Democracy = Participation

In ancient Athens, contributing to politics -and in extent to your country- was considered the norm and highly desirable. Being apolitical and selfish was frowned upon. All good citizens aspired to be politically active.

It was rare for someone to demonstrate apathy towards what was happening in their state and remain indifferent to common/public issues. The overwhelming majority of Athenians participated in politics to a greater or lesser extent.

Anyone who was interested only in his own affairs and refused to take part in the current affairs was by definition considered a weakly presented member of Athenian society, and therefore a person of low intelligence, apathetic, and almost worthless.

If you did not demonstrate social responsibility and political awareness you were considered uneducated and ignorant. Those who did not contribute to politics and the community were known as “idiotes”, that being the term for a person that chose to remain a private citizen. The opposite of an “idiotes” was a “polites”, an active citizen. It still is…

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