chapter  I
14 Pages


At the close of the fourth century the great towns experienced what has been justly called the " marriage crisis," and the " reign of the courtesans." 1 This does not mean tha t in an epoch when men were looking for happiness in private life they were not alive to the charm of well-matched marriages. The works of Aristotle-who himself rejoiced in having married the niece of his friend Hermias-are full of passages in which marriage appears, not as a simple business proposition nor yet as an alliance having for end the propagation of the race, but as a communion of souls designed to satisfy all the moral needs of existence, to bestow on husband and wife the advantages and blessedness of mutual love. 2 What

was new and indicated a serious change in custom was the fact tha t marriage was no longer considered as a strict duty of the individual, bound in his turn to hand on the life he had received in trust from his ancestors; it came often to be regarded as an artificial institution, a mere convention. In the opinion of devisers of Utopian societies it could be replaced by community of women; in the eyes of the common people it was simply one of the alternatives offered to each man in his search for personal well-being and pleasure. A suitor could say in open court: " W e have wives tha t our name may be perpetuated, concubines tha t our needs may be cared for, courtesans tha t we may be diverted." 1

Undoubtedly concubines and hetairai were always prominent in Greece; husbands there never prided themselves upon conjugal fidelity. The laws of Draco mentioned without any reprobation certain concubines, 2 and the liaison of Pericles with Aspasia was publicly known. But the concubinage to which ancient legislation accorded a sort of legitimacy had at least for object the procreation of natural children in case of a sterile marriage, and it is well known tha t the great statesman, in spite of his prestige, failed to secure recognition for his beautiful and learned Milesian in Athenian society. Now everything was allowed without the necessity of pleading excuses and without causing scandal. Illicit unions no longer shocked men. The hardy bachelor and the courtesan became the normal and often pleasing characters of the comedy. In a comparison between free love and the state of marriage one of the characters of the poet Amphis does not hide his preferences: " Is not a concubine more desirable than a wife ? . . . The one has on her side the law which compels you to retain her, no matter how displeasing she may be; the other knows tha t she must hold a man by behaving well or else look for another . " 3 This was no pure tirade, effective on the stage; it was a current maxim. Men of letters and artists conformed to it for the most par t : Praxiteles openly took for mistress his model, Phryne; Menander lived with Glycera, Diphilus with Gnathaena. Thus the demi-monde shone in highest circles; it set the tone. It was not only hot-blooded youth which invited concubines to its symposia. Socrates,

the passionate admirer of beauty, sentimentalized over Theodote. 1 Phryne created no more scandal when she dedicated her statue in gold at Delphi or when she placed her image by the side of Aphrodite in the temple of Eros at Thespiae, than did her lover and defender Hyperides when he brought her forth naked in full court. 2

A Plato nevertheless could find much to condemn in these customs: he who was not married would gladly have forbidden all intercourse with a woman other than a legitimate wife; but one has to live with one's times, to resign oneself to necessary concessions, and the statesman tolerated the unions which displeased the moralist, on condition tha t they were concealed. 3 As to the philosophers who propagated the doctrine of pleasure they did not trouble about appearances, and rendered this kind of homage to virtue neither by their precepts nor by their example; they were openly opposed to marriage: Aristippus preferred to be the lover of Lais, as Epicurus later was tha t of Leontion.