Women, Family, and Society in Medieval Europe: Historical Essays, 1978-1991

By David Herlihy; A. Molho | Go to book overview

7
THE MAKING OF THE MEDIEVAL FAMILY:
Symmetry, Structure, and Sentiment

In any examination of the family, it is useful initially to define what we mean by that common and yet extraordinarily resonant term.1 Definitions, in classical Aristotelian logic, should state the genus of the entity and then its specific differences--those which distinguish it within its class. The family is obviously a society, an organized, though usually small, group of human beings. Its specific differences are in turn two. The family members live together. Living together has often meant working and producing together, but historically, the fundamental implication of coresidency seems to have been common consumption. Members of the family eat the same food at the same table. The second specifying difference is the close, we might call it primary, relationships among the members through blood or marriage. Coresidency and primary relationship through blood or marriage are thus the specifying differences which identify families within the larger community. To claim membership in the family, at least one of these conditions must be fulfilled. The family defined by the test of coresidency is the household; the family defined by primary relationship in blood and marriage is the bio-

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1
For a recent bibliography on the history of family and kinship, see G. L. Soliday, ed. History of the Family and Kinship: A Select International Bibliography ( New York, 1980). For works on the medieval family, see M. Sheehan and K. Scardellato, Family and Marriage in Medieval Europe: A Working Bibliography ( British Columbia, 1976), which is currently being revised. The collection of essays entitled Famille et parenté dans I'occident médiéval ( Rome, 1977), provides a fine example of recent research on medieval household structures.

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