Roman Calendar

Thursday, June 26, 2014

"Marriage" (from "Musonius Rufus on How To Live"

From Musonius Rufus on How To Live:


. . .

[I]n marriage there must be, above all, prefect companionship and mutual love - both in sickness, health, and under all conditions - it should be with desire for this (and children) that both entered upon marriage."

Somewhat extraordinary for the time, Rufus refutes many misconceptions (if you will forgive the term) about marriage, including the somewhat silly notion that its purpose is the conception of children (since this "could result from any other sexual union" "just as in the case of animals"), and insists on the voluntary and consensual nature that marriage ought to have.

"Where this love for each other is perfect and shared completely, each setting out every day to outdo the other in devotion - then the marriage is ideal and worthy of envy - for this union is beautiful. But where each looks only to their own interests, neglecting the other, or worse - when one lives in the same house but affixes their attention elsewhere, being unwilling to pull together with their yoke-mate, unable to agree - then the union is doomed to disaster. Though they live together, their common interests crumble; eventually they separate entirely or remain together and suffer what is worse than loneliness.

Therefore those who contemplate marriage ought to disregard:
* family - whether either one is high-born
* wealth - whether on either side there are many possessions
* physical beauty"

I would note that this advice would have been nearly impossible for many women to follow in Rufus' own time, since their fathers arranged their marriages for them with little regard for whether or not they were "contemplating marriage" . . . but today, this is advice anyone ought to be able to follow in the free world!

Rufus then does enter a rather outworn argument for marriage as a basic unit of social cohesion, saying that if one believes that one should look solely to one's own interests, man is no better than a wild beast, continuing:

"Perhaps human nature most closely resembles the bee - which cannot live alone (for it dies when left alone) - but focuses its energy to the common task of his companions and hard-working together with its neighbours. For mankind, evil is injustice and cruelty and indifference to a neighbour's trouble, while virtue is brotherly love and goodness and justice and beneficence and concern for the welfare of your neighbor - with such ideas, I say, it would be each man's duty to consider his own city - making his home a rampart for its protection. But the first step towards this is marriage. Thus, whoever destroys human marriage destroys the home, the city - the whole human race . . ."

As I said, a rather outworn statement of the idea that the individual marriage and household is the basic unit of society and civilization! But one can see a reflection of the deep Greek and Roman values that state that man is a social, political animal, unable to exist as fully human on its own.

"Could you say that the people who take an interest in their city are worse and less just than they who do - they who look out only for their own interests are better than those who look out for the common good? Can it be that the person who chooses the single life is more patriotic, more a friend and partner to his neighbor, than the person who maintains a home and raises children - contributing to the growth of their city as a married person does?"

Rufus here attempts a reductio ad absurdum to which every reader is expected to give a resounding "NO!", despite the fact that many people today would disagree with these ideas. But in his day, it was certainly true that the household and family were the building blocks of the community, and that single, unmarried men (it was almost impossible to be a woman with such status) did not contribute nearly as much to the community. Today, we like to have the choice . . . but it remains true that good families form building-blocks of society that no number of single individuals can match. This is no insult to those who choose to be single, or choose not to rear children, it is simply a true statement that human society as we know it requires families.

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