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Parenté et société dans le monde grec

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Alain Bresson
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Marie-Paule Masson-Vincourt
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Stavros Perentidis
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et al.

Deuxième partie. L’univers de l’Antiquité

Sibling relationships in Menander

A. Cox Cheryl

Texte intégral

  • 1 Foxhall 1998, 53-54.
  • 2 For these theories, see Cox 1998, 105-129.
  • 3 Cox 1998, 116-120.

1As Lin Foxhall has stated, the household defines the boundaries of trust among its members. Affection between individuals cannot exist without trust, confidence and certainty1. With this in mind, the following discussion will explore material concerns as well as emotion and sentiment among family members within the household. I will focus on the relationships between siblings for here the tensions resulting from inheritance strategies are felt. In my work on household interests I argued that precisely because inheritance law stressed transmission from the male of the older generation to the male of the younger, father/son relationships were fraught with tension. A corollary to this theory is that because sons were the preferred heirs, tensions could erupt between brothers who could fight over property, its use and its transmission2. On the other hand, because men were interested in the marriages of their sisters, they were obliged to acquire dowries for them, and because the dowry was never equal to the wealth inherited by the brother3, there was little competition between brother and sister. Let us explore Menander to see the nature of these relationships. From time to time I refer to European societies outside ancient Athens, for I believe that they can illustrate behaviors and social customs and thereby help to explain what we see in the ancient sources.

Brothers and Sisters

  • 4 Ibid., 106-129. An earlier discussion on siblings can also be found in C. A Cox, “Women and Proper (...)

2In a former study I discussed how in some European Systems in which brothers inherited equally and daughters were dowered tensions could erupt among brothers, but close ties could develop between brother and sister. The orations reveal this was certainly the case for ancient Athens4. Similarly, in Menander’s plays emotions could be strong between brother and sister. In the Perikeiromene Glycera knows the identity of her brother Moschion, but will not reveal his true background as a foundling so that he will not lose his social standing as the son of a reputable and wealthy couple (120ff.). Nevertheless, the old woman, who found Glycera and her brother when they were abandoned infants, reveals Moschion’s identity to Glycera so that the young woman may have a kinsman to rely on in life’s troubles (120ff.)· Moreover, when Moschion, in his ignorance of their blood ties, runs up and embraces Glycera, she does not shun him but welcomes the embrace (145ff.), at great cost to her reputation and her relationship with her partner, Polemon. The latter becomes jealous of Glycera’s affection for Moschion and cuts her hair (162ff.). And indeed Glycera weeps because she is burdened by her secret and cannot show her affection for her brother (160-62). Other plays give us a glimpse of the emotional ties between brother and sister and how they were bound together by their common parentage. In the Misoumenos Crateia rebuffs Thrasonides because she thinks he has killed her brother. In the Heros both brother and sister work off the debt incurred by the man they think is their father (32ff.).

  • 5 For a partial bibliography on shame culture, see: ibid., 69 and n. 4.

3Closeness between brother and sister was the result first of the emotions produced by a shame culture and second from the interests surrounding property and marriage. Shame was caused by a fear of external sanctions. Shame and honor were closely linked as honor was fundamental to one’s reputation and social worth. Honor could result from political clout and/or from the behavior of one’s family members. Men were the protectors of female honor. For the woman sexual modesty was fundamental to her honor and she was expected to show reserve in her dealings with the opposite sex5. Thus in the Dyskolos, even though Gorgias is only a matrilineal half-brother to Cnemon’s daughter, he is seriously concerned about her behavior. This concern extends to Gorgias’ slave, Daos, who witnesses the girl talking to a stranger, Sostratus (212ff.). Gorgias, when informed of the incident by Daos, is concerned that Daos did not interrupt the conversation (133ff.). Gorgias adds that he cannot deny his blood ties to his sister and that if the girl gets into trouble it will be a source of shame for him even if he is not close to her father, his mother’s second husband (240ff.). When Gorgias confronts Sostratus he insists that Sostratus do nothing dishonorable to the girl (268ff.). When Gorgias wins Cnemon’s gratitude and favor, he tells Cnemon that the girl should be married as soon as possible (748ff.): Gorgias is obviously concerned about scandai. As Cnemon himself admits, Gorgias is the suitable guardián (κηδεμών) of his sister (737).

  • 6 Ibid., 121-124.
  • 7 On the legality of such marriages: Harrison 1998, 22. For the motivation behind this type of marri (...)

4Property interests and marriage interests also solidified ties between brother and sister. First, the sister’s dowry is important. In the Aspis, Cleostratus, who appears to be propertyless, but is in line to marry his wealthy cousin, an heiress, goes off to war to acquire wealth for his sister’s dowry, so that she could marry a man of whom her brother approved (8f.). Gorgias in the Dyskolos is willing to give up his farm to add to his sister’s one-talent dowry (844ff.). Nor is he exceptional in the active interest he takes in his sister’s marriage. Sostratus in the Dyskolos argues with his father and finally convinces him to give his sister in marriage to his ally, Gorgias (791ff.). Sostratus argues that, although Gorgias is poor it is beneficial to win favors from those we trust. Thus we see a close allegiance between brothers-in-law, similar to the collusion that exists between brothers-in-law in the orations6. The brother in the Georgos is in control of his sister’s marriage, and his widowed mother acknowledges his authority (1ff.). Also, property consolidation of the paternal oikos lies behind the planned marriage between the young hero in the Georgos and his patrilineal halfsister (10)7. Although the young hero spurns the proposed marriage, preferring to marry the girl next door, whom he has either raped or seduced, he is chided by a friend for refusing a marriage planned for him. The friend is displaying the attitude that a planned marriage, with all the property interests entailed, should not be spurned (fragment 4).

  • 8 Cox, 1998, 121-22.
  • 9 Golden 1990, 178.

5In the orations brothers married after their sisters. The men inheriting later in life delayed their marriage, while the earlier marriage of the sister secured a beneficial alliance8. In Menander’s world men could marry at a young age before they received their inheritance9, and it is due to Menander’s penchant for a happy ending that brother and sister marry at the same time. Certainly this is the case in the Perikeiromene and the Dyskolos. In other words, if the family chooses not to force the young man to wait for his inheritance, there is no delayed marriage for the brother. And the contemporaneous marriage of crosssiblings can further solidify already solid allegiances. In the Perikeiromene Glycera marries Polemon while her brother will be married to the daughter of a friend of Pataecus, the father of Glycera and her brother (1012ff.). In the Dyskolos Sostratus marries Cnemon’s daughter and arranges the marriage of his sister to Gorgias, his ally. In the Aspis Cleostratus puts off his marriage until he can secure a dowry for his sister: once he returns with booty for his sister’s dowry he then marries contemporaneously with his sister.

  • 10 MacDowell 1982, 48; Hunter 1993, 109-110.
  • 11 MacDowell 1982, 48, points out that the booty won by Cleostratus in war was his property, not his (...)
  • 12 Hunter 1993, 110.

6The most glaring example of close brother/sister interests in property comes from Menander’s Aspis in which it appears a sister could be epikleros to her brother10. It is clear from the play that Cleostratus’ sister is not only inheriting his wealth, booty acquired in war11 she is being claimed in marriage by her older paternal uncle, Smicrines. Smicrines refuses to take Cleostratus’ booty and hand the girl over to a younger man for he insists that if she has a son by another man, this son can then sue Smicrines for the fortune. In other words, the property is hers until her son inherits it on his majority12.

7Thus brother and sister have vested interests in property and particularly property which comes from the paternal or fraternal estates. Besides emotive interests in the plays, the plays do reveal that the brother has a good deal of interest in his sister’s dowry and in her marriage, making sure that he gives her to a trustworthy ally. What then of the woman’s feelings towards her marriage within the context of strong brother-sister ties?

8There are many sentiments both for and against marriage in Menander’s fragments. Although marriage can be seen as an evil, it is a necessary one (for instance fr. 59 Sandbach). Wives were a good asset because they produced children, nursed sick husbands and buried them when they died (fr. 276 Sandbach). In the Hypobolimaios (374 KasselAustin) the woman lets the man guide; any family in which the woman is chief comes to grief.

  • 13 Cox 1998, 69-70 and bibliography n. 5.
  • 14 Ibid., 71. See also Cohn-Haft 1995, 1-14, where the author also feels there were few instances of d (...)
  • 15 Fantham (1975, 70) points out that Charisius was at the mercy of doxa: he would have shamed himsel (...)

9Despite the passivity of the prospective bride in marital arrangements, the wife seems to have a great deal of influence in Menander’s world. Comedy did advise the wife to listen to her husband (Philemon 120 K-A), but one comic fragment outside Menander States that a smooth-running household depends on harmony between husband and wife. As the man brings home the fruits of his labors front outside, the woman has been working indoors (Apollodorus 14 K-A). It is now acknowledged by both historians and social scientists that women could have a great deal of informal influence in the household. This influence can be attributed to the dowry which a woman brings into the marital household and the attention the husband gives to it. The dowry then seals and stabilizes a marriage13. As in the orations14, spouses in Menander tried to make a marriage work. Indeed in the two plays where spouses are separated, Pamphile and Charisius in the Epitrepontes and Cnemon and his wife in the Dyskolos, there is reconciliation between the spouses. In both the Epitrepontes and P. Didot 1 (1000 K-A, Anon.) wives do not want to follow their father’s advice and leave their husbands. In the former play Pamphile defends her loyalty to her husband and he in turn, before he finds out that Pamphile’s baby is his own, eventually forgives his wife for having borne a bastard child, a nothos15.

10In the P. Didot papyrus the young woman is telling her father that a husband should cherish his wife and she do what pleases him. She informs her father that her husband is a good man, has given her happiness but has lost his wealth (10ff.). She does not want to be divorced from her husband only to be married to a wealthier man. And if his wealth should fail, she does not want to be passed on to a third man (20ff.). This woman is happy in her marriage even though she specifically States that it was an arranged marriage (30ff.). Now that she is married she is the one to decide to stay in the marriage.

  • 16 DuBoulay 1974, 137.

11DuBoulay has noted that for the mountain village of Ambeli the woman’s attachment to her marital household was very strong and in case of conflict she would support her husband’s interests against those of her parents and siblings16. In Menander’s world, certainly the woman can become quite attached to her marital household; the plays therefore give insight into the emotional loyalty of wives and husbands, something the orations did not do. If anything the orations, by revealing strong cross-sibling ties, underlined the woman’s attachment to her original oikos. Although property interests in both the plays and the orations united brother with sister, both sources tell a different story for brothers.

Brothers

  • 17 Cox 1998, 104-114.
  • 18 Gomme & Sandbach 1973, 72; Karabelias 1970, 364, 68; MacDowell 1982, 43-44.
  • 19 Gomme & Sandbach 1973, 77; MacDowell 1982, 44. Karabelias conjectured that Smicrines contends that (...)

12The main source in Menander for relations between brothers is the Aspis. I have argued elsewhere that in the orations it was precisely because inheritance laws favored the transmission of property to sons that these sons could come into conflict with each other17. There could be close ties between brothers, and by extension in Menander’s Aspis we find a close relationship between paternal uncle and nephew. When Cleostratus left for war to acquire wealth for his sister’s dowry, he placed his sister in the kyrieia of their father’s brother, Chaerestratus18. Also Chaerestratus planned to give his only daughter in marriage to Cleostratus so that the latter could possess his property (280). Thus we have a trusting relationship between paternal uncle and nephew. In fact these agnatic ties extend to Smicrines who wants to leave his property to Cleostratus when he dies, a strategy which is tantamount to adopting Cleostratus19.

  • 20 A. W. Gomme and F. H. Sandbach (1973, 77) conjecture that the paternal estate had not been complet (...)
  • 21 MacDowell (1982, 51) and Karabelias (1970, 386) suggest that perhaps Menander is criticizing the l (...)
  • 22 Cox 1998,97-99.

13However, these close ties are offset by the tension between the brothers Chaerestratus and Smicrines. Smicrines is the grasping uncle eagerly using his legal right to marry Cleostratus’ sister once Cleostratus is presumed dead (251ff.). In this Chaerestratus comes into conflict with Smicrines, but one gathers this is just one incident in a history of conflict between the brothers (175ff.)20. Smicrines mentions that his brother leaves him out of decisions on the use of property and in this particular case he has not consulted him in the marriage arrangements for their niece, Cleostratus’ sister. Chaerestratus for his part is shocked that Smicrines will use the law on epikleroi to marry Cleostratus’s sister when there is such an age gap (25lff.)21. As was mentioned, Chaerestratus is violently appalled by the prospect of Smicrines laying claim to Chaerestratus’ own daughter (356ff.). Chaerestratus has to deceive his brother through a trick for Smicrines to drop his daims to either young woman (360ff.). The play then is a good demonstration of the Athenians’ willingness to bend the law. Smicrines is being left out of inheritance strategies because there are doser ties between Cleostratus and Chaerestratus and between Chaerestratus and his stepson, who was to be the husband of Cleostratus’s sister. The willingness to bend the law, therefore, was concomitant with the tendency in the fourth century to ignore the tenets of the law on the epiclerate. Either epikleroi could be married to outsiders or close agnates were unwilling to marry the heiress - the orations give many examples of the instability of the institution22. The Aspis then shows ambivalence towards agnation. In some cases the law is used to confirm the agnate’s rights to property and to an heiress, but, on the other hand, ties can develop outside of agnation to set two brothers to quarreling.

14Perhaps we can close this discussion on brothers by looking briefly at the Sikyonios. Here Moschion, who does not know he is Stratophanes’ brother, tries to prevent Stratophanes from claiming Athenian citizenship and claiming Cichesias’ daughter in marriage (258ff.). Further, Moschion tries to have Stratophanes arrested (272). Moschion’s hostility stems from jealousy and his own desires for the girl (210). Although in the end Moschion relinquishes his claim to the girl, once he finds out that Stratophanes is his brother, he nevertheless reluctantly gives up his claim with many grudging remarks (397ff.). The play implies, therefore, that even when two individuals do not know their fraternal ties, they come into conflict. Brothers are naturally predisposed to quarrel with one another.

15I believe, therefore, that Menander and New Comedy fragments are good sources for the social fabric of Athens at the end of the fourth century B.C. The plays, like the orations, appealed to popular sentiment and described behavior and social customs that were believable to an Athenian audience. It is important to note that there are many similarities in the social behavior described by the two sources, behavior that continued over the course of the fourth century despite political changes both in Athens and in the international scene.

16Menander’s plays have previously been an untapped source for familial relations, and especially so for sibling relationships. Brothers and sister could be emotionally close, they worked together to maintain the honor of the family and its property, while brothers looked after the material welfare of sisters. However, male agnation could be a strain on relations between brothers, as brothers impeded each other in acquiring property even to the point of ignoring laws which enforced a brother’s rights. In other words, law and social custom which enforced paternal authority and guaranteed a male agnate’s right to inherit actually produced tensions among family members, and particularly among male agnates. Where Menander adds to our knowledge is in the dynamics of emotional interests, telling us that sibling relationships were not static as brother fought with brother and as the woman dealt with her loyalties to both her marital world and to her family of origin.

Notes

1 Foxhall 1998, 53-54.

2 For these theories, see Cox 1998, 105-129.

3 Cox 1998, 116-120.

4 Ibid., 106-129. An earlier discussion on siblings can also be found in C. A Cox, “Women and Property in Ancient Athens: A Discussion of the Private Orations and Menander” on the website for the Center for Hellenic Studies, Washington, D.C.

5 For a partial bibliography on shame culture, see: ibid., 69 and n. 4.

6 Ibid., 121-124.

7 On the legality of such marriages: Harrison 1998, 22. For the motivation behind this type of marriage: Cox 1998, 116.

8 Cox, 1998, 121-22.

9 Golden 1990, 178.

10 MacDowell 1982, 48; Hunter 1993, 109-110.

11 MacDowell 1982, 48, points out that the booty won by Cleostratus in war was his property, not his father’s, and it is precisely this wealth that his sister is heiress of. I am not convinced by Brown’s and Karabelias’ conjectures that the property could have been considered part of the estate of Cleostratus’ father and Cleostratus’ sister was epikleros to the father’s estate (Brown 1983, 419; Karabelias 1970, 374-375).

12 Hunter 1993, 110.

13 Cox 1998, 69-70 and bibliography n. 5.

14 Ibid., 71. See also Cohn-Haft 1995, 1-14, where the author also feels there were few instances of divorce, and that divorce was not a casual or frivolous action. The comedies can depict the husband as enslaved to his dowered wife: for instance in middle comedy, see in Alexis (150 K-A).

15 Fantham (1975, 70) points out that Charisius was at the mercy of doxa: he would have shamed himself if it were known that he condoned an unchaste wife. D. Konstan 1994, 226ff., argues that Charisius was not concerned so much with the issue of lost virginity but rather with the production of a child. I am unconvinced by the argument.

16 DuBoulay 1974, 137.

17 Cox 1998, 104-114.

18 Gomme & Sandbach 1973, 72; Karabelias 1970, 364, 68; MacDowell 1982, 43-44.

19 Gomme & Sandbach 1973, 77; MacDowell 1982, 44. Karabelias conjectured that Smicrines contends that he will leave his property to Cleostratus to justify further Smicrines’ own claim to Cleostratus’ fortune (1970, 369-70).

20 A. W. Gomme and F. H. Sandbach (1973, 77) conjecture that the paternal estate had not been completely divided between the brothers and that Smicrines was being eased out of the estate like a nothos (1. 176).

21 MacDowell (1982, 51) and Karabelias (1970, 386) suggest that perhaps Menander is criticizing the law on epikleroi and is implying that it should be changed. Brown (1983, 413-414) claims that the play is not criticizing the law so much as Smicrines’ use of it. Scafuro argues that the play is not criticizing the law but is rather criticizing the character of two brothers who manipulate inheritance strategies from different motives (Scafuro 1997, 304).

22 Cox 1998,97-99.

Auteur

University of Memphis.

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