Successful Marriage - Greek Style

By Christopher Xenopoulos Janus

The divorce rate in the United States and some other modern conntries has increased again. There are more divorces than marriages. This has alarmed sociologists, psychologists and other experts on the subject and has led to the studying of marriage institutions in other countries.

It turns out that Greece has one of the lowest divorce rates of any country in the world and this has led to studying the institution of marriage in modern and ancient Greece with some answers and recommendations for a successful marriage. The modern American woman will not like what the experts recommend.

Let's look at what Robert Garland in his excellent book on DAILY LIFE OF THE ANCIENT GREEKS has to say about women and marriage in ancient Greece. He is not offering recommendations, just reporting the facts. Arranged marriages were the norm in ancient Greek society. Status and wealth rather than emotional attachment were the primary criteria for choosing a wife. It is not that the ancient Greek did not believe in love and marriage. They considered them two separate subjects. Love between a man and woman was beautiful, inspiring and should be Sought after. Marriage was a sacred institution with responsibilities and obligations of its own to the state.

It was a contract between a man, a woman and the state and a contract not t~,be broken. In some small villages you couJd be sent to jail if you broke the contract. In other words, it was a criminal thing. Perhaps at least the spirit of this ancient arrangement somehow prevails in modern Greece - hence its record low divorce rate.

Another very important test' contributed to a non-divorce Greek marriage was the counsel a father gave his daughter. It goes like this: you can have your own opinion, you still can be your own person with your own pride-but never disagree with your husband. Let your husband always be right. He can do no wrong-the all important thing is your marriage.

Dear daughter, you will be surprised that though this seems a one sided policy, in time you may find your husband realizing what a treasure he has in you, may be coming to you for advice. You will not only have your way but his too.

In Delphi I once asked a husband his opinion on one of the books I had just written. His reply was: Let me discuss this with my wife and I'll let you know tonight.- what a revelation.

In conclusion, following are some comments by marriage experts on the wedding ceremony and a wife's first duty "On the day of the wedding the Athenian bride took a ritual bath in water. This was poured from a special vase. known as a loutrophoros which means literally "sacred water." This bath prepared her for her new life. It was followed by a feast held at the home of the bride's father.

Here the bride, who vvas veiled, sat apart from all the men, including the bridegroom. Beside her sat an older woman called a mympheutria, who guided her through the ceremony. Instead of a tiered wedding cake with fruit filling covered in icing sugar, little cakes covered with sesame seeds were served to the guests. These were believed to make women fertile. Toward evening the bridegroom led his bride, still veiled, from her father's house in a wagon drawn by mules or OXen. The bride sat in the middle with the groom on one side and the best man on the other. Torchlight preceded the wedding party along the route, and wedding hymns were sung to the accompaniment of the flute and lyre. On arrival at the bridegroom's house, the pair were showered with nuts and dried figs by members of the household. They now entered the bridal chamber and the bride removed her veil. An epithalamion was sung outside. A Greek wedding was a private ceremony, which did not require the service of a state official or priest.

The first and overriding duty of the Greek wife was to provide her husband with offspring, preferably male offspring, to assure that his household did not die out. In the absence of any reliable method of birth control, there would be little opportunity for respite between pregnancies. In addition to that the pressure that came from husband and the husband's family, there would also have been the pressure from society at large, since every Greek community expected that its citizens to beget legitimate children in order to. keep the population at parity.

Because of the high level of infant mortality, it is estimated each married couple would have to produce four or five children in order to achieve even this modest target.

The important thing is the marriage loveless or not.

The husband can do no wrong--and in the long run tht husband turns to his wife and the} have a successful marriage."

(Posting date 26 May 2006)

About the Author

Educated at Harvard and Oxford, Christopher Xenopoulos Janus started his writing career as a reporter for the
Chicago Daily News. Later he became a special writer for The New York Times Sunday News Magazine section where the late Lester Markel was his editor. During World War II, Janus joined the Department of State serving in Washington, Cairo and Athens on Greek War Relief and Rehabilitation programs. This experience had a great influence on his writing.

After World War II, the author was involved in various entrepreneurial experiences. At one time he owned Adolph Hitler's Mercedes Benz and toured it through the United States. He was an Investment Banker, but always took the time to be involved in the world around him.

Since his retirement from business, the author has devoted his time to writing, publishing and traveling. He founded and published the widely acclaimed Greek Heritage, The American Quarterly of Greek Culture, and with William Brashler wrote Search for Peking Man (Macmillan 1975). Janus' novel Miss Fourth of July, Goodbye has been filmed by Disney Productions. Around the World in 90 Years reflects much of the author's own warm and caring philosophy of life embodying unconditional loyalties and boundless enthusiasm. They feature a strong sense of self-reliance and the courage and wisdom to be interested in everything. Yet, as his mentor, George Santayana once cautioned the author: "Don't be awed by anything."

Most recently, the prestigious American Hellenic Institute Foundation of Washington, D.C. awarded its Hellenic Heritage Lifetime Achievement Award to Christopher Xenopoulos Janus.

Mr. Janus is the author of numerous articles appearing on HCS. Readers are invited to view them in a special section, Janus Articles and Publications, of our archives for his distinguished works.

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