Friday, December 16, 2011

Poly drama in ancient Greece

A further example of civic amphimetric strife can be seen in the dispute between the two wives that Socrates held concurrently under the concession of c. 410, which allowed Athenians to marry two wives to compensate for the oliganthropy caused by the Peloponnesian War (Xanthippe, mother of Lamprokles, and Myrto, mother of Sophroniskos and Menexenos): These women joined battle with each other, and only stopped to attack Socrates for not stopping them from fighting.

--Anton Powell, The Greek World

The story is disputed--even in ancient times, there was disagreement over whether Socrates was technically married to Myrto, or merely lived with her, supported her economically, and had children with her, which is obviously different.

The excerpt is most noteworthy for the gorgeously obscure phrase "amphimetric strife," which even the mighty American Heritage 4th edition couldn't help decode. I'll let Mr. Powell explain:

'Amphimetores' are groups of siblings born of the same father but different mothers. Such groups could never be at peace with each other in the Greek world (whereas full siblings almost always co-operate), and the different mothers and their respective sons' interests were closely identified as they struggled for precedence and attempted to bastardize competing lines. 'I will never approve of men who keep two beds, nor amphimetric children...strifes and grievous pains for houses..."(Euripides, Andromache 465-7)
In practice, different wives and their children must always be kept separately in different houses; the idea of bringing two women together under one roof is in poor taste; worse, the principle that one set of half-siblings may help and support another is a contradiction of the principle of amphimetric strife so prevalent in Greek culture...

Not for nothin', founders of western civilization, but it sounds to me like your women might not actually be the problem.


  1. Seriously. My skepticism-alarms were klaxonning like crazy at that part about blood siblings always supporting one another.