Ancient Greeks cared for children from the moment the expectant mother knew or suspected that she was pregnant. So that the childbirth had no problems, the philosopher Plato recommended the pregnant women to exercise, while his disciple Aristotle encouraged them to eat properly. At the time of birth, the Greek custom prescribed that only other women accompany the woman in labour.
Plato recommended pregnant women to exercise, while his disciple Aristotle encouraged them to eat properly
In an Aristophanes comedy called Assemblyists, the protagonist, Praxágora, justifies her husband’s absence on a particular occasion because he was helping a friend during her delivery. It was exceptional that a man-not even the husband-was present at that moment. As for the place where it was born, the most appropriate was the gynoecium or area of the house reserved for women, since it used to be the most sheltered and served to maintain the privacy of the moment.
Five days after delivery, the Aphidromias were celebrated, a family party in which the father ran around the domestic fire with his son in his arms, showing it to his relatives. It was then when he gave the name, which was usually the same as that of the grandfather. The wealthiest families organized a few days later a more solemn celebration, which included a banquet and a sacrifice.
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Later still, in Athens and other Ionian communities, the presentation in society of the newborn took place on the occasion of the festival of Apaturias, which was held annually towards October or November. All the male citizens met in hereditary associations called phratries and, during the third day of the apatures, the males who had been born during the last year were officially registered in the presence of the members of the fraternity. It is not known with certainty if the girls were similarly registered.
The ideal of the only child
In the traditional Greek society, it was more valued to have a son than a daughter; The male was better considered because he thought he could help the family economy more decisively than a girl. Likewise, in the Greek world they were especially appreciated – they were considered a divine gift – the only children, the first-born or those born of older parents, since the latter could be cared for by a direct relative during their old age.
The male was better considered because it was thought that he could help the family economy more decisively than a girl
In Athens, until six years of age children spent most of their time in the gynoecium, in the company of the women of the house. Plato devoted some attention to writing about children’s games, as he thought they were of great importance in shaping the personality and the development of individual talent. He recommended, for example, that a child who in the future had to be a farmer or bricklayer practiced with toys related to his activity as an adult. For his part, Aristotle recommended that children who were still with women in the gynoecium should not receive any teaching or physical effort; instead, they had to be encouraged to have their games “imitate the serious activities of the future life”. However, this strict moral education was not the rule.
Greek children entertained themselves with typical children’s games, such as “the blind little chicken”, which the Greeks called “the bronze fly”. In it, the boy whose eyes were covered had to catch his companions while saying: “I’m going to catch a bronze fly”. The little friends surrounded him, slapping him and shouting: “You are going to hunt, but you will not catch anything.”
The authority of the father
The mothers developed a very close relationship with their children, as they were the ones who justified their role in the family community. That does not mean they were “overprotective.” In the case of Sparta, mothers pressured their children to carry out their military duties until death; “[come back] with him or on top of him”, they were told when they handed over the shield before leaving for combat; Maybe that’s why Spartan wet-nurses were much appreciated throughout Greece.
Plutarch pointed out that the ideal pedagogue had to be serious, trustworthy, Greek and without physical defects
On the other hand, the relationship with the father was more distant. It is not by chance that he called the son country, the same term used for slaves, a reflection of the absolute authority that the father of the family exercised over his heir; the women, on the other hand, called their teknon children, “creature.” Over time, however, parental discipline became quite lax. For example, around 420 BC, in the comedy The Clouds by Aristophanes, an old man named Strepsiades was reported complaining that his wife was ruining him for allowing their son to buy extremely expensive horses.
On the other hand, from the age of six or seven the children began to go to school and were then under the authority of a tutor or “pedagogue”, although there were writers, such as Xenophon and Plutarch, who recommended that these be contracted pedagogues as soon as the lactation ended and the child understood speech. The pedagogue accompanied the child to school, but often also helped in the formation of the child. Plutarch pointed out that the ideal pedagogue had to be serious, trustworthy, Greek and without physical defects, because he said that “if you live with a cripple, you learn to limp”.
It is remarkable the role that children had in the Greek religion, no doubt because they symbolized purity and this value was essential to enter the service of a temple. Children’s choirs were a fundamental element in religious celebrations; ten choirs of fifty children each competed in the representations of dithyrambic choirs in the Athenian festival of the urban Dionysias.
In certain cults the children came to serve as celebrants; we know that both in Patras and in Egira, the priestess of Artemis must be a maid under the age of marriage, and in Egio, in the Peloponnese, the priest of Zeus was originally chosen among the children who had won a beauty contest Along with purity and beauty, the fact of being a child used to entail another ritual benefit within the Greek religion: not being contaminated by the proximity of death. For this reason, the children who cut the branches of the sacred olive trees with which the crowns of the Olympic winners were made were amphithaleis, that is, those whose parents had not died and maintained, therefore, the divine favour.
His mother, moved by the visions she had had in her dreams, handed it over to the Elean generals to be put at the head of her army
Some children who died at a tender age were venerated as heroes, intermediate beings between gods and mortals. As such, great powers were attributed to them, perhaps because they had died long before the natural age and had thus acquired a vengeful character, as evidenced by the tablets of execration in which they were invoked. Pausanias narrated the story of Sosípolis, a hero-baby who helped the eleos when they were attacked by the Arcadians, because his mother, moved by the visions she had had in dreams, handed it over to the generals eleos to put him at the head of his army. When the Arcadians approached, Sosipolis became a serpent and put them to flight.
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