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of political life now-a-days prompts men to spend even their leisure in the clubs, where they meet companions of like passions and interests with themselves, so the Athenian gentleman only came home to eat and to sleep; his leisure as well as his business kept him in the market-place. His wife and daughters, ignorant of philosophy and politics, were strangers to his real life, and took no interest in his pursuits.
The results were fatal to Athenian society. The women, uninstructed, neglected, and enslaved, soon punished their oppressors with their own keen and bitter weapons, and with none keener than their vices. For of course all the delicacy and grace of female character disappeared. Intellectual power in women was distinctly associated with moral depravity, so that excessive ignorance and stupidity was considered the only guarantee of virtue.* The qualifications for society became incompatible with the qualifications for home duties, so that the outcasts from society, as we call them, were not the immoral and the profligate, but the honourable and the virtuous. Accordingly, when we consult the literature of the day, we find women treated either with contemptuous ridicule in comedy, or with still more contemptuous silence in history.t In tragedy or in
* Eurip. Hippol. 640.
+ The silence of Thukydides on women in general, and on Aspasia in particular, appears intentional, and carries out the concluding sentiment in the great speech he attributes to Perikles.
the social theories of the philosophers alone can we hope for a glimpse into the average character and position of Athenian women.
Here, at least, we might have expected that the portraits drawn with such consummate skill by Homer would have been easily transferred to the Athenian stage. But to our astonishment we find the higher social feelings towards women so weak, that the Athenian tragic poets seem quite unable to appreciate or even to understand the more delicate features in Homer's characters. They are painted so coarsely and ignorantly by Euripides that we should never recognize them, but for their names. Base motives and unseemly wrangling take the place of chivalrous honour and graceful politeness.
But the critics of the day complained that Euripides degraded the ideal character of tragedy by painting human nature as he found it; in fact, as it was, and not as it ought to be. Let us turn, then, to Sophokles, who painted the most ideal women which the imagination of a refined Athenian could conceive, and consider his most celebrated characters—his Antigone and his Elektra. A calm, dispassionate survey will, I think, pronounce them harsh and masculine. They act rightly, no doubt, and even nobly, but they do it in the most disagreeable way. Except in their external circumstances, they differ in no respect from men; so that there is peculiar significance in the fact, that these female parts were acted on the Athenian stage by men. Elektra, for instance, isostentatious of her poverty, fond of wrangling, unmoved at the sight of blood ; she shows no trace of remaining affection towards the enemies in her household, though her nearest relatives, and is unjust towards those who sympathise with her, without being bold enough to assist her. Even in the celebrated Antigone there are the same features; for the two heroines do not differ in any delicate peculiarities, as they would have done in Homer or in Shakspeare. Antigone acts rightly and nobly; but she is contumacious, and wrangles in a most unfeminine way with her adversaries. The bitter but idle selfreproaches of the refined Helen--the grand, but purely passive, and therefore purely feminine, courage of Penelope-- the gentle submissiveness of Andromache--these things seem unknown, or unnatural, to the Athenian dramatist ; for the diseased state of society had robbed him of the most precious models of his art. How cold and poor is Sophokles' treatment of the affecting relations between Hæmon and Antigone. A great poet at any other age would have made the parting of the lovers one of the chief points of tragic interest ; but such a scene would have shocked the delicacy of the Athenians, for though young girls might occasionally be seen at a procession or other religious ceremony,* they were
* Religious ceremonies and processions were accordingly the common resort of young men, and indeed of girls, as we can sue in Theokritus, for more than religion's sake. It is well known, that among strict evangelical people in the present day, when the daughters of the house are forbidden balls, concerts, and other lawful amusements, matrimonial affairs are settled on the way to and from church, and at religious meetings. The parallel is very curious.
never allowed to form a male acquaintance till after marriage, and even then, to touch the hand of a lady was considered a gross breach of propriety in an Athenian gentleman.
I am sorry that time forbids me from discussing the secondary and inferior female characters of Sophokles, which alone appear to me to have any special and interesting individuality; and in Euripides women are powerful only in one point-in passion.
But even that most adverse critic allows that they are unfairly treated, and that their perpetual complaints were the natural consequence of their degraded position. This very just view of the defects of Athenian society was also enforced by the great Sokrates, who is represented by Xenophon* as arguing with a friend concerning the supposed uselessness of the sex. “Whether,” says the friend, “are we to blame the husband or the wife for such a result ?” “If a sheep,” answered Sokrates, “ turn out badly, we generally blame the shepherd, or if a horse, the trainer ; and in the case of a woman, should she turn out badly after being well instructed by her husband, doubtless she should bear the blame; but if he omit to instruct her in what is right and proper, and then finds her ignorant, should not he himself bear it? But come,” he adds, “as we are all friends, answer me fairly, is there any one to whom you intrust such important concerns as to your wife? To no one. Is there any one with whom you have
* Economicus, cap. iii, sqq.
less social intercourse than your wife? Hardly any one, to say the least. But did you not marry her very young, a mere child, who had seen and heard as little as she possibly could ? Certainly. Then would it not be far stranger if she knew what she should say and do than if she did not ?” And then he goes on to give an account of a conversation he had with a model husband, the master of a model household, which was the envy of his neighbours.* “Did you instruct your wife yourself?” Sokrates had asked, “or did you receive her from her parents prepared in her duties?” “What, Sokrates," was the answer, “could I have found her to know, seeing that she came to me not fifteen years old, and having lived under strict supervision, in order that she might see and hear and inquire as little as possible ? For surely you do not think it sufficient for her to be able to turn a certain quantity of wool into a garment. In matters of cookery, indeed, O Sokrates, she came very well instructed—a thing which seems to me a most important part of the education both of men and women.” And then the model man goes on to describe at length how he educated his poor little wife. As soon as she had become tame and docile, so that it was possible to enter into conversation with her, it is the expression used by the Greeks for domesticating a savage or wild animal,)ť he asks her
* Economicus, cap. vii.
+ insì non moi xsoposons ñ xaà iritibáoreuto äote dicaéysolo, are the words. silouévoy dedozós xaà oxotivòv Sav, is the parallel expression of Plato as to female life in Athens. Legg. vi. p. 781, D.