Boeotia, 2nd cent. A.D. (Plutarch, Moralia 138a-146a, exc. Tr. R. Warner. G)

Suggestions to a young friend and his wife; the husband is urged to be understanding and faithful, but it is expected that most adjustments will be made by the wife.

Now you two have been brought up together in philosophy, and so, by way of a wedding present for you both, I have made and am sending you a summary of what you have often heard. I have put things down briefly and side by side, to make them easier to remember. I pray that the Muses may stand by Aphrodite and help her! For they know that it is no more important for a lyre or a lute to be properly tuned than it is for the proper care of marriage and family life to be set to harmony by reason, mutual adjustment, and philosophy. Indeed, the ancients gave Hermes a place at the side of Aphrodite, indicating that in the pleasures of love reason is especially valuable; and they also gave a place to Persuasion and to the Graces, so that married people should have what they want from each other through persuasion and not by quarrelling and fighting with each other.

1. Solon advised the bride to eat a quince before getting into bed with her husband, and by this, I think, he meant that from the very beginning the pleasures coming from the lips and the voice should be harmonious and delightful.

2. In Boeotia after they have veiled the bride they put a garland of asparagus on her head, this being a plant with very rough spines and yet with an extremely pleasant taste. So the bride will make gentle and sweet her partnership with her husband if he does not shrink from her and get angry with her when in the early stages she is difficult and disagreeable. The people who cannot put up with girlish tantrums at the beginning are just like those who because unripe grapes are sour leave the bunches of ripe grapes for others to eat. Many newly married women, too, who get angry with their husbands in the first days find themselves in the position of people who put up with being stung by the bees, but never reach out for the honey comb.

9. When the moon is a long way from the sun, she looks large and bright to us; but when she comes near she fades away and hides. With a good wife it is just the opposite; she ought to be most conspicuous when she is with her husband, and to stay at home and hide herself when he is not there.

11. When music is played in two parts, it is the bass part which carries the melody. So in a good and wise household, while every activity is carried on by husband and wife in agreement with each other, it will still be evident that it is the husband who leads and makes the final choice.

18. A young Spartan girl was once asked whether she had yet started making advances to her husband. She replied: ‘I don’t to him; he does to me.’ This, I think, is how a married woman ought to behave-not to shrink away or object when her husband starts to make love, but not herself to be the one to start either. In the one case she is being over-eager like a prostitute, in the other she is being cold and lacking in affection.

19. A wife ought not to make friends of her own, but to enjoy her husband’s friends together with him. And the first and best friends are the gods in whom her husband believes and to shut her door to all magic ceremonies and foreign superstitions. For no god can be pleased by stealthy and surreptitious rites performed by a woman.

20. Man and woman are joined together physically so that the woman may take and blend together elements derived from each and so give birth to a child which is common to them both, so that neither of the two can tell or distinguish what in particular is his or hers. It is very right too that married people should have the same kind of partnership in property. They should put everything they have into a common fund; neither of the two should think of one part as belonging to him and the other as not belonging; instead each should think of it all as his own, and none of it as not belonging to him.

27. The economical woman ought not to neglect cleanliness and the wife who is devoted to her husband should also show a cheerful disposition; for economy ceases to please when it is combined with dirt, as does the most proper behaviour in a wife when combined with an austere manner.

34. It should be the same with married people-a mutual blending of bodies, property, friends and relations. Indeed what the Roman lawgiver had in mind, when he prohibited an exchange of gifts between man and wife, was not to deprive them of anything, but to make them feel that everything belonged to both of them together.

35. In the African city of Leptis there is an old custom that on the day after her marriage the bride sends to her husband’s mother and asks her for a pot. She does not give it and says that she hasn’t got one, the idea being that the bride should recognise from the beginning a step-motherly attitude in her mother-in-law and, if something worse happens later on, should not be angry or resentful. A wife ought to realise what the position is and try to do her best about it. Her mother-in-law is jealous of her because her son loves her. And the only way of dealing with this is for her to win her husband’s affection for herself and at the same time not to detract from or lessen his affection for his mother.

39. At all times and in all places wives and husbands should try to avoid quarrelling with each other, but they ought to be especially careful of this when they are together in bed. There was a woman in labour who, when the pains were on her, kept saying to those who were trying to get her to bed ‘What’s the good of going to bed? It was by going to bed that I got this.’ But it is not easy to escape the disagreements, harsh words and anger that may arise in bed except just then and there.

48. But it is a finer thing still for a man to hear his wife say ‘My dear husband, “but to me you are”[1] guide, philosopher and teacher in all that is most beautiful and most divine.’ In the first place these studies will take away a woman’s appetite for stupid and irrational pursuits. A woman who is studying geometry will be ashamed to go dancing and one who is charmed by the words of Plato or Xenophon is not going to pay any attention to magic incantations. For if they do not receive the seed of a good education and do not develop this education in company with their husbands they will, left to themselves, conceive a lot of ridiculous ideas and unworthy aims and emotions.


1. A reference to Iliad 6.429, where Andromache tells Hector ‘But to me you are father and mother and brother, and you are my strong husband’.