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Economic Strains on the Family

Many Athenian households lost fathers, sons, or brothers to the violence of battle in the Peloponnesian War, but resourceful families found ways to compensate for the economic strain that such personal tragedies could create. An Athenian named Aristarchus1, for example, is reported by the writer Xenophon (c. 428-354 B.C.) to have experienced financial difficulty because the turmoil of the war had severely diminished his income and also caused his sisters, nieces, and female cousins to come live with him. He found himself unable to support this swollen household of fourteen, not counting the slaves. Aristarchus's friend Socrates (469-399 B.C.) thereupon reminded him that his female relatives knew quite well how to make men's and women's cloaks, shirts, capes, and smocks, “the work considered the best and most fitting for women,” although they had always just made clothing2 for the family and never had to try to sell it for profit. But others did make a living by selling such clothing or by baking and selling bread, Socrates pointed out, and Aristarchus could have the women in his house do the same. The plan was a success, but the women complained that Aristarchus was now the only member of the household who ate without working. Socrates advised his friend3 to reply that the women should think of him as sheep did a guard dog— he earned his share of the food by keeping away the wolves from the sheep.

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