Oeconomicus, by Xenophon


Well (I replied), and did your wife appear, Ischomachus, to lend a willing ear to what you tried thus earnestly to teach her?

Isch. Most certainly she did, with promise to pay all attention. Her delight was evident, like some one’s who at length has found a pathway out of difficulties; in proof of which she begged me to lose no time in making the orderly arrangement I had spoken of.

And how did you introduce the order she demanded, Ischomachus? (I asked).

Isch. Well, first of all I thought I ought to show her the capacities of our house. Since you must know, it is not decked with ornaments and fretted ceilings,194 Socrates; but the rooms were built expressly with a view to forming the most apt receptacles for whatever was intended to be put in them, so that the very look of them proclaimed what suited each particular chamber best. Thus our own bedroom,195 secure in its position like a stronghold, claimed possession of our choicest carpets, coverlets, and other furniture. Thus, too, the warm dry rooms would seem to ask for our stock of bread-stuffs; the chill cellar for our wine; the bright and well-lit chambers for whatever works or furniture required light, and so forth.

Next I proceeded to point out to her the several dwelling-rooms, all beautifully fitted up for cool in summer and for warmth in winter.196 I showed her how the house enjoyed a southern aspect, whence it was plain, in winter it would catch the sunlight and in summer lie in shade.197 Then I showed her the women’s apartments, separated from the men’s apartments by a bolted door,198 whereby nothing from within could be conveyed without clandestinely, nor children born and bred by our domestics without our knowledge and consent199 — no unimportant matter, since, if the act of rearing children tends to make good servants still more loyally disposed,200 cohabiting but sharpens ingenuity for mischief in the bad.

When we had gone over all the rooms (he continued), we at once set about distribution our furniture201 in classes; and we began (he said) by collecting everything we use in offering sacrifice.202 After this we proceeded to set apart the ornaments and holiday attire of the wife, and the husband’s clothing both for festivals and war; then the bedding used in the women’s apartments, and the bedding used in the men’s apartments; then the women’s shoes and sandals, and the shoes and sandals of the men.203 There was one division devoted to arms and armour; another to instruments used for carding wood; another to implements for making bread; another to utensils for cooking condiments; another to utensils for the bath; another connected with the kneading trough; another with the service of the table. All these we assigned to separate places, distinguishing one portion for daily and recurrent use and the rest for high days and holidays. Next we selected and set aside the supplies required for the month’s expenditure; and, under a separate head,204 we stored away what we computed would be needed for the year.205 For in this way there is less chance of failing to note how the supplies are likely to last to the end.

And so having arranged the different articles of furniture in classes, we proceeded to convey them to their appropriate places. That done, we directed our attention to the various articles needed by our domestics for daily use, such as implements or utensils for making bread, cooking relishes, spinning wool, and anything else of the same sort. These we consigned to the care of those who would have to use them, first pointing out where they must stow them, and enjoining on them to return them safe and sound when done with.

As to the other things which we should only use on feast-days, or for the entertainment of guests, or on other like occasions at long intervals, we delivered them one and all to our housekeeper. Having pointed out to her their proper places, and having numbered and registered206 the several sets of articles, we explained that it was her business to give out each thing as required; to recollect to whom she gave them; and when she got them back, to restore them severally to the places from which she took them. In appointing our housekeeper, we had taken every pains to discover some one on whose self-restraint we might depend, not only in the matters of food and wine and sleep, but also in her intercourse with men. She must besides, to please us, be gifted with no ordinary memory. She must have sufficient forethought not to incur displeasure through neglect of our interests. It must be her object to gratify us in this or that, and in return to win esteem and honour at our hands. We set ourselves to teach and train her to feel a kindly disposition towards us, by allowing her to share our joys in the day of gladness, or, if aught unkind befell us, by inviting her to sympathise in our sorrow. We sought to rouse in her a zeal for our interests, an eagerness to promote the increase of our estate, by making her intelligent of its affairs, and by giving her a share in our successes. We instilled in her a sense of justice and uprightness, by holding the just in higher honour than the unjust, and by pointing out that the lives of the righteous are richer and less servile than those of the unrighteous; and this was the position in which she found herself installed in our household.207

And now, on the strength of all that we had done, Socrates (he added), I addressed my wife, explaining that all these things would fail of use unless she took in charge herself to see that the order of each several part was kept. Thereupon I taught her that in every well-constituted city the citizens are not content merely to pass good laws, but they further choose them guardians of the laws,208 whose function as inspectors is to praise the man whose acts are law-abiding, or to mulct some other who offends against the law. Accordingly, I bade her believe that she, the mistress, was herself to play the part of guardian of the laws to her whole household, examining whenever it seemed good to her, and passing in review the several chattels, just as the officer in command of a garrison209 musters and reviews his men. She must apply her scrutiny and see that everything was well, even as the Senate210 tests the condition of the Knights and of their horses.211 Like a queen, she must bestow, according to the power vested in her, praise and honour on the well-deserving, but blame and chastisement on him who stood in need thereof.

Nor did my lessons end here (added he); I taught her that she must not be annoyed should I seem to be enjoining upon her more trouble than upon any of our domestics with regard to our possessions; pointing out to her that these domestics have only so far a share in their master’s chattels that they must fetch and carry, tend and guard them; nor have they the right to use a single one of them except the master grant it. But to the master himself all things pertain to use as he thinks best. And so I pointed the conclusion: he to whom the greater gain attaches in the preservation of the property or loss in its destruction, is surely he to whom by right belongs the larger measure of attention.212

When, then (I asked), Ischomachus, how fared it? was your wife disposed at all to lend a willing ear to what you told her?213

Bless you,214 Socrates (he answered), what did she do but forthwith answer me, I formed a wrong opinion if I fancied that, in teaching her the need of minding our property, I was imposing a painful task upon her. A painful task it might have been215 (she added), had I bade her neglect her personal concerns! But to be obliged to fulfil the duty of attending to her own domestic happiness,216 that was easy. After all it would seem to be but natural (added he); just as any honest217 woman finds it easier to care for her own offspring than to neglect them, so, too, he could well believe, an honest woman might find it pleasanter to care for than to neglect possessions, the very charm of which is that they are one’s very own.

194 Or, “curious workmanship and paintings.” See “Mem.” III. viii. 10. Cf. Plat. “Rep.” vii. 529 B; “Hipp. maj.” 298 A. See Becker, “Charicles,” Exc. i. 111.

195 Or, “the bridal chamber.” See Becker, op. cit. p. 266. Al. “our store-chamber.” See Hom. “Od.” xxi. 9:

be d’ imenai thalamonde sun amphipoloisi gunaixin eskhaton, k.t.l.

“And she (Penelope) betook her, with her handmaidens, to the treasure-chamber in the uttermost part of the house, where lay the treasures of her lord, bronze and gold and iron well wrought.”— Butcher and Lang. Cf. “Od.” ii. 337; “Il.” vi. 288.

196 See “Mem.” III. viii. 8.

197 See “Mem.” ib. 9.

198 “By bolts and bars.” Lit. “a door fitted with a bolt-pin.” See Thuc. ii. 4; Aristoph. “Wasps,” 200.

199 Cf. (Aristot.) “Oecon.” i. 5, dei de kai exomereuein tais teknopoiiais.

200 Lit. “since (you know) if the good sort of servant is rendered, as a rule, better disposed when he becomes a father, the base, through intermarrying, become only more ripe for mischief.”

201 “Movable property,” “meubles.”

202 Holden cf. Plut. “De Curios.” 515 E, os gar Xenophon legei toi Oikonomikois, k.t.l.

203 Cf. “Cyrop.” VIII. ii. 5. See Becker, op. cit. p. 447.

204 See Cic. ap. Col. who curiously mistranslates dikha.

205 Schneider, etc., cf. Aristot. “Oecon.” i. 6.

206 Or, “having taken an inventory of the several sets of things.” Cf. “Ages.” i. 18; “Cyrop.” VII. iv. 12. See Newman, op. cit. i. 171.

207 Or, “and this was the position in which we presently established her herself.”

208 See Plat. “Laws,” vi. 755 A, 770 C; Aristot. “Pol.” iii. 15, 1287 A; iv. 14, 1298 B; vi. 8, 1323 A; “Ath. Pol.” viii. 4; and Cic. ap. Col. xii. 3. 10 f. Holden cf. Cic. “de Legg.” iii. 20, S. 46; “C. I. G.” 3794.

209 Lit. Phrourarch, “the commandant.”

210 Or, “Council” at Athens.

211 Cf. “Hipparch.” i. 8, 13.

212 Or, “he it is on whom devolves as his concern the duty of surveillance.”

213 Lit. “when she heard did she give ear at all?”

214 Lit. “By Hera!” Cf. the old formula “Marry!” or “By’r lakin!”

215 Lit. “more painful had it been, had I enjoined her to neglect her own interests than to be obliged . . .”

216 ton oikeion agathon, cp. “charity begins at home.” See Joel, op. cit. p. 448.

217 Or, “true and honest”; “any woman worthy of the name.” sophroni = with the sophrosune of womanhood; possibly transl. “discreet and sober-minded.”


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