Posted by Dennis » 2 Comments »
We have certain ideas about Roman fathers, but those ideas are undoubtedly wrong, based on misunderstood bits of legendary history and legal codes.
Photo by Mary Harrsch (via flickr)
We all know about the patria potestas, and the right of life and death over one’s children. We know about the degraded role of women in society. And while Roman society had its flaws, we tend to ignore that Romans were as human as we are and capable of the same affections.
Terence has a few words that speak directly to fathers as we conceive of them. Were they tyrants?
hoc patriumst, potius consuefacere filium
sua sponte recte facere quam alieno metu:
hoc pater ac dominus interest. …
(P. Terentius Afer, Adelphoe, I. 1. 74–6)
“This is fatherly, accustoming a son to do right of his own accord rather than from fear of another: in this respect do a father and a master differ.”
Fathers, in the ideal at least, should be gentle, honest men, somewhat indulgent, and not at all like the popular misconception.
If you want more and better examples and a very nice argument for our misunderstanding of Roman fathers, I recommend Christopher Francese’s Ancient Rome in So Many Words, which you can get for free (at the moment at least) in the Kindle edition. (You don’t need a Kindle—you can get the Kindle App for your PC, Mac, smartphone, or whatever.)