The prior post in this series may be found here: https://memoirandremains.wordpress.com/2013/11/12/plutarchs-marriage-advice-the-husbands-gods/
Plutarch’s Moralia includes an essay giving advice to a bride and groom. The Latin title was Conjugalia Praecepta. It exists in English principally two translations: one by Goodwin (who reworked an earlier translation) and published in 1874. The Loeb edition which contains a translation by Babbitt was first published in 1927. The first volume of the work contains an extended introduction which gives background on Plutarch, the manuscripts and the translations. Babbitt’s translation is by far superior to Goodwin’s work and is the unquestioned standard in the area.
The following translation is progress. I have provided the Greek text and an explanation of the grammar for anyone who cares to review.
Plutarch’s work begins with a short introduction. It is his apology for even presenting the piece. He pries his way into the wedding chamber, sits on the bed (an uncomfortable place for your uncle to be) and proceeds to give the couple a series of short pictures, parables, similes, warnings, admonitions, exhortations and encouragements. The advice is arranged as a series of “Sections”.
The traditional marriage rite of Demeter’s priest complete, and you two alone, I propose a word for you both which fits the wedding song and custom – one that will fit your need. (In music, a common song for the flute called “Horse Rampant” was played to awaken ardor at mating time.)
Now, marriage must not be overlooked among the many excellent matters philosophy may consider. For philosophy can cast a spell upon the life of fellowship, rendering the two gentle, even tame for one-another.
Therefore, since you have been brought up in the points of philosophy, I am sending you this gift. I have ordered my points as short similes, so that they may be easily remembered. I pray that the Muses may be present and work together with Aphrodite – since, neither a lute nor harp should be more in harmony and tune than a marriage and home – which come by reason, harmony and philosophy. For our ancestors would cause Hermes to sit by Aphrodite, because the pleasure of marriage stands in need of reason—and Persuasion, and the Graces, so that by persuasion you may obtain those things you desire – rather than by fighting and seeking to conquer.
Section 1: Eat a quince.
Solon directs that a bride should eat a quince. She should do this for her husband, and before they lie down together. It seems he speaks in riddles. The answer? Charm from the first should fall from her lips and voice: harmony and pleasure!
Section 2: Wear an asparagus crown.
In Boeotia, they crown the veiled bride with asparagus: for the sweetest fruit grows from amongst the sharpest thorns. Now the husband who does not run away or get crazy at his wife’s first fit or displeasure, will later gain a gentle and sweet life together. Those men who don’t put up with the first trouble are like men who taste an unripe grape but leave the sweetest grapes to someone who comes along later. It’s the same for brides: should they become annoyed at their husband’s first failings, they suffer the honeybee’s sting but leave the honeycomb to someone else.
Section 3: Be patient.
In the beginning, it is particularly important to protect the couple from differences or disputes, for their first harmony will be broken by even slight troubles – but, after the joints are fit together, one could scarcely break the whole with fire or iron.
Section 4: Understand fire.
When fire takes hold, it recklessly burns through chaff, straw – even rabbit hair! But, if it there is not something for it to grab and eat, the fire quickly goes out. The same thing happens with sexual desire. When you are first married, the beauty of the body stabs you with passion – but don’t suppose that flare-up will last forever –better and lasting is the way of thinking that becomes habit, a living disposition which takes hold of the soul.
Section 5: You put a spell on me.
It’s quick and easy to catch fish with poison – but then you’ll have nasty, poisonous fish. And women who use charms and spells to entangle a man, controlling him through pleasure, will live with stupid, mindless, ruined men. It’s like Circe: She couldn’t enjoy the men she’d bewitched: she couldn’t even use the men she’d turned to pigs and donkeys. – But Odysseus! The one who kept his wits and could still think: she was crazy in love for him.
Section 6: Ruling morons.
Women who’d rather rule morons than hear sensible men are like those who’d rather drag about a blind man than follow those who can think and see.
Section 7: She fell in love with a cow.
Even women who do not believe that a king’s wife – Pasiphae – fell madly in love with a cow – find careful, wise men boring. Here’s the irony: they’d rather mix it up with insane men who love only “pleasure” – so that these women are themselves little better than a dog or a goat – who also only lives for “pleasure”.
Section 8: Don’t be a tyrant.
Some men, because they are sick or soft, teach their horses to crouch so they can climb them. Others who have married a rich, well-born wife won’t make themselves better: instead, they cut their wife down – just like tyrants who humiliate their subjects.
It’s best to fit the bridle to the measure of the horse – and to the worth of the woman.
Section 9: The sun and moon.
The moon, when far from the sun, shines brightly – and we see it. But it runs and hides when the sun comes near. Not so the wise wife. She must be seen most especially when her husband is near. But, when he is gone, she should care for the house and keep to herself.
Section 10: The modesty of a wife.
Herodotus got it wrong when he said, “A wife strips off her modesty, when she takes off her clothes.”
No, the thoughtful wife puts on modesty, in place of her clothes. You see, her modesty is a special token of love which she shows to her husband.
Section 11: Harmony in marriage.
When two notes sound in harmony, the base carries the tone. Even so, in every well managed home, there is harmony between the husband and wife – which shows the government and decision of the husband.
Section 12: Persuade her.
The sun beat the wind.
When the man was whipped by the wind – because the wind was trying to force him to put off his coat by blowing hard – the man simply wrapped himself tight.
Now, afterward, the sun warmed him, becoming hot, then scorching. So, the man took off his coat – and his shirt.
Women are like this. When their husbands take away their trifles and luxuries by force, the women fight and become bitter. But if she is persuaded by words, she will meekly put them away and behave.
Section 13: Protect your privacy.
Cato threw a man out of the senate just because the man’s daughter saw him kiss his wife. This may have been a bit excessive. But if it is disgraceful (and it is) to “greet” and kiss and wrap yourselves about each other when someone is watching – how much worse is it to fight and abuse one-another when someone else is around.
What of secret questions and intimacies with your wife? Not to mention correcting and complaining and speaking your mind in the open – letting it fly, as some might say.
Section 14: A worthless mirror.
Now a mirror is worthless—even if it is covered in gold and gems—if it does not show a true likeness. In the same way, a rich wife yields no profit if she does not produce a manner of life like her husband and show harmony of manner.
If a mirror portrays a gracious man as sullen; or a vexed, peevish man as cheerful and laughing; the mirror’s broken, throw it away.
It’s the same with a wife. It doesn’t help; it’s …unfitting for her to be grumbly when her husband starts to laugh and sport; or, when her husband has a matter of serious contemplation she starts joking and laughing. For the first smacks of disgust and the second of disregard.
This is important: It’s like when mathematicians say that lines and surfaces do not move by themselves, but only move with some other body. In same way, a wife shouldn’t fall into a solo passion but rather she should have a common heart with her husband: whether he is serious or playful, contemplative or laughing.
Section 15: Enjoy your wife.
Men who are not willing to see their wives eat, teach their wives to gorge themselves, alone. It’s like this: Those who won’t be cheerful around their wives, who won’t sport and laugh and with their wives are teaching their wives: go seek your pleasures, alone.
Section 16: Don’t try this.
The legitimate wives would sit, eat and entertain the Persian Kings. Yet, when they desired to play and get drunk, they’d send their wives away – only to call over their music-girls and concubines. This happens because they do not wish to contaminate their wives with drunken, sexual … failings.
And so, it is important that the wife not become angry or violent with her husband’s lack of self-control and “failings” with his girl-friends and servants. Instead, she should realize he is being a drunk, predatory jerk with someone else –not her.
Plutarch 17: A man who loves the good and beautiful.
Kings who love music make musicians;
In the same way, a man who loves physical appearance,
makes his woman something to see;
pleasure-lovers: sluts and whores –
the one who loves the good and beautiful …
wise and right.
Section 18: Advice from a Spartan wife.
A Spartan woman was asked if her husband “approached her”. “Well, I haven’t,” she said, “but he did.” I suppose this is the way of a woman who runs her home. On one hand, she doesn’t get angry and run away when her husband comes for such reasons. On the other hand, she doesn’t start anything. If she does the latter, she looks like a sex-fiend. If she goes with the first, she’s arrogant and unnatural.
Section 19: Choose your husband’s gods.
It’s appropriate for a wife not to choose personal friends, but rather she should look to her husband’s friends—particularly his gods, who are the first and most important friends. Therefore, whichever gods the husband determines to reverence for the marriage—these alone the wife should approach. When it comes to strange cults and foreign superstitions, she must close the gate tight.
And besides, what gods would receive sacred rites from a wife who performs them by deceiving and hiding from her husband?