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Private Life

208. Chastity. Italy, 3rd/2nd cent. B.C. (Thesleff, pp. 151-4. G)

A treatise attributed to Phintys, a female member of the Pythagorean community in southern Italy.[1] Works said to be written by Pythagoras' wife or daughter Theano, and his daughter Myia (no. 250), survive, along with letters and treatises attributed to other women.[2] These writings are probably not original or even written by women, but rather consist of rhetorical exercises and treatises composed by men at different times and places. Certainly the content of what they wrote deals with topics particularly dear to the hearts of men: women's duties,[3] women's chastity, how to behave when your husband acquires a mistress (put up with it cheerfully).[4]

In general a woman must be good and orderly-and this no one can become without virtue ... A woman's greatest virtue is chastity. Because of this quality she is able to honour and to cherish her own particular husband.

Now some people think that it is not appropriate for a woman to be a philosopher, just as a woman should not be a cavalry officer or a politician ... I agree that men should be generals and city officials and politicians, and women should keep house and stay inside and receive and take care of their husbands. But I believe that courage, justice, and intelligence are qualities that men and women have in common ... Courage and intelligence are more appropriately male qualities because of the strength of men's bodies and the power of their minds. Chastity is more appropriately female.

Accordingly a woman must learn about chastity and realise what she must do quantitatively and qualitatively to be able to obtain this womanly virtue. I believe that there are five qualifications: (1) the sanctity of her marriage bed, (2) the cleanliness of her body, (3) the manner in which she chooses to leave her house, (4) her refusal to participate in secret cults or Cybeline ritual, (5) her readiness and moderation in sacrificing to the gods.

Of these the most important quality for chastity is to be pure in respect to her marriage bed, and for her not to have affairs with men from other households. If she breaks the law in this way she wrongs the gods of her family and provides her family and home not with its own offspring but with bastards. She wrongs the true gods, the gods to whom she swore to join with her own ancestors and her relatives in the sharing of life and the begetting of children according to law. She wrongs her own fatherland, because she does not abide by its established rules ... She should also consider the following: that there is no means of atoning for this sin; no way she can approach the shrines or the altars of the gods as a pure woman, beloved of god ... The greatest glory a free-born woman can have-her foremost honour-is the witness her own children will give to her chastity towards her husband, the stamp of likeness they bear to the father whose seed produced them ...[5]

As far as adornment of her body is concerned, the same arguments apply. She should be dressed in white, natural, plain. Her clothes should not be transparent or ornate. She should not put on silken material, but moderate, white-coloured clothes. In this way she will avoid being over-dressed or luxurious or made-up, and not give other women cause to be uncomfortably envious. She should not wear gold or emeralds at all; these are expensive and arrogant towards other women in the village.[6] She should not apply imported or artificial colouring to her face-with her own natural colouring, by washing only with water, she can ornament herself with modesty ...

Women of importance leave the house to sacrifice to the leading divinity of the community on behalf of themselves and their husbands and their households. They do not leave home at night nor in the evening, but at midday, to attend a religious festival or to make some purchase, accompanied by a single female servant or decorously escorted by two servants at most.[7] They make modest sacrifices to the gods also, according to their means. They keep away from secret cults and Cybeline orgies in their homes. For public law prevents women from participating in these rites, particularly because these forms of worship encourage drunkenness and ecstasy.[8] The mistress of the house and head of the household should be chaste and untouched in all respects.


Notes:

1. Cf. also the letter of Perictione on the'harmonious woman', quoted in Pomeroy 1975, 134-6. Dr D. Monserrat has shown that portions of this and other Neopythagorean treatises were copied out in Egyptian schools in the 3rd and 4th centuries A.D.; e.g., Kraus 1919 122-8; P.Haun. II. 13.

2. Seventeen women (about seven per cent) are included in an ancient list of members of the Pythagorean community (58 A D-K, I 448); writings also survive by women who do not appear in the list: Pythagoras' daughter Arignote, Melissa, Perktione (incidentally, also the name of Plato's mother), and Phintys.

3. For a translation of Perktione's treatise on women's duties, see Pomeroy 1975, 134-6.

4. Two letters about coping with mistresses are attributed to Pythagoras' wife Theano: no. 3 contains the sober advice: "Tragedy teaches you to control your jealousy, through the examples of the dramas, in which Medea disobeys the law." Cf. Snyder 1989, 108-113.

5. The ultimate proof. Cf. Glycon's praise for his wife Panthia (no. 373), 'You bore me children completely like myself': Lattimore, p. 277.

6. Cf. Cicero's emphasis on the luxury of Clodia's household, no. 71.

7. But even religious festivals could provide opportunity for misconduct. Thus Simaetha, below, no. 415 meets Delphis at the Thesmophoria of Artemis.

8. Cf. the Athenian law against excessive mourning (no. 77) and the public reaction to Dionysiac ritual (no. 388).