Ancient Greek Family Advice – Part 1

Have you ever heard of a nation fining their King for inconsiderate (to the nation) amours with a “common” woman?

I am reading a 1898 translation from Greek of “Plutarch’s Morals” (Moralia) written in the first century AD.

I have not laughed to this degree for a very long time. How Plutarch writes with such openness on what today is an incredibly touchy subject, is nothing short of scandalous to our modern age.

Today, we would never speak so openly about marriage, parenting, child raising, and other morals in this day, at least not in public, maybe behind a closed door. Because “morals” have become a taboo subject.

I’ll get to the first subject, how to form good children, after a little history,

  • Plutarch, a Greek philosopher, biographer and essayist, born in 46 AD in Chaeronea, Boeotia, and died at the age of 74m 120 AD in Delphi. He became a Roman citizen, and was the contemporary of such prominent historical Roman figures as Trajan, Tacitus, Hadrian, Pliny. His writings were in Greek, of course.
  • He was no academic slouch as he studied mathematics and philosophy at the Academy of Athens under Ammonius from 66 to 67.
  • Plutarch was initiated into the mysteries of the Greek god Apollo, and was a long time (for 30 years until his death) priest, one of two, at the temple of Apollo at Delphi which housed Oracle of Delphi.

One further thought we must fix securely in our mind as we read Plutarch’s Morals; This is not some “Christian” wisdom, Plutarch was a pagan to them. Plutarch is a famous Greek scholar and philosopher. He was a contemporary of the apostle Paul, but Plutarch was the teacher and interpreter of Plato for his day. Respected by Roman emperors. A “pagan” priest of one of the most famous temples to Apollo in ancient history. Plutarch is writing the best of Greek and Roman wisdom on morals.

As I read history, and such as this, I find it so incredibly amazing how unified human experience is. Certain values, insights, morals and philosophies are similar across religions, cultures, and time.

History is proving to me there is nothing new under the sun.

“Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever.” Ecclesiastes 1:4 (NIV)

On the subject of family Plutarch begins.

Come let us consider what one might say on the education of free children, and by what training they would become good citizens.

Is there anything more fundamental to society than this question?

“It is perhaps best to begin with birth…. ” Plutarch

Plutarch begins with relationships before children are born.

Finding a partner who comes from noble parenting seems to be his starting point. He warns men (and women I suppose, though it was Greece and Rome) to marry from stable families, suggesting that familial issues are brought into one’s future relationships and parenting. And it suggests that those from abusive families “have a ready handle” to abuse and, Vitupretation. I looked up the word, “Vitupretation” –abusive and foul speech.

Modern psychology would seem to affirm that children of dysfunctional families have not experienced or witnessed examples of functioning families. Therefore, they have more pathological experiences and examples to overcome, and then to learn an unknown to them set of good behaviours, thoughts and ways of interacting with other humans that much more livable.

All this, of course, assumes one even has the desire, character, or emotional energy to begin this painful and difficult process. It is difficult because it first involves looking at one’s self and admitting our own ignorance, culpability or incompetence, which is of itself, no small ego challenge for any of us to overcome. Many never over come the ego, to begin.

Back to Plutarch’s point. Abusers, and those raised under foul and abusive speech often exhibit the same behaviours. Abusers overwhelmingly have abuse in their past. Not a good foundation to begin with.

I would therefore warn those who desire to be fathers of notable sons, not to form connections (1) with any kind of women, such as courtesans (prostitutes) or mistresses: for those who either on the father or mother’s side are ill-born have the disgrace of their origin all their life long irretrievably present with them, and offer a ready handle to abuse and vituperation (abusive and foul speech).

(1) Forming “Connections”. I laughed out loud as Plutarch seems to suggest, “Dick placing or dick receiving should involve some thinking beforehand. Consider where we plan to put our dick, or be fully aware of whose dick is approaching that we might be fancying to receive.”. No with just anyone who comes along…..

Would this Greek wisdom be considered wise advice to this day?

Plutarch then quotes Euripides, speaking about the importance of good choices in mate selection, for they are the foundations on which a marriage and family is based.

“Unless the foundation of a house be well laid, the descendants must of necessity be unfortunate.” ~ Euripides, “Here. Fur.” 1261, 1262.

Plutarch then points out that docile, defeated subservient children are not our desire. Nor are children who are mean or “Abject”(completely without pride or dignity; self-abasing) But this will be the result of parents with poor example.

Good birth indeed brings with it a store of assurance, which ought to be greatly valued by all…..For the spirit of those who are a spurious and bastard breed is apt to be mean and abject: for as the poet truly says, “It makes a man even of noble spirit servil (a), when he is conscious of the ill fame of either his father or mother.” On the other hand the sons of illustrious parents are full of pride and arrogance.”

(a) Plutarch is quoting Euripides again , ‘Hippol.“ 424, 425)

Many of us have grown up in dysfunctional families, so are we all defeated in love? Are our amours exhibiting an openness to growing, a willingness to learn new ways to live, love, argue, speak, and interact, that are differences from what we witnessed growing up? Seems to be the key in modern times.

Plutarch develops this theme of strong children. Arrogant seems to mean confident and assured in his usage.

(2) Servil– an excessive willingness to serve or please others. To raise children like this does not seem to be a desired character trait for the Greeks or Romans. Rather a sign of poor upbringing.

“As an instance of this it is recorded of Diophantus, the son of Themistocles ( 528–462 BC, Athenian statesman and General who helped build up the Athenian fleet and defeated the Persian fleet at Salamis in 480), that he often used to say to various people “that he could do what he pleased with the Athenian people, for what he wished his mother wished, and what she wished Themistocles wished, and what Themistocles wished all the Athenians wished.”

That kind of arrogance from a young man today would want many a person to kick his ass, or wish his parents would. However, it seen as a strength in children to first century Greeks.

Plutarch then tells a “humorous to us” story of people refusing to permit their king to sire weak and subservient children. A seemingly unacceptable thing for which they fined the King.

All praise also ought we to bestow on the Lacedæmonians for their loftiness of soul in fining their king Archidamus for venturing to marry a small woman, for they charged him with intending to furnish them not with kings but kinglets.

Fining the king for his inconsiderate amours with a common woman.

I laughed out loud at this story.

Part 2 Alcohol And The Groovy

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