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Women

How can a couple be happy?

A secret that can keep your relationship healthy and happy (a word of advice from a 5th c. BC Athenian woman )

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

By George Kokkos

Born in Athens, I've studied Ancient History and Archaeology in Britain and in Greece. I've worked in excavations, as a translator, as a private tutor, and since 2010 I'm working with schools and universities from the US and Europe as an Educational Tourism Expert.
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An aspiring science popularizer and indefatigable lecturer in academic or tourism settings, my mastery is to make accessible complex and profound subject matter that can then be appreciated by an extremely broad audience.

I'm passionate about history, philosophy, and education for all. My main focus is the history of the ancient Athenian Democracy and her impact on modern-day republics. I've lectured extensively in schools, universities, and the European Commission Learning Center.

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