I am going to introduce you to Aspacia with this interchange, which she had with the philosopher Xenophon’s wife. It so impressed Xenophon that he relayed it to his friends; it also appears almost identically in the dialogues of both Cicero and Quintilian. So it’s true, is what I’m saying. This is not one one of those “supposed” discussions. This happened.
“Tell me,” Aspacia asked the wife of Xenophon, “if your neighbor’s gold jewelry was finer than yours, would you rather have hers or yours?”
“So if her gown or accessories were more costly than yours, which would you prefer?”
“Hers, of course.”
“Well then, if her husband were better than yours, would you want hers or yours?”
The point is that you would want hers. That’s the point.
Aspacia later stated that, to solve this predicament, both husband and wife must aspire to be the very best they could be individually.
I know this seems like an argument that could be made by, say, a high school debating captain with a sense of feminism. That’s probably true. But Aspacia expressed these sentiments in 430 BCE, when most women were not educated and certainly didn’t know how to read. They weren’t skimming through articles in Ms. magazine about how to be on equal terms with their partners 2,500 years ago. Most of them couldn’t read anything.
I always remember some sort of bizarre cartoon movie we had to watch in 6th grade history class wherein a head slave, being asked to do something demeaning, scoffs, “I’m a slave, not a wife!” Whether this is a fair assessment of every single relationship that occurred in ancient Greece is probably unlikely, but it is true that in the 5th century BCE women had almost no rights.
And Aspacia was still hanging out and showing up philosophers and talking about how both people in relationships have to be excellent. Like, I don’t know, some sort of Jen Dziura in a toga.