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ANY things that among the Greeks better classes, woman enjoyed the greatest
are considered improper and unfit- social liberty and the greatest legal and ting," wrote Cornelius Nepos in the pref- economic autonomy. There she most ace to his “Lives," "are permitted by our nearly approached that condition of moral customs. Is there by chance a Roman who and civil equality with man which makes is ashamed to take his wife to a dinner her his comrade, and not his slave—that away from home? Does it happen that equality in which modern civilization sees the mistress of the house in any family one of the supreme ends of moral progress. does not enter the anterooms frequented The doctrine held by some philosophers by strangers and show herself among and sociologists, that military peoples subthem? Not so in Greece: there the wo- ordinate woman to a tyrannical régime of man accepts invitations only among fami- domestic servitude, is wholly disproved by lies to which she is related, and she re- the history of Rome. If there was ever a mains withdrawn in that inner part of the time when the Roman woman lived in a house which is called the gynaeceum, state of perennial tutelage, under the auwhere only the nearest relatives are ad- thority of man from birth to death-of mitted."
the husband, if not of the father, or, if not This passage, one of the most signifi- of father or husband, of the guardiancant in all the little work of Nepos, draws that time belongs to remote antiquity. in a few, clear, telling strokes one of the When Rome became the master state of most marked distinctions between the the Mediterranean world, and especially Greco-Asiatic world and the Roman. during the last century of the republic, Among ancient societies, the Roman was woman, aside from a few slight limitaprobably that in which, at least among the tions of form rather than of substance, had
Copyright, 1911 by THE CENTURY CO. All rights reserved.
already acquired legal and economic inde
WOMAN'S SOCIAL EQUALITY WITH MAN pendence, the condition necessary for social and moral equality. As to marriage, THERE was, then, at the close of the rethe affianced pair could at that time choose public little disparity in legal condition between two different legal family régimes: between the man and the woman. As is marriage with manus, the older form, in natural, to this almost complete legal which all the goods of the wife passed to equality there was united an analogous the ownership of the husband, so that she moral and social equality. The Romans could no longer possess anything in her never had the idea that between the munown name; or marriage without manus, dus muliebris (woman's world) and that in which only the dower became the prop- of men they must raise walls, dig ditches, erty of the husband, and the wife remained put up barricades, either material or mistress of all her other belongings and all moral. They never willed, for example, that she might acquire. Except in some to divide women from men by placing becases, and for special reasons, in all the tween them the ditch of ignorance. To be families of the aristocracy, by common sure, the Roman dames of high society were consent, marriages, during the last cen- for a long time little instructed, but this turies of the republic, were contracted in was because, moreover, the men distrusted the later form; so that at that time mar- Greek culture. When literature, science, ried women directly and openly had gained and Hellenic philosophy were admitted economic independence.
into the great Roman families as desired
and welcome guests, neither the authority, THE CIVIL RIGHTS OF THE WIFE
nor the egoism, nor yet the prejudices of During the same period, indirectly, and the men, sought to deprive women of the by means of juridical evasions, this indepen- joy, the comfort, the light, that might dence was also won by unmarried women, come to them from these new studies. We who, according to ancient laws, ought to know that many ladies in the last two cenhave remained all their lives under a guar- turies of the republic not only learned to dian, either selected by the father in his dance and to sing, --common feminine will or appointed by the law in default of studies, these, — but even learned Greek, such selection. To get around this diffi- loved literature, and dabbled in philosophy, culty, the fertile and subtle imagination reading its books or meeting with the faof the jurists invented first the tutor op- mous philosophers of the Orient. tivus, permitting the father, instead of Moreover, in the home the woman was naming his daughter's guardian in his will, mistress, at the side of and on equality to leave her free to choose one general with her husband. The passage I have guardian or several, according to the busi- quoted from Nepos proves that she was ness in hand, or even to change that offi- not segregated, like the Greek woman: cial as many times as she wished.
she received and enjoyed the friends of her To give the woman means to change husband, was present with them at festiher legitimate guardian at pleasure, if her vals and banquets in the houses of famifather had provided none by will, there lies with whom she had friendly relations, was invented the tutor cessicius, thereby although at such banquets she might not, allowing the transmission of a legal guar- like the man, recline, but must, for the dianship. However, though all restric- sake of greater modesty, sit at table. In tions imposed upon the liberty of the un- short, she was not, like the Greek woman, married woman by the institution of tute- shut up at home, a veritable prisoner. lage disappeared, one limitation continued in force-she could not make a will. Yet even this was provided for, either by fic- SHE might go out freely; this she did titious marriage or by the invention of the generally in a litter. She was never extutor fiduciarius. The woman, without cluded from theaters, even though the Rocontracting matrimony, gave herself by man government tried as best it could for coemptio (purchase) into the manus of a a long period to temper in its people the person of her trust, on the agreement that passion for spectacular entertainments. the coemptionator would free her: he be- She could frequent public places and have came her guardian in the eyes of the law. recourse directly to the magistrates. We