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[6arg] That Aelius Melissus, in the book to which he gave the title On Correctness of Speech, and which on its publication he called a horn of plenty, wrote something that deserves neither to be said nor heard, when he expressed the opinion that matrona and mater familias differ in meaning, thus making a distinction that is wholly groundless.
WITHIN my memory Aelius Melissus held the highest rank among the grammarians of his day at Rome; but in literary criticism he showed greater boastfulness and sophistry than real merit. Besides many other works which he wrote, he made a book which at the time when it was issued seemed to be one of remarkable learning. The title of the book was designed to be especially attractive to readers, for it was called Correct Language. Who, then, would suppose that he could speak correctly or with propriety unless he had learned those rules of Melissus? From that book I take these words: “Matrona, 'a matron,' is a woman who has given birth once; she who has done so more than once is called mater familias, 'mother of a family'; just so a sow which has had one litter is called porcetra; one which has had more, scrofa.” But to decide whether Melissus thought out this distinction between matrona and mater familias and that it was his own conjecture, or whether he read what someone else had written, surely requires soothsayers. For with regard to [p. 319] porcetra he has, it is true, the authority of Pomponius in the Atellan farce which bears that very title 1 but that “matron” was applied only to a woman who had given birth once, and “mother of a family” only to one who had done so more than once, can be proved by the authority of no ancient writer. Indeed, that seems much more probable which competent interpreters of ancient terms have written, that “matron” was properly applied to one who had contracted a marriage with a man, so long as she remained in that state, even though children were not yet born to them; and that she was so called from the word mater, or “mother,” a state which she had not yet attained, but which she had the hope and promise of attaining later. Matrimonium itself, or “marriage,” has the same derivation; but that woman only is called “mother of the household” 2 who is in the power and possession of her husband, or in the power and possession of the one under whose authority her husband is; since she had come, not only into a state of wedlock, but also into the family of her husband and into the position of his heir.
1 p. 295, Ribbeck3.
2 Mater familias is the feminine equivalent of pater familias. The latter was “father of the household” in authority, although he was not the actual father of all its members. In C.I.L. vi. 1035, Julia, wife of Septimius Severus, is called mater Augusti nostri et castrorum et senatus et patriae.
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