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[43]

IX. on one's relationship to one's mother.

Those who recall the days when Artemus Ward gave lectures may remember Low he glided from behind the curtain noiselessly, dressed in solemn black, looking like a juvenile undertaker, and proceeded without a smile to crack the gravest jokes over the head of his young pianist. This tuneful youth, he explained, was paid five dollars a week “and his washing,” and he was thoroughly domestic in his style of playing, having even composed those touching melodies of home life, “Is it raining, mother dear, in South Boston?” and “Mother, you are one of my parents!” Now, if there ever was anything that might be called a self-evident proposition, it is this last, and yet it is certain that from Greek days to the present time the din of discussion has raged around it, and it has been habitually denied by large sections of the human race. Indeed, it is very probable that practices now prevailing among the most enlightened nations-as, for instance, the transmission of the father's, not the mother's, family nameare [44] simply a survival of this obstinate denial. While filial love and deference towards the m-other form a most potent influence in many nations otherwise benighted, it is also true that there have always been races holding the view that a man is in no strict sense the son of his mother, but only of his father. Tills view assumes that he stands to his mother only in the relation held by the rose to the garden that produced it — a relation of necessary dependence, not of lineal descent.

The highest and most careful statement of this paradoxical theory is to be found in the Greek drama called the “Eumenides,” commonly translated as “The Furies,” by Aeschlylus, the greatest of Greek dramatists, and, in the opinion of some, the greatest of the world's poets. The hero, Orestes, has slain his mother, Clytemnestra, for her sins; and the Furies claim him as their victim, because they have jurisdiction over those who have shed the blood of kindred. Orestes asks why, then, did they not punish Clytemnestra herself, without leaving him to do it? They say that it was because her ]husband, whom she slew, was not one of her kindred. But, he says, am I of kindred with her? They cry out in indignation against this monstrous remark, and the matter is referred to Phoebus Apollo, who thus rules: “The mother is not the parent of what is called her child, but only the nurse of the infant [45] germ; for the male creates the offspring, while the female, like a host for a guest, preserves the young plant, when some god does not mar the increase.” He adds also, “I will give you a proof of my assertion; there may be a father without a mother;” and he then mentions the mythological tradition of the birth of Athena, or Minerva, from the head of Zeus, or Jupiter. This fantastic argument is, of course, irresistible in the view of Greek mythology. But the half truth which lies at the basis of it has always been springing up all over the world, not. alone among barbarous nations, but among the most civilized in the ancient and medieval worlds.

For instance, in a valuable paper on the social and family relations among Australian tribes, in the Smithsonian Report for 1883, by A. W. Howitt, we find just this same theory modifying the law of descent among savages. The mother, as these people state it, is merely the nurse of the child; it is something given her to take care of. The same thing appears in the Hindoo Vedas, and glimpses of it are seen through Greek and Roman law. In that familiar book, “The ancient city,” by Coulanges, we see that the basis of the Roman state was the Roman family: the undying home, the domestic fire that never was to die out, but must be tended by father and son successively forever. Into this household the wife entered as a subordinate only; she was, as it were, [46] a daughter to her husband, filiae loco, the jurists say. Her legal connection with her own family was broken off; she could not belong to two families, so she was merged in her husband's. For purposes of dignity a certain equality was recognized; she pronounced the formula ubi tu Caius, ego Caia, meaning that she would be the feminine head of the household as he the masculine; but it was only as a matter of dignity; his power was in reality absolute, she held hers only through him. She was essential to the home ; it was incomplete without her — a Roman priest lost his office on becoming a widower; but she was utterly subordinate, almost an accident; the children not only belonged by law to the father, but they were recognized as intrinsically his; she was their custodian, their nurse, even as the Australian islander said.

We may admit that all this belongs to ages of darkness. The question is whether those ages are quite over. While men may properly argue for this or that specific reform in the condition of women, it is better to remember that the whole relation of the sexes has its roots far back in the very oldest traditions of the Aryan race, and their transformation must be a matter of very gradual evolution. Changes have been made that seemed utterly to imperil the old theory of the wife's subordination; and yet in some way or other this tradition has held its own. [47] In the Society of Friends, for instance, the equality and independent action of the sexes has been brought almost to its highest point; and yet, even there, every woman abandons her family name on marriage, and is so far identified from that moment with her husband's household instead of her own; Lucretia Coffin vanishes, and Lucretia Mott takes her place.

In the few cases among reformers where the wife has, as a matter of supposed consistency, refused to take her husband's name, the children have borne it nevertheless; and the tradition of the old Roman law — that they were her husband's children rather than hers — has thus been maintained in spite of her protest. Nor is it easy to see how we can get away from the remnant of this logical entanglement, since no child can bear all its inherited names; and if it is to keep but one, it is in many respects easier that it should be the father's. Fortunately there are plenty of specific ways in which the condition of women may be bettered, leaving students of antiquity to interpret the decision of Phoebus Apollo as they may.

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