Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

The footballer Wayne Rooney recently put on a party for his girlfriend, and the two families were soon punching each other's lights out; and last week a court ruled on the fight at the reception that ended the marriage of Vicky Anderson (40) to Scott McKie (23) after 90 minutes. Ancient precedent suggests there is political mileage here.

Since ancient Greeks were quite sensitive about the presence of'aliens' in their private world, inter-family affairs were often fraught. At marriages in particular, when a woman from one family had to be incorporated into that of another, tensions were easily exacerbated. The Trojan war had its origins in the marriage between the goddess Thetis and the mortal Peleus, to which everyone was invited except Eris, goddess of discord. Infuriated, she lobbed in among the guests a golden apple inscribed 'to the most beautiful woman'. At once Athene, Aphrodite and Hera began to fight over it. Zeus, summoned to arbitrate, sensibly gave the job to a certain young Trojan, Paris. . . .

Yet the family was the Greeks' most precious institution. It is no accident that virtually all Greek tragedy deals with its bloody breakdown. Aeschylus' Oresteia trilogy and Sophocles' Oedipus cycle make the point clearly enough. …

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