Academic journal article The Journal of Psychohistory

Father Avoidant, Mother Dependent: The First Seven Years in a Child's Life in Classical Greece

Academic journal article The Journal of Psychohistory

Father Avoidant, Mother Dependent: The First Seven Years in a Child's Life in Classical Greece

Article excerpt

Many ancient Greeks, among them poets, physicians, and philosophers, divided human life into stages of equal numbers of years. The most frequently used number was seven, with the first seven years equaling the period of earliest childhood. As early as the sixth century B.C. the Athenian poet and lawgiver Solon suggested that the earliest period of childhood ended at age seven with the loss of the baby teeth.1 Comic poets echoed this association,2 as did De Hebdomadibus, attributed to Hippokrates, but probably dating to the first half of the fourth century B.C.3 Even the rational, scientific Aristotle grudgingly accepted as accurate the division of life into periods of seven years, and noted that most animals lost their baby teeth in their seventh year.4

It was also believed that children could neither learn anything nor endure teaching before age seven, according to the Hypothecae, erroneously attributed to Hesiod but probably written several centuries later.5 The childless Plato believed that children could not understand language for their first three years. In his prescriptive Laws he suggests that from age three to six children should spend their time playing games with their peers. At age seven their education would begin.6 The usually observant Aristotle was of the opinion that children should be raised at home until age seven, but that childhood exercise and games should prepare them for their adult lives.7 He was aware of the need for socialization of young children through play, although he would never have expressed it that way.

Both the Laws of Plato and the Politics of Aristotle were prescriptive, programmatic works whose aim is the creation of the ideal polity, which of course requires the proper breeding, nurturing, and education of the infants and children who will become its citizens. There were no child rearing manuals in ancient Greece, rather parents raised their children essentially as their parents raised them. Plato and Aristotle, as well as the poets and physicians, mirror the attitudes of their society, that children before the age of seven are irrational, excitable, difficult to deal with, physically weak and intellectually limited.8 Paideia kai trophe, education and nurture, were the two methods by which children became responsible citizens and good men and women.9 As Aristotle notes, both father and mother create the child, but each has their own contribution to his/her upbringing. The mother nurtures the child, boy or girl, while the father educates his son.10 The father assumed sole responsibility for his son's education after age seven, but it was the mother, with perhaps the aid of the other women of the oikos, who nurtured the children, who cared for and raised them during their first seven years. The aim of this study is to examine the varying roles of father and mother in childrearing in Classical Greece, covering the period roughly from 500 B.C. to 300 B.C.

THE CASE FOR FATHER AVOIDANCE

The general consensus among classicists is that boys and girls up to age seven spent most of their time in the gynaikonitis, the women's quarters.11 Psychoanalytically informed scholars have speculated on the results of such an upbringing, when the "Athenian adult male fled the home, but this meant that the Athenian male child grew up in a female dominated environment." This interpretation suggests that the more the male rejected his wife and imprisoned the female in the oikos, the more powerful she became in her domain. The result was a great disparity between the social position of women and their psychological influence over their children.12 This is a view based on a close reading of the sources, most of which reflect the ideology of the Athenian literate class, the male aristocracy whose writings have survived, to the exclusion of inhabitants of other poleis and classes. Recent studies of women in ancient Greece have modified the notion that they were kept in "Oriental seclusion," but rather show that women had their own social groups, civic functions, and for the poor, jobs, which would take them out of the house. …

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