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Page 3

The Exposure of Infants

 

    How many more children are welcome depends on circumstances. Children are expensive luxuries. They must be properly educated and even the boys must be left a fair fortune.[1] The girls must always have good dowries, or they cannot "marry according to their station." Public opinion, as well as the law, allows a father (at least if he has one or two children already) to exercise a privilege, which later ages will pronounce one of the foulest blots on Greek civilization. After the birth of a child there is an anxious day or two for the poor young mother and the faithful nurses.

    Will he 'nourish' it? Are there boys enough already? Is the disappointment over the birth of a daughter too keen? Does he dread the curtailment in family luxuries necessary to save up for an allowance or dowry for the little stranger? Or does the child promise to be puny, sickly, or even deformed? If any of these arguments carry adverse weight, there is no appeal against the father's decision. He has until the fifth day after the birth to decide. In the interval he can utter the fatal words, "Expose it!" The helpless creature is then put in a rude cradle, or more often merely in a shallow pot and placed near some public place; e.g. the corner of the Agora, or near a gymnasium, or the entrance to a temple. Here it will soon die of mere hunger and neglect unless rescued. If the reasons for exposure are evident physical defects, no one will touch it. Death is certain. If, however, it seems healthy and well formed, it is likely to be taken up and cared for. Not out of pure compassion, however. The harpies who raise slaves and especially slave girls, for no honest purposes, are prompt to pounce upon any promising looking infant. They will rear it as a speculation; if it is a girl, they will teach it to sing, dance, play. The race of light women in Athens is thus really recruited from the very best families. The fact is well known, but it is constantly winked at. Aristophanes, the comic poet, speaks of this exposure of children as a common feature of Athenian life. Socrates declares his hearers are vexed when he robs them of pet ideas, "like women who have had their children taken from them." There is little or nothing for men of a later day to say of this custom save condemnation.[2]

 

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Reference address : https://www.ellopos.net/elpenor/greek-texts/ancient-greece/old-athens-children.asp?pg=3