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

Ostracism and Aristides

The most honorable man of Athens according to Herodotus: Aristides. His sense of morality, justice, and prudence, made him famous all over the Greek world.  He was reputed to be so fair-minded, that he was known to everyone as Aristides ‘the Just’ (dikaios). He was so scrupulously honest that, in spite of the wealth that passed through his hands, he remained poor.

Now, sometime in the early 5th century BCE, the Athenians began the practice of ostracism, a form of election designed to curb the power of any rising tyrant. Once a year, every spring, citizens wrote the name of whichever man they wished to see exiled on a piece of broken pottery (called in Greek ostrakon), and the leader with the most votes against him was forced to leave Athens for ten years.

As Aristotle explained, ‘The threat ostracism was meant to combat could also come from a man’s great personal prominence, if he became so prominent that he could appear to overshadow all others on the political scene and thus threaten the egalitarian principles of Athenian democracy, in which no one man was supposed to dominate the making of policy’.

But soon the Athenians realized that this procedure was problematic…

Aristides and the peasant. Painting by Ernest Hillemacher

On the balloting day for an ostracism, when the Athenians were voting in their Agora, an illiterate peasant approached Aristides and handed him a potsherd, asking him to scratch on it the name of the man’s choice for ostracism.

“Certainly,” said Aristides. “Which name shall I write?”

“Aristides,” replied the man.

Aristides, without revealing his identity, remarked  “Very well. But tell me, my friend… What harm has Aristides done to you?”

“Oh, nothing,” sputtered the peasant, “I don’t even know the man! I’m just sick and tired of hearing everybody refer to him as ‘The Just.’”

Aristides without hesitating he proceeded to inscribe his own name on the ostrakon, and, without uttering a word, gave it back to that man…

Pottery shards (ostraka) displaying Aristides’ name

Stoa of Attalos

The Stoa of Attalos is the only example of a fully restored ancient shopping arcade. It was built by and named after Attalos II, King of Pergamon, as a gift to the city that gave him his higher education.

It’s an impressive two-storey building, 116 m x 19.4 m (381 ft x 63 ft 8 in), with a Doric colonnade on the ground floor, and an Ionic colonnade on the upper floor. There were 21 shops at the back of both floors. Today it houses the museum of the Ancient Agora, and part of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens.

Stoas were really important for the ancient Greeks and the Romans as it was there that they used to meet, walk, shop and do business. It was completely destroyed in 267 AD by a savage tribe, the Herulians but in the 1950s, thanks to the Rockefeller Foundation, the Stoa of Attalos, using the original materials found on site, was fully reconstructed on the original foundations!

This reconstructed ancient building is also of great significance for modern European history as on 16 April 2003 the ceremony of the signing of the 2003 Treaty of Accession of ten new countries to the European Union was conducted there.

STOA OF ATTALOSs2