With regard to community in marriage and parentage, though both, by a sound policy, inculcated in husbands a freedom from selfish jealousy, still, their methods were not entirely alike. The Roman husband, if he had a sufficient number of children to rear, and another, who lacked children, could persuade him to the step, relinquished his wife to him, having the power of surrendering her entirely, or only for a season; but the Spartan, while his wife remained in his house, and the marriage retained its original rights and obligations, might allow any one who gained his consent to share his wife for the purpose of getting children by her.
And many husbands, as we have said,1
would actually invite into their homes men whom they thought most likely to procure them handsome and noble children. What, then, is the difference between the two customs? We may say, perhaps, that the Spartan implies a complete indifference to the wife, and to the jealous emotions which confound and consume the hearts of most men; while the Roman, as if with shame-faced modesty, makes a veil of the new betrothal, and concedes that community of wives is really insupportable.
Still further, Numa's watchful care of young maidens was more conducive to feminine decorum; but the treatment of them by Lycurgus, being entirely unconfined and unfeminine, has given occasion to the poets. They call them
(so Ibycus), and revile them as mad after men. Thus Euripides says2
They leave their homes to mingle with the youths;
Their thighs are naked, flying free their robes.
For in fact the flaps of the tunic worn by their maidens were not sewn together below the waist, but would fly back and lay bare the whole thigh as they walked. Sophocles pictures the thing very clearly in these words3
And that young maid, whose tunic, still unsewn,
Lays bare her gleaming thigh
Between its folds, Hermione.
And so their women, it is said, were too bold, putting on men's airs with their husbands even, to begin with, since they ruled their houses absolutely, and besides, on public occasions, taking part in debate and the freest speech on the most important subjects. But Numa, while carefully preserving to the matrons that dignified and honourable relation to their husbands which was bestowed on them by Romulus,4
when he tried by kindly usage to efface the memory of the violence done them, nevertheless enjoined great modesty upon them, forbade them all busy intermeddling, taught them sobriety, and accustomed them to be silent; wine they were to refrain from entirely, and were not to speak, even on the most necessary topics, unless their husbands were with them.
At any rate, it is said that when a woman once pleaded her own cause in the forum, the senate sent to inquire of an oracle what the event might portend for the city. And for their usual gentleness and readiness to obey, there is strong evidence in the specific mention made of those who were less amenable. For just as our Greek historians record the names of those who first slew kinsfolk, or made war on their brothers, or were parricides, or matricides,
so the Romans make record of the fact that Spurius Carvilius was the first to divorce his wife, two hundred and thirty years after the founding of Rome, there being no precedent for it; also that the wife of Pinarius, Thalaea by name, was the first woman to quarrel with her own mother-in-law, Gegania, in the reign of Tarquinius Superbus. In such fitting and proper manner were marriages regulated by their lawgiver.