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7.

“So, happening one day to see him sitting in the cloister of the temple of Zeus Eleutherius apparently at leisure, I approached, and sitting down at his side, said:

“‘Why sitting still, Ischomachus? You are not much in the habit of doing nothing; for generally when I see you in the market-place you are either busy or at least not wholly idle.’ [2]

“‘True, and you would not have seen me so now, Socrates, had I not made an appointment with some strangers here.’

“‘Pray where do you spend your time,’ said I, ‘and what do you do when you are not engaged in some such occupation? For I want very much to learn how you came to be called a gentleman, since you do not pass your time indoors, and your condition does not suggest that you do so.’

“Smiling at my question, [3] ‘How came you to be called a gentleman?’, and apparently well pleased, Ischomachus answered: ‘Well, Socrates, whether certain persons call me so when they talk to you about me, I know not. Assuredly when they challenge me to an exchange of property in order to escape some public burden, fitting a warship or providing a chorus, nobody looks for the “gentleman,” but the challenge refers to me as plain “Ischomachus,” my father's son. Well now, Socrates, as you ask the question, I certainly do not pass my time indoors; for, you know, my wife is quite capable of looking after the house by herself.’ [4]

“‘Ah, Ischomachus,’ said I, ‘that is just what I want to hear from you. Did you yourself train your wife to be of the right sort, or did she know her household duties when you received her from her parents?’ [5]

“‘Why, what knowledge could she have had, Socrates, when I took her for my wife? She was not yet fifteen years old when she came to me, and up to that time she had lived in leading-strings, seeing, hearing and saying as little as possible. [6] If when she came she knew no more than how, when given wool, to turn out a cloak, and had seen only how the spinning is given out to the maids, is not that as much as could be expected? For in control of her appetite, Socrates, she had been excellently trained; and this sort of training is, in my opinion, the most important to man and woman alike.’ [7]

“‘But in other respects did you train your wife yourself, Ischomachus, so that she should be competent to perform her duties?’

“‘Oh no, Socrates; not until I had first offered sacrifice and prayed that I might really teach, and she learn what was best for us both.’ [8]

“‘Did not your wife join with you in these same sacrifices and prayers?’

“‘Oh yes, earnestly promising before heaven to behave as she ought to do; and it was easy to see that she would not neglect the lessons I taught her.’ [9]

“‘Pray tell me, Ischomachus, what was the first lesson you taught her, since I would sooner hear this from your lips than an account of the noblest athletic event or horse-race?’ [10]

“‘Well, Socrates, as soon as I found her docile and sufficiently domesticated to carry on conversation, I questioned her to this effect:

““‘Tell me, dear, have you realised for what reason I took you and your parents gave you to me? [11] For it is obvious to you, I am sure, that we should have had no difficulty in finding someone else to share our beds. But I for myself and your parents for you considered who was the best partner of home and children that we could get. My choice fell on you, and your parents, it appears, chose me as the best they could find. [12] Now if God grants us children, we will then think out how we shall best train them. For one of the blessings in which we shall share is the acquisition of the very best of allies and the very best of support in old age; but at present we share in this our home. [13] For I am paying into the common stock all that I have, and you have put in all that you brought with you. And we are not to reckon up which of us has actually contributed the greater amount, but we should know of a surety that the one who proves the better partner makes the more valuable contribution.” [14]

“‘My wife's answer was as follows, Socrates: “How can I possibly help you? What power have I? Nay, all depends on you. My duty, as my mother told me, is to be discreet.” [15]

““‘Yes, of course, dear,” I said, “my father said the same to me. But discretion both in a man and a woman, means acting in such a manner that their possessions shall be in the best condition possible, and that as much as possible shall be added to them by fair and honourable means.” [16]

““‘And what do you see that I can possibly do to help in the improvement of our property?” asked my wife.

““‘Why,” said I, “of course you must try to do as well as possible what the gods made you capable of doing and the law sanctions.”

““‘And pray, what is that?” said she. [17]

““‘Things of no small moment, I fancy,” replied I, “unless, indeed, the tasks over which the queen bee in the hive presides are of small moment. [18] For it seems to me, dear, that the gods with great discernment have coupled together male and female, as they are called, chiefly in order that they may form a perfect partnership in mutual service. [19] For, in the first place, that the various species of living creatures may not fail, they are joined in wedlock for the production of children. Secondly, offspring to support them in old age is provided by this union, to human beings, at any rate. Thirdly, human beings live not in the open air, like beasts, but obviously need shelter. [20] Nevertheless, those who mean to win store to fill the covered place, have need of someone to work at the open-air occupations; since ploughing, sowing, planting and grazing are all such open-air employments; and these supply the needful food. [21] Then again, as soon as this is stored in the covered place, then there is need of someone to keep it and to work at the things that must be done under cover. Cover is needed for the nursing of the infants; cover is needed for the making of the corn into bread, and likewise for the manufacture of clothes from the wool. [22] And since both the indoor and the outdoor tasks demand labour and attention, God from the first adapted the woman's nature, I think, to the indoor and man's to the outdoor tasks and cares. [23]

““‘For he made the man's body and mind more capable of enduring cold and heat, and journeys and campaigns; and therefore imposed on him the outdoor tasks. To the woman, since he has made her body less capable of such endurance, I take it that God has assigned the indoor tasks. [24] And knowing that he had created in the woman and had imposed on her the nourishment of the infants, he meted out to her a larger portion of affection for new-born babes than to the man. [25] And since he imposed on the woman the protection of the stores also, knowing that for protection a fearful disposition is no disadvantage, God meted out a larger share of fear to the woman than to the man; and knowing that he who deals with the outdoor tasks will have to be their defender against any wrong-doer, he meted out to him again a larger share of courage. [26] But because both must give and take, he granted to both impartially memory and attention; and so you could not distinguish whether the male or the female sex has the larger share of these. [27] And God also gave to both impartially the power to practise due self-control, and gave authority to whichever is the better—whether it be the man or the woman—to win a larger portion of the good that comes from it. [28] And just because both have not the same aptitudes, they have the more need of each other, and each member of the pair is the more useful to the other, the one being competent where the other is deficient. [29]

““‘Now since we know, dear, what duties have been assigned to each of us by God, we must endeavour, each of us, to do the duties allotted to us as well as possible. [30] The law, moreover, approves of them, for it joins together man and woman. And as God has made them partners in their children, so the law appoints them partners in the home. And besides, the law declares those tasks to be honourable for each of them wherein God has made the one to excel the other. Thus, to be woman it is more honourable to stay indoors than to abide in the fields, but to the man it is unseemly rather to stay indoors than to attend to the work outside. [31] If a man acts contrary to the nature God has given him, possibly his defiance is detected by the gods and he is punished for neglecting his own work, or meddling with his wife's. [32] I think that the queen bee is busy about just such other tasks appointed by God.”1

““‘And pray,” said she, “how do the queen bee's tasks resemble those that I have to do?” [33]

““‘How? she stays in the hive,” I answered, “and does not suffer the bees to be idle; but those whose duty it is to work outside she sends forth to their work; and whatever each of them brings in, she knows and receives it, and keeps it till it is wanted. And when the time is come to use it, she portions out the just share to each. [34] She likewise presides over the weaving of the combs in the hive, that they may be well and quickly woven, and cares for the brood of little ones, that it be duly reared up. And when the young bees have been duly reared and are fit for work, she sends them forth to found a colony, with a leader to guide the young adventurers.” [35]

““‘Then shall I too have to do these things?” said my wife.

““‘Indeed you will,” said I; “your duty will be to remain indoors and send out those servants whose work is outside, and superintend those who are to work indoors, and to receive the incomings, [36] and distribute so much of them as must be spent, and watch over so much as is to be kept in store, and take care that the sum laid by for a year be not spent in a month. And when wool is brought to you, you must see that cloaks are made for those that want them. You must see too that the dry corn is in good condition for making food. [37] One of the duties that fall to you, however, will perhaps seem rather thankless: you will have to see that any servant who is ill is cared for.”

““‘Oh no,” cried my wife, “it will be delightful, assuming that those who are well cared for are going to feel grateful and be more loyal than before.” [38]

““‘Why, my dear,” cried I, delighted with her answer, “what makes the bees so devoted to their leader in the hive, that when she forsakes it, they all follow her, and not one thinks of staying behind? Is it not the result of some such thoughtful acts on her part?” [39]

““‘It would surprise me,” answered my wife, “if the leader's activities did not concern you more than me. For my care of the goods indoors and my management would look rather ridiculous, I fancy, if you did not see that something is gathered in from outside.” [40]

““‘And my ingathering would look ridiculous,” I countered, “if there were not someone to keep what is gathered in. Don't you see how they who ‘draw water in a leaky jar,’ as the saying goes, are pitied, because they seem to labour in vain?”

““‘Of course,” she said, “for they are indeed in a miserable plight if they do that.” [41]

““‘But I assure you, dear, there are other duties peculiar to you that are pleasant to perform. It is delightful to teach spinning to a maid who had no knowledge of it when you received her, and to double her worth to you: to take in hand a girl who is ignorant of housekeeping and service, and after teaching her and making her trustworthy and serviceable to find her worth any amount: to have the power of rewarding the discreet and useful members of your household, and of punishing anyone who turns out to be a rogue. [42] But the pleasantest experience of all is to prove yourself better than I am, to make me your servant; and, so far from having cause to fear that as you grow older you may be less honoured in the household, to feel confident that with advancing years, the better partner you prove to me and the better housewife to our children, the greater will be the honour paid to you in our home. [43] For it is not through outward comeliness that the sum of things good and beautiful is increased in the world, but by the daily practice of the virtues.”

“‘Such was the tenor of my earliest talks with her, Socrates, so far as I can recall them.’”


1 Cyrop.v. i. 24.

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  • Commentary references to this page (1):
    • Sir Richard C. Jebb, Commentary on Sophocles: Antigone, 678
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    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), ATHE´NAE
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