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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Training of a Wife
By Xenophon (c. 430–c. 350 B.C.)
 
From the ‘Economist’

“AS to what you asked me besides, Socrates, I assuredly do not spend my life in-doors; for,” added he, “my wife is quite capable herself of managing what is to be done in my house.”—“But,” said I, “Ischomachus, I would very gladly be permitted to ask you whether you instructed your wife yourself, so that she might be qualified as she ought to be; or whether, when you received her from her father and mother, she was possessed of sufficient knowledge to manage what belongs to her.”—“And how, my dear Socrates,” said he, “could she have had sufficient knowledge when I took her? since she came to my house when she was not fifteen years old, and had spent the preceding part of her life under the strictest restraint, in order that she might see as little, hear as little, and ask as few questions as possible. Does it not appear to you to be quite sufficient, if she did but know, when she came, how to take wool and make a garment, and had seen how to apportion the tasks of spinning among the maid-servants? For as to what concerns the appetite, Socrates,” added he, “which seems to me a most important part of instruction both for a man and for a woman, she came to me extremely well instructed.”—“But as to other things, Ischomachus,” said I, “did you yourself instruct your wife, so that she should be qualified to attend to the affairs belonging to her?”—“Not, indeed,” replied Ischomachus, “until I had offered sacrifice, and prayed that it might be my fortune to teach, and hers to learn, what would be best for both of us.”—“Did your wife, then,” said I, “join with you in offering sacrifice, and in praying for these blessings?”—“Certainly,” answered Ischomachus, “and she made many vows to the gods that she would be such as she ought to be, and showed plainly that she was not likely to disregard what was taught her.”—“In the name of the gods, Ischomachus, tell me,” said I, “what you began to teach her first; for I shall have more pleasure in hearing you give this account, than if you were to give me a description of the finest gymnastic or equestrian games.”—“Well then, Socrates,” returned Ischomachus, “when she grew familiarized and domesticated with me, so that we conversed freely together, I began to question her in some such way as this:—  1
  “‘Tell me, my dear wife, have you ever considered with what view I married you, and with what object your parents gave you to me? For that there was no want of other persons with whom we might have shared our respective beds must, I am sure, be evident to you as well as to me. But when I considered for myself, and your parents for you, whom we might select as the best partner for a house and children, I preferred you, and your parents as it appears preferred me, out of those who were possible objects of choice. If, then, the gods should ever grant children to be born to us, we shall consult together, with regard to them, how we may bring them up as well as possible; for it will be a common advantage to both of us to find them of the utmost service as supporters and maintainers of our old age. At present, however, this is our common household; for I deposit all that I have as in common between us, and you put everything that you have brought into our common stock. Nor is it necessary to consider which of the two has contributed the greater share; but we ought to feel assured that whichsoever of us is the better manager of our common fortune will give the more valuable service.’  2
  “To these remarks, Socrates, my wife replied, ‘In what respect could I co-operate with you? What power have I? Everything lies with you. My duty, my mother told me, was to conduct myself discreetly.’—‘Yes, by Jupiter, my dear wife,’ replied I, ‘and my father told me the same. But it is the part of discreet people, as well as husbands and wives, to act in such a manner that their property may be in the best possible condition, and that as large additions as possible may be made to it by honorable and just means.’—‘And what do you see,’ said my wife, ‘that I can do to assist in increasing our property?’—‘Endeavor by all means,’ answered I, ‘to do in the best possible manner those duties which the gods have qualified you to do, and which custom approves.’—‘And what are they?’ asked she.—‘I consider,’ replied I, ‘that they are duties of no small importance, unless indeed the queen bee in a hive is appointed for purposes of small importance. For to me the gods, my dear wife,’ said I, ‘seem certainly to have united that pair of beings which is called male and female, with the greatest judgment, that they may be in the highest degree serviceable to each other in their connection. In the first place, the pair are brought together to produce offspring, that the races of animals may not become extinct; and to human beings, at least, it is granted to have supporters for their old age from this union. For human beings also, their mode of life is not, like that of cattle, in the open air; but they have need, we see, of houses. It is accordingly necessary for those who would have something to bring into their houses, to have people to perform the requisite employments in the open air: for tilling, and sowing, and planting, and pasturage are all employments for the open air; and from these employments the necessaries of life are procured. But when these necessaries have been brought into the house, there is need of some one to take care of them, and to do whatever duties require to be done under shelter. The rearing of young children also demands shelter, as well as the preparation of food from the fruits of the earth, and the making of clothes from wool. And as both these sorts of employments, alike those without doors and those within, require labor and care, the gods, as it seems to me,’ said I, ‘have plainly adapted the nature of the woman for works and duties within doors, and that of the man for works and duties without doors. For the divinity has fitted the body and mind of the man to be better able to bear cold, and heat, and traveling, and military exercises, so that he has imposed upon him the work without doors; and by having formed the body of the woman to be less able to bear such exertions, he appears to me to have laid upon her,’ said I, ‘the duties within doors. But knowing that he had given the woman by nature, and laid upon her, the office of rearing young children, he had also bestowed upon her a greater portion of love for her newly born offspring than of the man.  3
  “‘The law, too,’ I told her,” he proceeded, “‘gives its approbation to these arrangements, by uniting the man and the woman; and as the divinity has made them partners, as it were, in their offspring, so the law ordains them to be sharers in household affairs. The law also shows that those things are more becoming to each which the divinity has qualified each to do with greater facility; for it is more becoming for the woman to stay within doors than to roam abroad, but to the man it is less creditable to remain at home than to attend to things out of doors. And if any one acts contrary to what the divinity has fitted him to do, he will, while he violates the order of things, possibly not escape the notice of the gods, and will pay the penalty whether of neglecting his own duties or of interfering with those of his wife. The queen of the bees,’ I added, ‘appears to me to discharge such duties as are appointed her by the divinity.’—‘And what duties,’ inquired my wife, ‘has the queen bee to perform, that she should be made an example for the business which I have to do?’—‘She, remaining within the hive,’ answered I, ‘does not allow the bees to be idle, but sends out to their duty those who ought to work abroad: and whatever each of them brings in, she takes cognizance of it and receives it, and watches over the store until there is occasion to use it; and when the time for using it is come, she dispenses to each bee its just due. She also presides over the construction of the cells within, that they may be formed beautifully and expeditiously. She attends, too, to the rising progeny, that they may be properly reared; and when the young bees are grown up, and are fit for work, she sends out a colony of them under some leader taken from among the younger bees.’—‘Will it then be necessary for me,’ said my wife, ‘to do such things?’—‘It will certainly be necessary for you,’ said I, ‘to remain at home, and to send out such of the laborers as have to work abroad, to their duties; and over such as have business to do in the house you must exercise a watchful superintendence. Whatever is brought into the house, you must take charge of it; whatever portion of it is required for use, you must give out; and whatever should be laid by, you must take account of it and keep it safe, so that the provision stored up for a year, for example, may not be expended in a month. Whenever wool is brought home to you, you must take care that garments be made for those who want them. You must also be careful that the dried provisions may be in a proper condition for eating. One of your duties, however,’ I added, ‘will perhaps appear somewhat disagreeable; namely, that whoever of all the servants may fall sick, you must take charge of him, that he may be recovered.’—‘Nay, assuredly,’ returned my wife, ‘that will be a most agreeable office, if such as receive good treatment are likely to make a grateful return, and to become more attached to me than before.’—Delighted with her answer,” continued Ischomachus, “I said to her, ‘Are not the bees, my dear wife, in consequence of some such care on the part of the queen of the hive, so affected toward her, that when she quits the hive, no one of them thinks of deserting her, but all follow in her train?’—‘I should wonder, however,’ answered my wife, ‘if the duties of leader do not rather belong to you than to me: for my guardianship of what is in the house, and distribution of it, would appear rather ridiculous, I think, if you did not take care that something might be brought in from out of doors.’—‘And on the other hand,’ returned I, ‘my bringing in would appear ridiculous, unless there were somebody to take care of what is brought in. Do you not see,’ said I, ‘how those who are said to draw water in a bucket full of holes are pitied, as they evidently labor in vain?’—‘Certainly,’ replied my wife, ‘for they are indeed wretched, if they are thus employed.’  4
  “‘Some other of your occupations, my dear wife,’ continued I, ‘will be pleasing to you. For instance, when you take a young woman who does not know how to spin, and make her skillful at it, and she thus becomes of twice as much value to you. Or when you take one who is ignorant of the duties of a housekeeper or servant, and having made her accomplished, trustworthy, and handy, render her of the highest value. Or when it is in your power to do services to such of your attendants as are steady and useful, while if any one is found transgressing you can inflict punishment. But you will experience the greatest of pleasures, if you show yourself superior to me, and render me your servant: and have no cause to fear that as life advances, you may become less respected in your household; but may trust that while you grow older, the better consort you prove to me, and the more faithful guardian of your house for your children, so much the more will you be esteemed by your family. For what is good and honorable,’ I added, ‘gains increase of respect, not from beauty of person, but from merits directed to the benefit of human life.’  5
  “Such were the subjects, Socrates, on which, as far as I remember, I first conversed seriously with my wife.”  6
 
 
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