Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

A SON is taking his mother to court to force her to pay for his upkeep at university. Typical, Greeks would have thought.

Privately, children, for the Greeks, ensured the continuity of family shrines and family property. Publicly, if they were at one level battle fodder, at another they guaranteed intelligent political decisions. As the great Athenian leader Pericles argued, if you want fair and just policy, only parents who `are risking the life of their own children equally with others' can be expected to come up with it.

But family strife is the subject of almost all Greek myths: the ancients deeply feared it. Indeed, when Plato in his last work, The Laws, tried to show how his ideal society could actually be made to work, by describing the lawcode he would impose on it, he had a whole section devoted to children's illtreatment of parents.

His argument for looking after parents was, interestingly, religious - that the gods really did pay attention to a father. Thus a father's curse on a son was always realised immediately and with powerful effect. Per contra, a father's blessing would always realise equally immediate and powerful benefits. Plato strikingly calls parents `living shrines', so that `when you look after them, they join their prayers with yours' (not something your average shrine does, he adds drily). …

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