HOW CAN A COUPLE BE HAPPY?

A secret that can keep your relationship healthy and happy (from the 5th c. BC)

Perhaps the most famous woman of classical Athens was Aspasia, wife of Pericles. Aspasia presents us with the best solution for a couple to find happiness together:

Neither will be happy, Aspasia says, as long as they both desire an ideal partner;

…rather, each must be the best spouse!

Then, their partner’s wish will be fulfilled…

Born in Miletus, Aspasia was a truly remarkable woman that Pericles adored and respected immensely. The so-called ‘father of the Athenian Democracy’ was even accused that some of his speeches were actually written by Aspasia. Pericles’ love for Aspasia was known all over Athens. He always kissed her goodbye and hello when he left and came home. This was unseemly for a respectable man, and for a man of Pericles’ standing, unheard of. He was often criticized for his relationship with Aspasia, and for his obvious reliance on her help and judgment. Famous Athenian men -like Socrates- were turning up at Pericles’ house just to have a discussion with his wife.

Pericles bust
Pericles

To the question what makes a couple happy and successful, Aspasia had a simple answer.

In Cicero’s book ‘De Inventione’, we come across a dialogue where Aspasia is counseling a respected Athenian, Xenophon, and his wife.

“Please tell me, madam, if your neighbor had a better gold ornament than you have, would you prefer that one or your own?”

“That one,” she replied.

“Now, if she had dresses and other feminine finery more expensive than you have, would you prefer yours or hers?”

“Hers, of course,” she replied.

“Well now, if she had a better husband than you have, would you prefer your husband or hers?” At this the woman blushed.

But Aspasia then began to speak to Xenophon. “I wish you would tell me, Xenophon,” she said, “if your neighbor had a better horse than yours, would you prefer your horse or his?”

“His” was his answer.

“And if he had a better farm than you have, which farm would you prefer to have?”

“The better farm, naturally,” he said.

 “Now if he had a better wife than you have, would you prefer yours or his?” And at this Xenophon, too, himself was silent.

Then Aspasia concluded: “Since both of you have failed to tell me the only thing I wished to hear, I myself will tell you what you both are thinking. That is, you, madam, wish to have the best husband, and you, Xenophon, desire above all things to have the finest wife.

Therefore, unless you can contrive that there be no better man or finer woman on earth you will certainly always be in dire want of what you consider best, namely, that you be the husband of the very best of wives, and that she be wedded to the very best of men.”

-Cicero, ‘De Inventione’ [I.31.51-52]

Aspasia
Aspasia of Miletus

 

THE FOUR GREEK WORDS FOR LOVE

AGAPE

The sentiment of intense devotion affection concern and involvement directed towards a person, place, object, activity or idea. Agape is used commonly to describe the most profound and stimulating relationship possible between two people but can be extended to love of country love of children love of animals and so forth. Existing regardless of changing circumstances, agape is the type of unconditional love.

EROS

The attraction, love, and passion felt for a person. Eros was the Greek god of love and according to mythology he was included among the primitive powers of the universe, a self-born deity that emerged at the beginning of time. The sexual power of Eros was felt by the Greeks in a cosmic sense, as a binding force that compelled the conflicting elements of which Chaos consisted to combine in harmony, and as something that gives life to everything in our world.

PHILIA

The personal and friendly type of love that does not include an erotic element. An attraction fueled by a sincere interest to be closer to a person or an idea. Philia is accompanied by care, respect and altruism as it refers to an experienced-based love, thus making it a close bond connection between two or more people. It is considered a very special type of love as it is the only one freely chosen.

STORGE

The pure, deep and unreserved love, especially between parents and their children. The love of a mother for her kids. Storge is a natural affection that in an instinctive way is expressed and felt among family members, companions or even pet owners. Storge creates a warm bond and a type of selfless dependency.

Georgios Jakobides
Mother love (storge). Georgios Jakobides

Women’s empowerment: Sparta. Gorgo’s world

Throughout human history (sadly up until the 20th century) women have been denied fundamental rights. The right to gain property, the right to vote, reproductive rights, the right to speak, etc, etc.

There are very few exceptions. One of the most famous ones: the ancient city-state of Sparta.

Spartan women received education, they trained in sports, were free to share their opinion (even on military matters), were legally able to own property, and were raised from young girls to become strong women. This liberty and equality that women enjoyed in Sparta, was admired and envied by the rest of the Greeks.

 

According to Plutarch, once an Athenian woman asked the Spartan Queen, Gorgo ,

‘Why are you Spartan women the only ones who can rule men?’

Gorgo replied:

‘Because we are also the only ones who give birth to men!’

 

Gorgo was married to the legendary King Leonidas and she was the daughter of King Cleomenes I. She was allowed by her father to attend important meetings even when Gorgo was just a 9-year old girl.

Gorgo
Imaginary portrayal of Gorgo, Queen of Sparta

There’s a famous incident when one of the most powerful rulers of the Mediterranean, Aristagoras of Miletus, visited Sparta on a diplomatic mission. During this very important meeting, King Cleomenes allowed his daughter Gorgo to sit next to him. Aristagoras, shocked, requested Cleomenes to send Gorgo out of the room before he began talking to him; but Cleomenes told him to say on, and not mind the girl.

So Aristagoras began with a promise of a huge amount of money if the king would grant him his request and when Cleomenes shook his head, Aristagoras continued to raise his offer till it reached five times the original amount! Then Gorgo spoke:

‘Father,’ she said, ‘get up and go, or the stranger will certainly corrupt thee.’ Then Cleomenes, pleased at the warning of his child, withdrew and went into another room. Aristagoras after this, quitted Sparta for good.

running girl 5
Found in Sparta: bronze figure of a running girl wearing a short tunic (British Museum)