Xenophon—Œconomick: II

Western Thought

Xenophon—a student of Socrates—writes the first work on the study of economics.

To have an Eye over those, whose Business lies within Doors; and to receive what is brought into the House: To distribute as much of it as is necessary for the Family; to keep safely what is to be kept; and to take great Care that no waste be made; lest the Provisions that are laid in for the whole Year, be consumed in a Month.



A Treatise
On The
Management of an Estate and a Household.

II. Ischomachus—Management Within Doors.



I WILL therefore tell you, said Socrates, how I came first to get Acquaintance with that Person. It has been my constant practice to bestow some small Part of my Time in going to see the Works of the good Carpenters, Smiths, Painters, Statuaries, and other Tradesmen, who are esteemed to excel others in their several Arts: But in order to know what they, who are called honest and good Men, do to obtain that honourable Appellation, I had an earnest Desire to become acquainted with one of them. And in the first Place, because the Name of Honest was added to that of Good, I made it my Business to see, whether I could any where find the Good and the Honest joined together. But I found it was often quite otherwise; for I discovered some to have very honest Looks, but vicious Inclinations. I therefore thought fit to have no Regard to the Honesty of the Countenance, but to find out one of those who were called Good and Honest: Accordingly hearing Ischomachus every where called a good and honest Man, by all as well Men as Women, and Foreigners as of our own country, I resolved to get into his Company: And happening one Day to see him sitting in the Portico of Jupiter the Liberal, I imagined with myself that he had nothing to do, and therefore went and sate myself down by him.

I addressed myself to him in these Words. What makes you, Ischomachus, sitting here in this Manner, you who are never wont to be idle: For I generally see you actually imployed in some Action, or solliciting your Affairs in the Courts of Justice.

Ischomachus answered me thus: You had not now, Socrates, found me sitting idle here, but that I wait for some Persons, who promised to meet me.

But when you are doing nothing of this Nature, said I, for God’s Sake what is it you do, how do you spend your Time? For I long to know of you, what Course you take to be called in all Places a good and honest Man: You are not always at Home, nor indeed do you look like a Man, who idled away his Time in that Manner.

Upon this, Ischomachus repeated these Words: What Course do you take to be called in all Places a good and honest Man, and seemed, as I thought, to be pleased that I had told him so. Indeed, said he, I know not whether any call me by that Name, when they speak to you of me: But this I am sure of, That when I am called upon to pay my Contingent towards defraying the Expence of the publick Spectacles, I am never asked for by the Name of the Good and Honest Man, but plain Ischomachus, which was my Father’s Name as well as mine. But as you observed of me, Socrates, I do not spend much of my Time at Home, having a Wife who is capable enough to manage the domestick Affairs of my Family.

THIS is one of the Things, said I, which I would willingly know of you: Whether she became so good a Housewife by the Instructions you gave her; or whether when you took her from her Father and Mother, she was already capable of managing those Affairs, which are the proper office of a Wife.

How could she know any Thing of it, said he, Socrates, since when I married her, and took her from her Parents, she was a raw Girl, scarce fifteen Years of Age, and had always been strictly kept up, insomuch, that she had not been much instructed, had seen but little, nor got any Experience in domestick Affairs? She knew indeed how to Spin and make Cloth; and to keep her Maids to Work at the Distaff: Besides, as to what relates to Eating and Drinking, she had been well educated, for she was content with any Thing, and not overdesirous of dainty Morsels; which in my Opinion is very commendable either in a Man or Woman.

And did she, said I, Ischomachus, by your Instructions become capable of performing the other Duties of a good Wife?

Not before I had sacrificed to the Gods, answered Ischomachus, and besought them that I might teach her, and she might learn of me whatever would be best for both of us:

And did your Wife, said I, assist at these Sacrifices, and join with you in the same Supplications?

Always, answered Ischomachus, and often vowed in the Presence of the Gods, that she would behave herself in all Things as she ought to do: And I plainly foresaw, that she would not be neglectful in. whatever she should be taught.

I beg of you, said I, Ischomachus to tell me what you taught her first: In which you will oblige me more, than in any Thing else that you can tell me.

Ischomachus answered me thus: When she had been with me a short Time, and we began to know one another, I asked her this Question: Tell me, said I, my dear Wife; have you considered why I married you, and why your Parents gave you to me? For I know that even you yourself are satisfied that it was not to enjoy only the Pleasures of the nuptial Bed. But when I had considered with myself, what Wife it would be best for me to take, and your Parents had consulted on whom to bestow you, I made choice of you, and they pitched upon me as the fittest Match for you, among the many others who made their Addresses to marry you. If it shall please God to give us Children, we will then consult how it will be best to educate them: For it will be an Advantage to each of us to breed them up in such a Manner, that they may be good Company and a Comfort to us in our old Age: Now this House, and whatever we have, is yours as well as mine: All that I had is in common to you, and you keep from me nothing to yourself of any Thing that you brought. Nor are we to have any Regard which of us had most: But are now to believe, that whichsoever of us behaves best in this conjugal Society, brings the most valuable Riches into our common Stock.

To this, Socrates, my Wife answered: In what can I be any Ways an Assistance to you? Over what have I any Power? Every Thing is at your Disposal: My Mother told me, That my Business was to be frugal.

Indeed, said I, Wife, my Father cautioned me to be so too. And it is the Duty both of a frugal Husband and a frugal Wife, each of them so to behave themselves, as to make the best use of what they have, and to endeavour at the same Time by honest and just Means to increase their Store:

And what, said my Wife, can I do, that will help to augment what we have?

Strive, said I to her, to do in the best Manner you can, what the Gods have naturally enabled you to perform, and what the Laws approve of.

And what is that? said she.

I answered her thus: In my Opinion, what you may do, is of no small Moment; unless you think too that the Mistress and Governess of the Bees is commanded to preside in the Hive, and take Care of Affairs of little Importance: For it seems to me as if the Gods had united together this Pair, which we call the Male and the Female, chiefly for this purpose, that they might mutually assist each other. In the first Place, lest the several Kinds of Animals should fail, this Union of Couples of different Sexes begets Young, and thus propagates the Race: In which Man has this peculiar Advantage over the other Animals, that the Children he begets, are a Comfort to him, and support him in his old Age. Besides, Men live not in the open Air, like the Cattle of the Field, but have need of Houses to shelter them: And they who take Care to provide the Things that are brought into the House, must of Necessity have some to undertake the Works that are to be done Abroad: Such as Ploughing, Sowing, Planting, Pasturing of Cattle, and the like, all which are done in the open Air, and are the Means by which Necessaries are provided for the Family: And when provisions are brought into the House, they require the Care of that Person who is to look after them, and to see that those Things be done, that cannot be done but within Doors: Of this Nature are the Nursing of young Children, and making Bread of the Corn that is brought in; as also Spinning the Wool for Cloaths, and the like; all which are Works that cannot be done but within Doors: Now because both of these, as well the Works to be done without Doors as within, require Care and Labour, God has bestowed on the Woman a Nature capable to Work and take Care of the Affairs within Doors; and has given the Man a Capacity and Strength to perform and take Care of those without: For he has indued him with such a Constitution of Mind and of Body, as enables him the better of the two, to support Labours, Heat, Cold, Journeys, and military Fatigues; and therefore enjoins him to do the Works that are to be done without Doors: But having bestowed on the Woman a Body naturally less strong, and unable to indure those Labours, it seems to me as if God thereby tacitly commanded, that only the Works to be done within Doors should be her Care and Lot. And because he knew that he had by Nature commanded, and enabled the Woman to feed and bring up her new-born Babes, he inspired the Mothers with a greater Tenderness for their Children, than he has the Fathers: Because he designed the Woman to take Care to keep the Things within Doors, and knew that a fearful Mind would keep Things the safer, he imparted a greater Share of Fear to the Woman than to the Man: Because he knew, that if the Workmen without Doors were disturbed, and assaulted, they must defend themselves, he gave to Men the more Courage: Because it is of Necessity that both the Man and the Woman would lay out and receive, he gave to either of them an equal Share of Memory and Carefulness; insomuch, that it cannot easily be discerned whether Sex has the Advantage and excels in either. He gave also to both of them alike Abstinence from Things, which they ought to avoid; and according as either of them should prove better and more virtuous than the other, he gave to either the Man or the Woman a Power to obtain the greater Share of this Good, But because the Nature of both of them was not designed, nor framed alike for all these Things, therefore the one has the greater Need of the other: and this Couple become the more useful to one another; since what the one is destitute of, is in the Power of the other. Since therefore, my Wife, said I to her, we know what the Things are, that God has commanded each of us to do, we ought to strive to the utmost of our Power, to perform whatever our respective Duties severally require of us. Even human Laws, by joining together the Male and the Female, confirm and approve what I have been saying; and as God is the Author of the Society and Partnership between them in regard to their Children; so the Laws ordain likewise a Community of their Estates. Moreover, the laws demonstrate those Things to be just and honourable, which God has by Nature best disposed and enabled either of them to do: For it better becomes the Woman to keep herself within Doors, than to imploy herself Abroad; and it is more unbecoming of the Man to tarry at Home, than to take Care of the Affairs without Doors, and in the open Air. And if any Man busies himself in other Things than those which Nature has designed and fitted him to do, it cannot perhaps be concealed from God, that he acts contrary to the Order he established; and therefore such a Man will be punished, whether he neglect the Works that belong to him to perform, or whether he imploy himself in those that are the proper Duty of the Female Sex. And that Bee, I mentioned before, who is the Mistress that directs and governs the others, seems to me constantly to imploy herself, as she is divinely commanded to do.

And what, said my Wife, are the Works, in which that Governess of the Bees imploys herself, and that have any Resemblance to those that belong to me to perform?

In the first Place, said I, she remains in the Hive, and suffers not any of her family to be idle: But sends out those who are to work abroad, and whatever each brings Home, she takes an Account of it, and keeps it safe, till the Time comes to use it; and then she distributes it in equal Shares to every Bee. She inspects the Combs that are laboured within the Hive, and sees they be made as they ought: She takes Care to bring up the young Bees; and when they are instructed and able to work, she, as it were, settles a Colony of them, and appoints them a Governess of her own Race. And will it, said my Wife, be requisite for me to take Example by her? I answered: It will be requisite for you to stay at Home, and send out the Servants, who are to work abroad: Family. To have an Eye over those, whose Business lies within Doors; and to receive what is brought into the House: To distribute as much of it as is necessary for the Family; to keep safely what is to be kept; and to take great Care that no waste be made; lest the Provisions that are laid in for the whole Year, be consumed in a Month. When any Wool is brought Home to the House, you are to take Care that Cloth be made of it for such of the Family as want to be new cloathed. It is your Business to see that the Corn be kept dry, and fit for life. But there is one Part of your Duty, which perhaps will seem unwelcome to you; and that is, to take a particular Care of the Domesticks that happen to fall Sick, and to use all possible Means for their Recovery.

On the contrary, said she, this will be the most grateful Task of all; for if through my Means they happen to recover, they cannot chuse but bear in Mind the good offices I have done them, and behave themselves with greater Respect to me afterwards, than they had done before.

Ischomachus told me he was surprised at this Answer, and said to her. Thus too because that Governess of the Bees, that continues always in the Hive, takes Care of all their Advantages, so great is the Affection of the whole Swarm to their Benefactress, that if she forsake the Hive, none of them will ever leave her, but follow her one and all, wherever she goes.

To this my Wife answered: It seems strange to me, that the Duty of governing the Family does not rather belong to you than to me: For it would look ridiculous to appoint me to keep and distribute Things within Doors, if you did not take Care to have them brought in from abroad.

And my sending them in, said I, would be no less ridiculous, if there were not somebody to take Care of them when they are brought in. Have you never considered the wretched Condition of those, who are said to pour Liquor into a leaky Vessel, inasmuch as they are thought to labour in vain?

My Wife answered: They are indeed miserable who do so, for they are still to begin their Labour.

I continued thus; There are other Things, my Wife, that properly belong to you to take Care of, and that will not be unpleasant to you; as to teach such of your Family as know not how to work, to card and spin the Wool, to lay up, to distribute and serve Things according to your Directions, and the like; for such Servants will be of much more Service to you when they are thus instructed, than they were before: To reward those who behave themselves modestly, and are useful in the Family, and to punish those who do amiss: And what will please you best of all will be this, That you will see me become a better Husband, and be as it were a Servant to you myself: Nor will you have any Reason to fear that the Older you grow, the less Respect you will find in the Family: But may depend upon it, that the more you advance in Years, the more you will be respected, according as you prove a better Wife to me, a better Mother to your Children, and a more careful and prudent Manager of your Family. For in this Life, our true Worth depends not on our outward Form and Beauty, but on our inward Virtues and Perfections.

This, as I remember, Socrates, was the first Dialogue I had with her, concerning these Affairs.

I then asked him, if he found her the more diligent for these Instructions?

Indeed, said Ischomachus, I did; and even remember how much vexed and ashamed she was, if at any Time she could not readily give me any thing that had been brought in by my Orders, and that I happened to ask for: And when I observed the Concern she was in: Let not this trouble thee, said I, my Dear, that thou can’st not find what I ask for: It is indeed a Fault not to have in readiness the Things we want; but a much greater not to know where to find them, because we do not remember we ever had them: Besides, thou art not so much to blame in this Matter as myself, who have not particularly directed you where each Thing should be laid, that you might know where to look for it when it is wanted. Now in all human Affairs, there is nothing more useful, nothing more beautiful than Order. But when every one does what he thinks best, all Things are in a Confusion and unpleasant to behold: As on the contrary, when each hath his appointed Task, his particular Business to take Care of, the Whole is carried on with Ease and Pleasure; and every thing is in the Way when it is wanted: Thus Order is both beautiful and useful. Even so an Army, before it is formed into Troops, and drawn up into Order, is but a confused Multitude of Men, who represent to themselves a disagreeable object, and are easily overcome by their Enemies; not being in a proper Posture of Defence, while the Equipage and Baggage-Horses, the Infantry, the Cavalry, the carriages, the Suttlers, are confusedly mixed with one another: Nor will they be able to march in so great Disorder, but will mutually hinder one another, and if in that Condition they were to engage an Enemy, what could they expect but to be intirely defeated: But an Army of well-disciplined Troops, drawn up in good Order, are a beautiful Prospect to themselves, and a Terror to their Enemies. What should we say of a Husbandman, who hid his Wheat, Barley, Pease, Oats, Tares, all in one Heap together? When he has occasion to use any of them, he must pick and sever them asunder; whereas if he had laid them apart at First, he had found them ready for his Use when he wanted them. Let us therefore, my Wife, to the End you may not be put to this Difficulty, but manage our Family with more Ease to yourself, and greater Satisfaction to me, when you are no longer at a Loss where to find what I ask for; let us, I say, appoint a particular Place for each Thing, that we may know where to send our Servants for what we want, and order them to put it in the same Place again; By this Means we shall know what we have and what we lose; for the Place itself will shew us what is miffing, and the Sight of it will discover what we want: This Care will be a Means to have at all Times every thing ready for our use.

And indeed, Socrates, I think I never saw so exact an Order observed anywhere, and that too in every Thing; as a-board that large Punick Vessel, which I went on purpose to see: I took Notice that many Tools were placed in a little Corner by themselves: For they make use of many wooden Instruments to draw the Ship into Port, and to hawl her out again: She is armed with several Machines to keep off the Enemies Ships from boarding her; and she likewise carries many Arms for her Crew, and all Manner of Utensils that are necessary in a Family for the dressing of Meat, and the like Occasions: And besides all this she is freighted with a Cargo of several Things which the Master takes a-board for his own profit: And all these Things I have mentioned were slowed in as little Room, as is contained in a Parlour in which Ten of us might lie down to eat at our Base. I observed, That all Things were laid in such a Manner, as not to be a Hindrance, and in the Way of one another; nor needed any looking for; but were easy to come at, when there was a sudden Occasion to use them. I took Notice besides, that the Mate was so well acquainted with this Place of Stowage, that even when he was not there, he could tell where every Thing was to be found, and how many Things there was of each Sort, as well as I know how many Letters there are in the Name of Socrates, and in what Order they are placed: I saw likewise, that when he had nothing else to do, he used to take a View of all the Equipage that belonged to the Vessel: And being surprised at his Care, I once asked him what he was doing?

I am seeing, said he, in Case any Accident should arrive, in what Condition every Thing is; and whether any Thing be wanting, or out of its due Place. For when a sudden storm arises at Sea, we have no Time to lose in searching for what we want, nor to take what may be placed so as to be difficult so come at. For God is wont to punish the Foolish and Improvident with Dangers and Terrors; and if he only not destroy those who do nothing amiss, he treats them with Clemency: And many Thanks are due to the Gods if they preserve even those, who have every Thing in Readiness, and take the greatest Care of their own Preservation.

Having observed all Things placed in such excellent Order, I told my Wife, That since even in Ships, which are of so small Extent, they could find a proper Place for every Thing; since even when they were lost in Tempests, they observed an Order and Discipline, since when they were in the greatest Consternation, they readily knew where to find whatever they wanted; it would be an inexcusable Folly in us, who had a large House, where there are a great many Rooms and separate Conveniences for all we have, not to allot a certain Place for each Thing, where it might easily be found.

Hitherto has been said how useful it is to have certain Places for the Utensils and Vessels belonging to the Family, and how easy it is to find a particular Place in the House, where to lay each of them: There is likewise a Neatness in having the Shoes, for Example, by themselves; ‘tis pleasing and convenient too to see the wearing Apparel in one Place; the Brass Vessels in another; the Plates and Dishes that are used at Table in a Third: Nay, even the inconsiderable Pipkins and Earthen-ware ought no less to have a proper Place assigned them, than the more valuable Houshold-Stuff; and though they are but of small Worth; yet being useful in a Family, they require the Care of the Mistress of it. Whether I am in the Right in these Matters, we may, said I, my Wife, with little Labour and no Damage bring to the Test. Nor ought we to trouble our Heads, that it will be difficult to find any one, who will learn to know the Places, and remember to put each Thing in its proper Place: For we know that in this City there is ten thousand times more than we have; and yet if you bid any of the Servants go buy such or such a Thing, none of them will make a Stand, but go directly to the Place, where it is to be had: And of this there is no other Reason, but because there are certain Places where each Thing is to be fold: And if you were looking for a Man, and he too were in Search of you, you would sometimes both of you leave off, and despair of finding one another: And of this too there is no other Reason, but because there is no certain Place where either of you is to be found. And this, as I best remember, was the Discourse I held to her, concerning the Order and Use of the several vessels and utensils that are in the House within Doors, and properly belong to the Care of the Mistress.

I Then went on thus: But tell me, said I, Ischomachus, did your Wife seem to give Attention to the Instruction you gave her?

She promised me, said he, That she would imploy her utmost Diligence, and seemed to be as well pleased, as if from Penury and Want she had discovered the Means to flow in Plenty of all Things: She desired me forthwith to place every Thing in the Order I had been describing to her.

And how, said I, did you behave yourself in this Matter?

He answered: I thought it best at first to shew her the several Conveniencies of the House; which is not, Socrates, adorned with various Paintings, but all the Rooms are built in such a Manner, as makes them very convenient to receive the Things that are most proper to be placed in them; insomuch that they seemed as it were to ask for their several Furnitures. For the inner Rooms being more private, and not so easy to come to as the other, required our best Houshold-Stuff, and Goods of greatest Value: The driest Rooms seemed best for Granaries to keep the Corn; the cool, for the Wine; the most lightsome were set apart for the Works that required most Light. I shewed her besides the Apartments designed for the Men, which were so contrived as to be cool in Summer and warm in Winter: And I made her take Notice, that the whole House is much exposed, and lies very open to the South, by which Means it comes to have a great deal of Sun in the Winter, and Shade in the Heat of Summer: I shewed her that the Womens Apartment was separate from that of the Men; and had strong Doors as well to prevent any Thing from being carried out, that ought not to be so, as to hinder the Servants from lying together, and getting Children without our Consent: For though good Servants indeed when they have Children, often become better; yet the Bad, when they marry, generally grow more perverse, and inclined to Mischief. When we had gone thus far, we then began to put our several Sorts of Goods by themselves: First those that we use in the Sacrifices and Worship of the Gods: Then the Womens Apparel for Holy-Days; and the Mens for the same Solemnities; and apart from them we laid the Cloaths they were to wear in Time of War: After this we placed what belonged to the Women, in the Womens Apartment; what to the Men in theirs. Then we laid the Arms, the Utensils for Carding and Spinning, for grinding of Corn, for dressing of Meat, for washing, for Baking, the Plates, Dishes, &c. for eating, all in several Parcels by themselves; as well those that were to be always in use, as those that were to be used only in Festivals, and other particular Occasions. Then from the Provisions that were laid in for the whole Year, we took as much as we thought would suffice for a Month; by which Means we were the better able to judge of the Consumption was made. After we had thus separated the Houshold-Stuff, we carried each Parcel to its proper Place. Then all the vessels that were to be in daily Use; for Example, Those for the dressing of Meat, for Spinning, and the like, we delivered to those Servants, who were to use them; shewed them the Places where to lay them, and gave them a Charge not to break or lose any of them: But those that were to be used only on Holy-Days, or when any Friends came to visit us, or on any other extraordinary Occasion, we delivered them into the custody of the Housekeeper, showing her where to lay them, and taking first an Account, and marking each of them: We gave her Orders to deliver them to none but to whom they were to be delivered; to remember to whom she gave them; and when they were brought again to her, to lay them by in their respective Places. Now the Office Of Housekeeper we bestowed on her, whom after some Experience we found to be most temperate in eating, drinking and sleeping, and least fond of the Company of Men: Besides, whom we judged to have the best Memory, to take the greatest Care to do nothing that might give us the least Offence, and to endeavour in all Things to do the best she could, to deserve our Good-will. To encourage her to be the more careful, and the more affectionate to our Service, we imparted to her both our good and ill Fortune, that we might accustom her to rejoice with us in our prosperity, and share our Sorrow in Adversity. We endeavoured likewise to make her the more hearty to our Interest, by concealing nothing from her, of all that we had; and whatever we happened to get, we never failed to give her some small Part of it. We excited in her a Love of Justice, by shewing more Kindness to the good than the ill Servants, not only in the Rewards we gave them, but in suffering them likewise to live more at their Ease: And thus it was that we treated her, whom we had appointed to be the chief of our Servants.

Besides, Socrates, I told my Wife, That all these Precautions would be to no purpose, unless she were very diligent to preserve that Order which we had established. I let her know, that in well-regulated Cities, the Citizens thought it not enough, to have their Laws exquisitely written; but that they appointed Persons to see them executed; and who having an Eye over all, might shew Incouragement to such as observed the Laws, and punish those that transgressed them. I therefore advised her to consider, That a Wife is the Governess of the Family, and that it is her Duty to see that all the Domesticks perform what is commanded them; and that whenever she thinks fit, she must look over the Goods, to see that nothing be broken, lost, or squandered away; even as the Governor of a Garison inspects the Magazines, to see that they be well provided and in good Order: That it was her Business to praise and reward those Servants who were diligent in their Labour, and behaved themselves well; and to blame and punish those who were idle, and remiss in their Duty: And that both the Rewards and Punishments ought to be proportioned to the Greatness of the Service, and the Heinousness of the Offence. I shewed her, That Servants are so far Partakers of the Goods and Possessions of their Masters, as they use them, take Care of them, or keep them-; and the use of them is allowed to none, except only those to whom he, who is properly the Master of them, thinks fit to give it. Now all these Things belong properly to the Master of the Family: And it. is wholly in his Breast to use them as he pleases. For to him who is to receive the greatest Advantage from the Preservation of those Goods and Effects, and the greatest Prejudice from their Dissipation, to him, I say, most properly belongs the chief Care of them.

And how, said I, Ischomachus, did your Wife seem to take it? What did she say when you gave her these Instructions?

She answered me, said he, Socrates, that I judged amiss of her, if while I instructed her to take Care of our common Concernments, I thought I laid a troublesome Injunction upon her: For it would have been indeed an Affliction to her, if I had told her that she need not concern herself with those Affairs, but that it was very pleasing to her to hear, that I expected she should take Care of them: For as Nature, says she, seems to have ordained, and made it more easy to a chaste and modest Woman to take Care of her Children, than to neglect them: So in my Opinion it is more pleasing to a modest Woman likewise to take upon herself the Care of the Houshold Furniture, and whatever else she and her Husband have, than it can be to neglect it: And that the rather, because the Little of our own is the more pleasing to us, because it is our own.

When he told me, said Socrates, That his Wife had answered him in this Manner, I said to him: Your Wife, Ischomachus, as you represent her to me, has certainly a noble Soul:

I will tell you, added Ischomachus, other Things of her, that could proceed from nothing but a Mind truly Great: With what pleasure she gave Ear to my Instructions, with what Chearfulness she obeyed them.

You will, said I, oblige me extreamly: For I take more Delight in hearing described the Virtues of a living Woman, than I should do in seeing the picture of the most beautiful Woman that ever Zeuxes drew.

What you say, Socrates, puts me in Mind said Ischomachus, That having observed that she used to rub herself with Ceruss, to make herself appear more fair, and with Vermilion that she might seem more ruddy, than indeed she was: And that she wore high-heeled Shoes, to appear taller than Nature had made her; tell me, said I, my Wife, would you think me a Companion and Partner to share Fortunes with, more worthy of your Love, if I declared to you ingenously my whole Estate, and neither boasted it to be greater than it really is, nor hid any of it from you; or if I should endeavour to deceive you, by pretending my Estate to be much more considerable than really it is, and by shewing you counterfeit Money, and false Jewels, with Design to make you believe them to be true?

Here almost interrupting me, I cannot, she said, believe you capable of such Deceit; for were you so false indeed, I could never embrace you with a good Will.

How, said I, my Wife, embrace, did you say I And is there then to be a Partnership of Bodies between us, as well as of Estates?

Spare me, said she, from answering that Question.

Tell me then, said I, would you think me more worthy to be loved as a Partner that Way too; if by endeavouring to take Care of my Health, I presented to your Embraces a Body truly sound and vigorous, and if I had indeed a jolly Complexion: Or if I should bedaub myself over with Paint, and besmear my Cheeks with Vermilion; and by thus deceiving you, should instead of my natural Skin, offer you only Paint to look on and to handle?

Truly, said she, I should not be so well pleased to handle Paint as your very self; nor should I look on the Colour that Vermilion might give you with half the Delight as on your own natural Complexion.
Judge of me then, said I, by yourself: And believe me too less delighted with the Colours of Ceruss and Vermilion, than with the Teint that Nature herself has given you. And as the Gods have thought fit to ordain that Horses, Rams, and Bulls, should be most pleased with the Females of their own Species: So too the pure and unpainted Body of a Woman is most acceptable to a Man. These Deceits may perhaps in some Measure impose upon Strangers, so that they may not perceive them: But if they, who are always together, think mutually to deceive each other, they must of Necessity be discovered: For either when they rise out of their Beds, they are caught before they have had Time to daub themselves over; or when they sweat, or weep, or wash themselves, they betray their counterfeit Complexion.

And what Answer, said I, did your Wife make you?

She answered not a Word, said he, but from that Time forward, has never made use of the least Art to render herself more beautiful than Nature has made her. She asked me indeed what Advice I could give her to make her beautiful, and not only seem so: And the Counsel I gave her, Socrates, was this; not to be always sitting still, but with Family the Help of the Gods, like a Mistress to walk up and down among her Servants, to teach them what she knew better than they, and to learn from them what she might happen not to know so well: To overlook the Baker; to be present when the House-keeper delivered any Thing out; and as she went to and fro, to take Notice if every Thing were in its due Place. In doing this, I told her, she would both shew her Diligence, and would exercise herself at the same Time; and that it would be a healthful Imployment for her to wet the Meal, and knead it into Dough, to brush the Cloaths, and lay them by: That the doing of this would procure her a better Appetite to her Meat, keep her in good Health, and get her indeed a good Complexion. But Women who are perpetually sitting still, make it be believed of them, That they no less than others are obliged for their good Looks to Art and Deceit. And my Wife, Socrates, has continued ever since to live according to the Instructions I then gave her, and which I have now related to you.

End of Part II.

—Xenophon; Edward Bysshe (translator), 1712.


[ To Part III ]

Courtesy of Democratic Thinker