Scholia Reviews ns 8 (1999) 20.

Cynthia B. Patterson, The Family in Greek History. Cambridge, Mass. and London: Harvard University Press, 1998. pp. 286. ISBN 0-674-29270-7. UKú21.95.

Marc Kleijwegt
Department of Classics, University of South Africa

The last decade of the twentieth century has seen a significant rise in interest in the Greek family. This is well illustrated in a number of recent studies on related topics, such as childhood, motherhood, the relationship between fathers and sons, and bastardy, not to mention the vast amount of literature on women.[[1]] Yet no full-length monograph was devoted to the family as such since the publication, in 1968, of Lacey's book.[[2]] This remarkable void, which is all the more pronounced in view of the wealth of studies on the Roman family, has now been filled with no fewer than three major studies, all of them published in the last two years. Aside from Patterson's book, the interested student can also turn to Pomeroy's study of the family in Classical and Hellenistic Greece and that of Cheryl Ann Cox on the household in Athens.[[3]] It is a particularly pleasant circumstance that, despite some unavoidable overlap in the sources used, the three works display a significant degree of divergence in approach. Due to its prominent emphasis on definitions, demography, and death, and thanks to its extensive use of epigraphic and material evidence, Pomeroy's study presents the most comprehensive treatment of the subject. There are notable similarities between the books of Cox and Patterson in that they are both concerned with marriage and the transmission of property and how this affects the definition of the ancient Greek family. Patterson's approach, however, is slanted differently in important respects. She shows a strong belief in the historical reality of the Greek family, stressing that it is not a static concept but the `active fashioner of relationships and identities from which and with which its members engage the larger world' (p. 227). To analyse it she relies on traditional types of evidence and eschews the use of anthropological studies, and whenever she can she takes the opportunity to expose the shortcomings of the comparative approach when it is in conflict with the ancient evidence (for example on p. 116). The profitable use which has been made of it on occasion is not highlighted, even when the outcome receives her approval (pp. 126f.). This dissatisfaction is perhaps best explained from her vigorous commitment to the refutation of received opinions on the role of the family in Greek history prevalent in research from the nineteenth century onwards. These ideas are primarily associated with scholars who adopted a fervent comparative approach, both with their own society and other, non-European, societies.

Patterson's first chapter, 'The Nineteenth-century Paradigm of Greek Family History' (pp. 5-44), lays the foundation for a craftily constructed undermining of what she calls the nineteenth-century paradigm. The key elements of that paradigm are: the ancient Greek family was primarily a lineage or descent group; the territorial state arose at the expense of the family; as the family was 'privatised' women were excluded from public life and secluded in the home (p. 9). Its origins are to be discovered in the works of scholars of such diverse background and divergent perspective as Bachofen, Fustel de Coulanges, Maine, Morgan, Engels, Mahaffy and Grote. For those, like the present writer, who have only been exposed to their ideas only indirectly, this chapter provides compulsory reading. It is striking to see how much of their arguments has been influenced by evolutionary thinking. The Greek family was to them a significant stage in the development from primitive to more sophisticated societies. In fact, the concept of the Greek family which they developed, either in agreement or disagreement with each other's work, was largely unhistorical and primarily served the function of conceptualising the superiority of the nineteenth-century European family. As a result there arose a marked double identity of the Greeks, and especially the Athenians, as familiar and other. This tradition was carried on by later generations of scholars. For example, it was A. W. Gomme who remarked that `Athenian society was, in the main, of the normal European type' (quoted on p. 227). This survey of nineteenth-century ideas is merely the first step in an offensive against the immutable status of these ideas in modern scholarship.

The paradigm's ideological entrenchment is demonstrated and combatted in every chapter, but it is also usefully discussed in a separate section of the first chapter, entitled `twentieth-century echoes' (pp. 35-42). Here Patterson criticises scholars like W. K. Lacey, Sarah Pomeroy, and Moses Finley, for not recognising the fallacies of the paradigm. Much of the criticism is justified and to the point. On the whole Patterson is quite explicit in her criticism of those who still uphold the paradigm by incorporating bits of it in their argument without acknowledging their origins or examining their validity. Here and elsewhere in the book (pp. 27f.) it is argued that the image of a misogynistic Athens is particularly appealing to feminist scholars, although this by no means implies that such a view is the exclusive privilege of this specific group. The entire first chapter presents a well-reasoned discussion which urges the need to re- examine the foundations of current thinking on the Greek family and its role in Greek history. Patterson is to be commended for demonstrating so clearly that some of the premises which stand at the basis of research into the Greek family are not tenable in the face of the available evidence. One minor point of criticism on this part of the book is that Patterson does not do enough to bring out the full richness of current scholarship in the social history of Greece. It is only rarely that she singles out scholars who have managed to escape the constraints of the paradigm (Hodkinson on Sparta; a select group of feminist scholars; some of David Cohen's arguments), more through common sense than by way of a frontal refutation of the paradigm's main tenets. Other scholars who receive a fair amount of criticism, for example Ian Morris and David Cohen, can hardly be considered as representative of the paradigm's theories. The fact of the matter is that one can discover in modern scholarship only bits and pieces of the original paradigm, and that due to the proliferation of theory in Classics and Ancient History the fossilised remnants of older theories, even though tenacious, have become less overbearing.

Patterson's most important argument in the book is that it is the oikos, and not the genos, which is the central social principle of Greek family life (most explicitly on p. 47). She demonstrates this in lucid discussions of the evidence from Homer, Hesiod, Sparta, Classical and Hellenistic Athens. Patterson does a particularly good job on the demystification of Spartan `otherness' where the family is concerned, showing that its military system and the accompanying ideology overlay characteristics that are the main organising principles of every Greek polis. Central to the discussion is a clear understanding of Greek terminology. Genos, in Patterson's view, can mean different things, from identity ('from where did you come?') to a more pertinent use as `family', a unique network of relatives and friends `created' by a single individual, but never does it mean `clan', in its dictionary sense (pp. 47-49). Outside the oikos family connections are essentially those produced by marriage and the oikos itself -- together with those assimilated thereto through close friendship or mutual dependence (p. 51). This network, Patterson claims, is what the Athenians later understood as anchisteia tou genous ('the nearest in family'), and what she herself labels ego-based kindred. Such an idiosyncratic conglomerate of relatives, friends and dependants is a constant feature of Greek social history (cf. p. 199 on Menandrian Athens). Although she never refers to the debate on the nuclear vs. extended family which looms so large in the study of the Roman family, Patterson's point suggests that family structure is not the same as family sentiment. It is clear that different notions of family identity were operative in Greek society, not in the form of a progressive sequence, from more to less primitive, but entertained simultaneously and receiving different emphases according to the circumstances.

The central chapters of the book deal with marriage and adultery in classical Athens. While chapter 4, 'Marriage and Adultery in Democratic Athens' (pp. 107-38), is mainly concerned with matters of definition and public estimation, chapter 5, 'Adultery Onstage and in Court' (pp.138-80), discusses the representation of adultery in tragedy and court-room speeches. Both chapters are driven by the question as to how the family is to be located within the nexus of the public and private realms. Patterson positions herself in opposition to David Cohen who has argued that private morality in Athens only occasioned public interest when there arose the threat of violence spilling over into society.[[4]] The implication of Cohen's arguments is that sexual offences belonged to the private realm and that adultery received public attention only because it carried the threat of violence (by way of the husband killing the adulterer) which was a concern of the state. Patterson objects to the separation of a public and a private realm inasmuch as that it misconstrues the role of the household. According to her, `the household had both a public and a private face, and household roles and responsibilities had both private and public significance' (p. 132). The key to Patterson's evaluation of Cohen's arguments is the fact that she regards him as not pushing far enough his arguments against the oriental seclusion of Athenian women and of going too far in his identification of a private sphere which was virtually untouched by public regulations (cf. p. 116). As we shall observe, the correct location of adultery in Athenian society has important implications for other issues as well, such as the position of citizen women and the existence of a separate private sphere, independent of the public interest. It is to be understood that if such a shielding off of the private realm existed, it would be totally dominated by the concerns of male citizens.

Identifying the ideological importance the Athenians attached to marriage is made difficult by its almost total lack of substance in law: marriage was not defined by law, nor were individual marriages legally certified and registered (p. 108). The acts that signalled a marriage to the public environment were those of betrothal, where the bride-to-be need not be present, and the involvement of relatives, friends and the neighbourhood in the actual marriage ceremony. These could later be called upon as witnesses to testify to the legitimacy of the marriage. As Patterson herself defines it, `marriage thus should be understood as a social process rather than as a legal moment' (p. 109). Apart from the legal approach which can be brought to bear on marriage as essentially concerned with status and citizenship, the concept of marriage can also be explored through tragedy and court-room speeches, arguably two fields which present problems of interpretation of a different order. Patterson deduces from Demosthenes 59, the famous case of prosecution against the ex-prostitute Neaira, that she is charged with having been living with an Athenian as his wife and passing off her children as the legitimate Athenian children of two Athenian parents. From this point Patterson infers correctly that legitimate marriage was the privilege of the citizen shareholder. Sophokles' Antigone is another piece of evidence which has been of central importance to the understanding of marriage and the family in classical Athens. The play is usually taken to reflect the conflict between the family and the state, a prototype, so to speak, of the alleged historical development whereby the state eradicated the family. Patterson, however, while admitting that the Antigone can be read in many different ways, argues that the oikos and the state are depicted as mutually dependent rather than presented as their ideological opposites. Making his point through the negative image of a 'marriage to death', Sophokles underlines the tying together of the public and the private realm through the oikos relationships created by marriage. And so marriage underlies the well-being of both oikos and state, something which is a tragic impossibility in the Antigone.

The marriage violated by adultery is a complex field of study, since it involves discussion of a number of terminological uncertainties. The key term is moicheia, which is translated as adultery in the dictionaries. The orthodox view is that adultery in Athens was a crime committed by one male against another male's honour, and that it could involve illicit relationships with any woman living in a house, not necessarily only the wife. This view has recently come under attack from David Cohen who argues in a stimulating study that the traditional explanation of moicheia as the sexual seduction of any woman living under the protection of a kurios goes counter to prevalent ideas in ancient, medieval and Mediterranean societies. In short, he claims that Athens was not unique in this respect and that it viewed adultery as the seduction of a married woman. His second challenge concerns the attention adultery (moicheia) received in public law. Cohen argues that adultery was prosecutable in Athens not as a sexual offense per se, but only so far as it was conceived as a source of public violence. If valid, these arguments would turn the private realm into a separate sphere in which the state was only interested when issues of revenge or conflict threatened the public order. Patterson strongly objects to these views and does so by openly questioning the relevance of comparative anthropological evidence as an overarching realm of interpretation and by referring to conflicting evidence from Athens itself. Independently of Patterson's research other scholars have levelled similar criticism against Cohen's views.[[4]]

The key texts in this debate are Lysias 1 ('On the murder of Eratosthenes'), and Demosthenes 59. In the former moicheia is an important point in the defence's strategy, even though the key argument is that Eratosthenes' murder was in fact lawful homicide. The latter speech presents the only known case of prosecution for xenia, but a central part in the accusation is formed by a scheme set up by Stephanos, Neaira and her daughter Phano to trap unsuspecting foreigners (some were under the impression that they were visiting a brothel) into having sex with one of the ladies and then accuse them of moicheia in order to claim financial compensation. In her discussion of these texts Patterson lays a strong emphasis on the dramatic context of the court-room; this is not a forum where one can expect the use of accurate legal definitions. Illustrative of the rhetorical manipulation that occurred in the lawcourts is Euphiletos' demonstration that Athenian law regarded adultery as a worse crime than rape -- a point which has received a fair amount of attention in recent scholarship.[[5]] Patterson highlights the persuasive context of the speech and argues that from the household's point of view adultery had indeed far- reaching consequences for the legitimacy of the children, an aspect that was less pronounced in the case of rape. The main antithesis is between a slow process of corruption and a criminal act. Incidentally, the case of Neaira and her daughter establishes that moicheia could conceivably be committed with an unmarried daughter, thus invalidating part of Cohen's argument.

Patterson's discussion presents a useful correction to the recent views on the Athenian evaluation of the moichos and his crime. Whereas in Cohen's view the adulterer is a champion in the accumulation of honour at the expense of other males, Patterson demonstrates that in Athenian society the moichos was regarded as a particularly distasteful character, a sexual thief in the night who enters other men's houses and seduces the women within. The root of the word is especially instructive for it must be sought in a slang term for to urinate, a rather primitive and vulgar equation with ejaculation, and its use is prominent in old comedy but not in tragedy. The moichos appears, in one of Aristotle's phrases, as a 'dandy cruising at night'; he is a topos not of manliness but of its opposite (p. 123). Allegations of moicheia play an essential part in political invective, a fact which is usefully illustrated in Patterson's discussion of three alleged moichoi (pp. 159-63).

What happened to the woman caught with a moichos? This is another area where Patterson disagrees with Cohen. The latter argued that there is no known instance of public corporal punishment for Athenian women, something which is in conflict with the evidence from other ancient Mediterranean codes, and he further suggested that the woman could just marry someone else without loss of status. Patterson, however, points out that the status of citizenship protected Athenian women from corporal punishment and argues that the types of punishment we know of -- exclusion from sacred places, expulsion from the oikos and mandatory divorce -- are in fact the female equivalent of atimia (p. 131). What underlies these forms of exclusion from the community are male suspicions that a wife's encounter with a moichos casts doubt not only on her marital fidelity but also on the legitimacy of his existing off-spring. This cluster of suspicions may also be responsible for the fact that moicheia never acquired much substance in Athenian courts, for the public nature of the proceedings would bring out into the open the husband's potential dishonourable position. Patterson sensibly suggests that most cases of moicheia were settled out of court by way of the payment of financial compensation. Indeed such was the rationale behind the conceit developed by Stephanos and Neaira.

Patterson's final chapter, 'Public and private in early Hellenistic Athens' (pp. 180-225), presents a lucid discussion of Menander's comedies as a relevant source for the social history of the family in Hellenistic Athens. This chapter is mainly concerned with the changes in the conception of the family. It is in Aristotle that we witness for the first time the separation of the household and its relationships from the political world of public assemblies and officeholding. Menander, Patterson argues, acknowledges the Aristotelian separation of state and society, yet he positions himself not along the lines of Aristotle's thinking, but innovates by privileging neither state nor individual but a private community of households (p. 185). Before coming to a discussion of the full significance of this emphasis Patterson has to combat a series of misunderstandings and misconceptions about Menander's work. She highlights the unfair judgements Menander's comedies have received, especially in connection with a comparison with Aristophanic comedy. The authoritative view is that Menander's comedies feature the frivolous activities of a politically inane bourgeoisie. That politics only figures in the background can be firmly attributed to the changing political circumstances of Athens under Macedonian military control, and not to the grimness of politics, as has been argued so frequently. Patterson places Menander in Athens after 322 when the city was ruled by Demetrius of Phaleron and when it was fairly evident that the real source of power and authority was located in the kings of Macedonia. In this configuration politics is not merely non-existent or grim, it is beyond the immediate control of Menander and his audience. The removal of any formal ground for accusing Menander of not writing political comedy like Aristophanes then opens up the more fruitful avenue of exploring his drama in terms of the social history of the family and the changing configuration of the public and the private realm.

Patterson cautiously argues against taking Menander as a useful source for social realia. Where he is particularly useful is on the macro-level, that is, the ideological position of the household in early Hellenistic Athens. Here Menander definitely has something new to offer. The prominence of siblings and the resulting possibility of tying two households together, and the emphasis on the role of the courtesan, implies that the drama moves beyond the single household to the stories of several interconnected households (p. 196). Romantic love, however, is not one of Menander's innovations, and Patterson effectively demonstrates that eros in Menander is a gendered emotion. No woman is privileged into experiencing the sentiment of romantic love; this is strictly limited to young men. Menander's comedies, Patterson correctly argues, assume a highly traditional hierarchy of female roles (p. 200), a cautionary warning against those scholars who choose to observe an improvement in the status of women during the Hellenistic period. The least modest code of behaviour is the privileged area of the female slave and the concubine/courtesan, but it is worth mentioning that once she has been identified as an Athenian citizen the Menandrian courtesan moves into her usual silent and obedient role. Patterson interestingly suggests that the significance of courtesans in Menander is a reflection of the contemporary preoccupation with the social justification of such women in an oikos-based society. This may well be true, for it is to be noted that it is primarily widowers and unmarried youngsters who are involved with them. Again, Menander has decided to make his point along traditional lines of propriety. What Menander propagates in the majority of his extant works is that in Athens the state or public law is no viable option -- the law is mainly quoted by notoriously unreliable characters -- nor is the isolated individual, most famously portrayed in the character of Gorgias in the Dyskolos. Menander's world is one in which politics has lost its significance to the average citizen and where the family receives a new ideological dimension. The celebration of a wedding as a solution to the social vexations raised in a specific comedy endorses the idea that the household is no longer the reflection on the micro- level of the organic state, but a freshly conceived means to achieve a feeling of community as a substitute for political attachments.

Students and scholars who have been eagerly awaiting a study of the Greek family which could compete with the work done on the Roman family by scholars such as Beryl Rawson (Patterson mistakenly refers to Elizabeth Rawson on p. 239), Keith Bradley, Richard Saller and Suzanne Dixon, will be somewhat disappointed by Patterson's book. Patterson does mention in passing themes such as the debate on the extended vs. nuclear family, the demographic regime prevalent in the ancient world, the socio- psychological implications of remarriage and divorce, but no attempt has been made to make these pivotal to the discussion. Still, Patterson's study is eminently useful and has the potential of becoming a fundamental work in the field of the Greek family and society. It presents a forceful argument to rethink the basic premises of how the transformation of Greek society from the archaic through to the Hellenistic period defined the family. By attacking historical myths such as that of the genos as the quintessential family or the emergence of the state at the expense of the public role of the family and of women, Patterson makes clear that ideas about the family in Greek history have been seriously misconstrued. The result is an excellent and challenging piece of scholarship. One is obliged, however, to comment that the absence of a bibliography is to be deplored and that the index is woefully inadequate. That is particularly rueful for it detracts from the value of an otherwise meticulous and engaging study.


[[1]] Mark Golden, Children and Childhood in Classical Greece (Baltimore 1990); Nancy Demand, Birth, Death, and Motherhood in Classical Greece (Baltimore 1994); Barry S. Strauss, Fathers and Sons in Athens: Ideology and society in the era of the Peloponnesian War (London 1993); Daniel Ogden, Greek Bastardy in the Classical and Hellenistic Periods (Oxford 1996).

[[2]] W. K. Lacey, The Family in Classical Greece (London 1968).

[[3]] Sarah B. Pomeroy, Families in Classical and Hellenistic Greece: Representations and realities (Oxford 1997); Cheryl Ann Cox, Household Interests: Property, marriage strategies, and family dynamics in Ancient Athens (Princeton 1998).

[[4]] David Cohen, Law, Sexuality, and Society: The enforcement of morals in classical Athens (Cambridge 1991). Cf. Virginia J. Hunter, Policing Athens: Social control in the Attic lawsuits, 420-320 BC. (Princeton 1994).

[[5]] Rosanna Omitowoju, `Regulating rape: soap operas and self-interest in the Athenian courts', in Susan Deacy and Karen F. Pierce (edd.), Rape in Antiquity (London 1997) 7-17; Daniel Ogden, `Rape, adultery and protection of blood lines in classical Athens', in the same work, p. 27.

[[6]] See the studies referred to in the previous note; Edward M. Harris, `Did the Athenians regard seduction as a worse crime than rape'?, CQ 40 (1990) 370-77; C. Carey, `Rape and adultery in Athenian law', CQ 45 (1995) 407-17.