The concept of heterosexual marriage in modern times has many similarities and differences with ancient Greek relationships. Status and wealth were both important factors when considering a marriage. If status and wealth were not roughly equal for both partners, it was not considered a good match for both sides. Arranged marriages were a way to ensure that people do marry within their class, as marriage was commonly thought of as an alliance between families. When it was advantageous to produce a union between families and both sides had a child of suitable age, a marriage was arranged, very similar to modern times.
            The couple did not see much of each other before marriage, and in Sparta, not much afterward either. Since the males in Sparta lived with their mess-mates until they were thirty, they did not live with their wives and children. Newly married Spartan couples had to steal away their time together. The males had to slip out of their mess in the middle of the night without being seen while the woman secured a private place where they would not be discovered. The married couple would make love and the male would depart. It was not uncommon for the husband to not see his wife until the arrival of their children. The purpose of this relationship was to keep the man sharp and strong and not make him weak with pleasure. This arrangement also encouraged fresh and new love between the couple.
            In Athens, each partner performed a special task for each other on the day of the wedding and the following day. On the first night that the couple spends together, the man decorates the bed-chamber for his new wife as a gift. The following day, the wife prepared a feast for her husband and his friends. The wife traditionally does not eat with her husband, as it was thought to be inappropriate; he usually eats alone or with male company. In regards to living space, both the bedroom and the dining were common space for the married couple but the remainder of the house was considered her domain.
            Adultery had numerous views, some corresponding with today’s opinions and others that may seem foreign to us. In Sparta, if the married couple could not conceive children, the husband would pick another male to lay with his wife in order to give him an heir. If the wife did become pregnant, the ‘donor’ did not have a part in the raising the child. Society viewed the child as the product of the husband and wife.
            In Athens, adultery was a mixed bag. It was common and acceptable for the man to take lovers, both young boys and prostitutes of various statuses. It was common for men of high status to have a permanent female lover on the side. In most, if not all instances, the wife was aware of the husband’s adultery and it was customary to turn a blind eye to his activities. It was expected that a marriage, especially ones of higher status, would be polygamous. On the other side of the relationship, if a married woman had an affair with another man, it was grounds for divorce. Not only could the husband call for a divorce, it was also not uncommon for him to kill the man that his wife was having an affair with. If a married woman was revealed to be having an affair, she would be disgraced and publicly humiliated by being paraded around on top of an ass with the label of adulteress (reminds me of The Scarlet Letter).
            I for one am glad that modern marriage is different in many ways.


*Originally posted on December 29, 2011*