Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

A new Telegraph survey on 'dating' (the romantic rather than temporal kind), reveals that 91 per cent of women and 86 per cent of men would not marry someone 'who had everything you looked for in a partner, but whom you were not in love with'. But what, an ancient would ask, has marriage to do with love?

Greek and Roman upper-class males - for they composed the literature, and it is their views of the matter that we have - did not regard love as a crucial component of marriage. To put it crudely, marriage was primarily business: the production of legitimate heirs, preferably male ones, to continue the line and keep the family in the style to which it had become accustomed.

Indeed, so crucial was this objective that adoption of sons was remarkably frequent, and not babies either, but adults. For example, from AD 14 to 200 only three emperors were survived by natural sons.

Families scrambled to get one of their own sons adopted into the imperial line.

Feelings of the sort that we associate with romance and marriage, especially sexual ones, were something of which ancients were rather wary. They were seen as uncontrollable external forces - a sort of heaven-sent madness leading to extremes of idiotic behaviour. …

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