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Appendix 4—
Pericles' Marriages

Of Pericles' two marriages, the first was conventional and attracted little attention. We do not therefore even know the name of his first wife, though it is known that she was a relative and became the mother of his legitimate sons, Xanthippus and Paralus.[1] Plutarch Per. 24.8 asserts that this woman had earlier been the wife of Hipponicus son of Callias, though Beloch made a reasonable case that Plutarch has reversed the order of these marriages.[2] On this view, it was after the dissolution of her union with Pericles that this woman married the son of Callias. Since Callias was the brother-in-law of Cimon, the political opponent of Pericles, and a potent figure in his own right (he was the signatory of the "Peace of Callias"), something has therefore been made of this marital exchange. But the relationship is tenuous, nor is it clear how divorce implies rapprochement. The possible ramifications of this divorce and remarriage seem therefore too insubstantial to be worth pursuing.[3]


Problems of a different kind complicate our appraisal of Pericles' second marriage, for the union of Pericles with Aspasia of Miletus was inherently provocative, raising wave upon wave of comment and speculation. When the fiercely patriotic Athenian took into his house a woman whom his own citizenship law declared to be an invalid mate, the contradiction cannot but have excited rumor, which continued and expanded from Pericles' time well into the next century. The fact that Pericles was personally austere (Plut. Per. 16.6), kept to himself (7.5), and passed his time in intellectual discussion (36.4–5)[4] naturally raised questions about the Ionian charmer that would not have been asked about a traditional Athenian marriage. Since the marriage could only have been politically disadvantageous, Aspasia's personal character must have been as extraordinary as Pericles' aplomb in taking the step, and the result was the elaboration of myth.

It seems almost churlish to approach the legend of Aspasia with serious purpose, for some of the qualities attributed to her (not all of them) have an appealing paradoxical quality. But we deal with the tradition, not the person, and it may well be, for all we know, that the real Aspasia was more than a match for her fictional counterpart.[5] The facts known to us are that at some time prior to 441 (she was accused of causing the Samian War: Plut. Per. 24.2), she married Pericles and bore him a son, Pericles II, the only one of Pericles' children to survive him.[6] Aspasia was a native of Miletus and the daughter of Axiochos; since her marriage with Pericles followed the passage of the citizenship law of 451/50, Pericles II acquired citizenship by special dispensation (Suda, s.v.  image et al.). On Pericles' death, Aspasia is said to have married the demagogue Lysikles (schol. Menex. 235e, Plut. Per. 24.6).

In the development of the myth, two stages of invention should be


distinguished: (1) fifth-century comic exaggerations of her power over Pericles and her disreputable avocation; (2) fourth-century philosophical fiction centering on her intellectual capacity and rhetorical gifts. The traditions are complex, especially that which evolved in the fourth century, and we must be content here to state our conclusions succinctly.

Incited, no doubt, by the circumstance that Athens entered war with Samos on behalf of Miletus (Thuc. 1.115.2–3), the comic poets (see, e.g., Plut. Per. 24.9) took the opportunity of blaming it all on the Milesian Aspasia. Thus she became the "New Omphale," "Dianeira," "Hera" and "Helen." The comic tradition, once begun, continued after 431 by making her the cause of the Peloponnesian War (Ar. Ach. 526ff.). Since these jests are obviously not the kind that require the proverbial "grain of truth," we may dismiss them, noting the implication that Aspasia's sexuality gave her power over Pericles. Parallel reasoning applies to the fifth-century tradition that Aspasia was a harlot and managed houses of ill-repute, for the key to this development is once again the assumption of her lubricity coupled with her low civic status. For because of the citizenship law Pericles personally had proposed, his marriage with a Milesian was no marriage in respect of their issue, who could not be recognized as citizens of Athens. Hence the charge that Aspasia was a concubine and her son a bastard (Plut. Per. 24.9–11). This diminution in status made it easy to lower her further still, so that by the time Aristophanes accused the new Helen of causing the Peloponnesian War, her harlots had solidified out of the empty air as her likely associates, plying the same arts with which she had entrapped Pericles. It is plausible, moreover, to infer that Milesian women acquired notoriety in Athens as hetairai and that (for the purpose of Aristophanes' joke) Milesian hetairai became "Aspasias" because they were linked by a common ethnicity. But Aspasia was a woman of aristocratic birth, as her assumption of a patronymic implies.[7] Her long cohabitation with Pericles rather guarantees her decorous conduct.

The reasons behind her appearance in fourth-century Socratic literature[8] are more difficult to fathom. By that time, of course, the


"Omphale-tradition" was entrenched and thus could become fused with the equally solid (but authentic) tradition of Pericles' intellectuality and brilliant rhetorical gifts. Whether it was in a playful spirit or in an indirect attack, as seems more likely, Omphale was transformed into the omniscient wise woman. The paradox of the idea may have amused the Socratics, permitting them also to depreciate Pericles and the inspiration of his radical democratic politics. Yet a certain delicacy was required in criticizing Pericles; as we see from Plato's Gorgias, Pericles needed to be handled gently even in a frontal attack. The creation of Aspasia as Pericles' genius may have served the Socratics' turn, the idea having been stimulated by the evident devotion of Pericles to his wife (Plut. Per. 24.8) and his apparently unremitting devotion to intellectual pursuits.[9] It therefore became reasonable (and no doubt correct) to conclude that Aspasia possessed high intellect and was more conversant than the average Athenian woman[10] with the business of politics and the world of the mind. In any event, the Socratics, with the oblique humor and irony that characterize them, created the fictional character.[11]


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