Thursday, November 24, 2011

Patriarchal Societies

The veneration of fatherhood goes back to ancient times. Whenever power is given it implies duty and responsibility. What a terrible thing (then and now) when the trust put in a person of authority was/is betrayed. Here is an excerpt from Fustel de Coulanges' The Ancient City:
 In juridical language the title pater or pater familias may be given to a man who has never had children, who has never married, who is not even old enough to be married. The idea of paternity is not related to this word. The ancient language had another word to designate father properly, which, being as ancient as pater, is also found in the languages of the Greeks, the Romans, and the Hindus (gennetér, genitor, gânitar). The word pater had another meaning. In religious language it was applied to all the gods; in the language of law, to any man who did not depend upon another and who had authority over a family and a domain, paterfamilias. The poets showed us that it was used to refer to all whom one wanted to honor. The slave and the client used it for their master. It was synonymous with the words rex, hänas, basileús. It contained not the idea of paternity, but that of power, authority, and majestic dignity.

The fact that such a word has been applied to the father of a family to the point of gradually becoming his most ordinary name is certainly very significant, and it will certainly appear important to anyone wishing to understand ancient institutions. The history of this word suffices to give us an idea of the power the father exercised in the family for a long time and of the sentiments of veneration which were attached to him, as to a pontiff or a king. (Foustel de Coulanges, La Cité Antique, book 2, pp. 96-98). (Read entire article.) 

1 comment:

tubbs said...

Ah, but the West was such a happy-go-lucky Gaea-worshipping utopia before those damned Indo-Europeans and their patriarchy invaded!