incumbrances of dress. He does not tell us that the young women were to escape the taint of the licentiousness they inspired.

In modern times, philosophic inquirers, as they are called, have repeated and approved of the sentiments of Plutarch.“ Dans le gymnase, les jeunes filles, depouilleés de leurs habits, et parées de leur vertu, comme le plus honorable des vetemens, disputerent le prix des exercises aux jeunes garçons leurs emules.” L'Analyse De Repub. de Plat. par L'Abbe Barthelemi. Bibliotheque de l'homme public, par Condorcet, vol. iii.

* Chapter vi. sect i.

This subjection of the sex was maintained by various provisions of the laws; and they who were left without restraint by their religion, were surrendered to the vigilant superintendence not only of their husbands but of the state. Where love, says

[ocr errors]

* Hortensius the orator, after having supplicated the permission of Cato to cohabit with his daughter Porcia, then the wife of an illustrious senator, and found that the fastidiousness of the husband was likely to throw some difficulty in his way, proceeded, with inimitable coolness, to solicit his philosophic friend to confer on him the temporary possession of his wife Marcia. To this modest proposal there was, of course, no objection to be made. Not only Cato consented, but the father of Marcia deemed the proposal quite reasonable; and the happy orator received from their hands the object of his fugitive passion. Plut. In Vit. Caton. See also Grot. De Verit. Christian. lib. ii. $ 13. Bayle talks of lending a wife, and of lending a book, as equally permitted by the law of nature and reason. Nouvelles Lettr. Contr. Maimbourg,

Lett. 17.

+ See chap. vi. sect. i.

Montesquieu, appeared solely in a shape which displayed the profligacy of the times, and marriage itself was considered as nothing more than a union of convenience, dissoluble at will*, it might have been thought more necessary to guard the chastity by political regulation, which was not defended by higher sanctions. The female, accordingly, who, in a seraglio, would have been attended by slaves, flexible, perhaps, to a bribe, was in Greece to submit to the yet more rigorous inspection of magistrates appointed by the state. These men were invested with an authority scarcely inferior to that of the tribunal which was early established at Romet; and they might punish the wife, not merely for the deeper crime of incontinence, but for every departure, however slight, from that reserved and punctilious gravity which she was required to maintain. She was thus to live in a state of perpetual and unworthy coercion, while her husband might transfer his love, without blame, to the seductive charms of the more fortunate courtezan. All her virtues were prescribed or compelled. She was to boast no merit of voluntary performance; and if the jealousy and despotism which drew around her so tyrannically the circle of suspicion, might sometimes provoke the crime which

• L'Esprit De Loix, lib. vii. c. 9. + This tribunal took cognizance of the manners as well as of the guilt of women. It was invested with ample powers to punish every deviation from the grave and retiring modesty required of the sex; and the punishment, as it was discretionary, might be readily adapted to the nature of the crime, or the indiscretion of the accused. When this tribunal did not act, the husband himself sat as judge, and pronounced the verdict on the frailty or indecorum of his wife, in the presence of her relations. Dionys. Halicarn. lib. ii. p. 96. Ulpian. Tit. vi. $ 9, 12, 13. Livy, lib. xxxix.

they were vigilant to prevent, the vengeance due to the honour of the injured husband was amply sanctioned by the laws, and was seldom either remitted or delayed.

It is true, that women might exercise, on certain occasions, the privilege of divorce, and thereby escape from the restraint or the tyranny to which they had been subjected by marriage. Yet, even this law, seemingly favourable to the rights and interests of the sex, was impeded or enfeebled in its operation by the injustice of the public voice. The wife was scarcely permitted to detail the crime of her husband on which she was to ground her pretensions to redress; the impeachment was heard, if at all, with evident reluctance and contempt; and the coldness or frown of the disapproving magistrate was prepared to intimidate the unfeminine audacity of the complainant. It was considered as scandalous in a woman to depart, under any circumstances, from her husband; and the complaint of Medea, of the hard fate of her sex, and of the necessity imposed upon them of submitting in silence to cruelty and neglect, might have been equally just in later times *. When the wife of Alcibiades appeared before the proper tribunal, and demanded a separation from her husband, for causes which she was about to state, he seized her arm, in the the assenting and applauding judges, and forcibly

presence of

* Euripid. Med. v. 230. The divorce obtained by the wife, and that by the husband, was specified by two different terms. Men were said amore Truly, anonúew, to dismiss their wives ; women were said amonétes, to depart from their husbands. The dignity of man might inflict, but was not to suffer the degradation of dismissal; and the contumacy which announced the inferiority of the sex, was to be added to the other evils imposed upon them.

« AnteriorContinuar »