Italy, 3rd/2nd cent. B.C. (Thesleff, pp. 123-4. G)

A letter on how to hire a wet-nurse, with a characteristically Pythagorean emphasis on measure and balance in all things.

Myia to Phyllis, greetings. Here is my advice to you now that you have become a mother. Choose a proper and clean wet-nurse, a modest woman who is inclined neither to drowsiness nor to drunkenness. Such a woman can make the best judgments about how to care for children appropriately, particularly if she has milk to nourish them and is not easily persuaded to sleep with her husband, for it is in this that she has an important part, foremost and prefatory to the whole of the child’s life, in her nursing, as concerns his being raised well, for he will do everything well, at the proper time. The nurse will give him the nipple and breast not at his whim, but after due consideration. In this way she will encourage the baby’s health. She will not succumb to sleep when she is tired, but when the newborn wants to rest. She will offer the child no small relief.

The wet-nurse should not be temperamental or talkative or uncontrolled in her appetite for food, but orderly and temperate, practical, not a foreigner, but a Greek.[1] It is best, if the baby is put down to sleep when it is well filled with milk. Such rest is sweet for little ones and such feeding most effective. If other food is given, it should be as simple as possible. One should stay away from wine completely because it has such a powerful effect or mix it sparingly with its evening meal of milk. She should not give him continual baths; it is better to have occasional temperate ones. Along the same lines, the atmosphere around the baby should have an even balance of hot and cold, and his housing should be neither too airy nor too close. Moreover, his water should not be too hard nor too soft, nor his bed too rough, rather, it should fall comfortably on his skin. In each of these areas Nature desires what is rightfully hers, not luxuries.

This much then I think it is useful to write at present-my hopes based on Nursing according to Plan. With the god’s help, I shall in the future provide the possible and appropriate reminders about the child’s upbringing.


1. Pomeroy 1975, 166.