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REBECCA O'CONNELL // WIKIMEDIA COMMONS (PLUTARCH), ISTOCK (CAKE + BACKGROUND)
REBECCA O'CONNELL // WIKIMEDIA COMMONS (PLUTARCH), ISTOCK (CAKE + BACKGROUND)

9 Marriage Tips From Ancient Philosophers

REBECCA O'CONNELL // WIKIMEDIA COMMONS (PLUTARCH), ISTOCK (CAKE + BACKGROUND)
REBECCA O'CONNELL // WIKIMEDIA COMMONS (PLUTARCH), ISTOCK (CAKE + BACKGROUND)

You can get marriage and relationship advice in magazines, books, and from well-meaning friends and family members. But what did ancient Greek and Roman philosophers have to say about the topic? Read on for nine tips for wedded bliss from the first century CE philosophers Plutarch and Gaius Musonius Rufus. While some might still be useful, others prove these men were very much a product of their (sexist) times:

1. BE CONSIDERATE OF YOUR SPOUSE'S PET PEEVES.

In Plutarch’s Moralia, a collection of his speeches and essays, he gives marriage advice to his newlywed friends, Pollianus and Eurydice. The equivalent of a wedding speech to the new bride and groom, Plutarch’s “Advice to the Bride and Groom, and A Consolation to His Wife” gives newlyweds tips for the rest of their lives together. According to Plutarch, some men (like animals) are annoyed or angered by seemingly trivial things such as certain colors or sounds; therefore, their wives should make the minor effort to not irritate their husbands:

“Those who have to go near elephants do not put on bright clothes, nor do those who go near bulls put on red; for the animals are made especially furious by these colors; and tigers, they say, when surrounded by the noise of beaten drums go completely mad and tear themselves to pieces. Since, then, this is also the case with men, that some cannot well endure the sight of scarlet and purple clothes, while others are annoyed by cymbals and drums, what terrible hardship is it for women to refrain from such things, and not disquiet or irritate their husbands, but live with them in constant gentleness?"

2. COMPETE WITH YOUR SPOUSE TO SEE WHICH PERSON IS MORE DEVOTED TO THE OTHER.

Rufus, a Roman Stoic philosopher, gave a series of lectures about the purpose of marriage and how marriage relates to philosophy. He describes an ideal marriage as one in which the two partners strive to outdo the other in devotion. If two people compete with each other to show how much each person cares for the other, they’ll have a beautiful union. On the flip side, though, if each person in a couple only thinks of himself or herself, the couple will be doomed to separate or be lonely. From “On the Chief End of Marriage”:

“Where, then, this love for each other is perfect and the two share it completely, each striving to outdo the other in devotion, the marriage is ideal and worthy of envy, for such a union is beautiful. But where each looks only to his own interests and neglects the other … then the union is doomed to disaster and though they live together, yet their common interests fare badly; eventually they separate entirely or they remain together and suffer what is worse than loneliness.” 

3. DON’T USE LOVE SPELLS TO SNAG A HUSBAND.

If you play games to try to trap a man into marrying you, you might get a husband—but do you really want a man who would fall for those tricks? Plutarch makes an analogy between fishing and catching a husband, explaining that women who use love potions and cast magic spells to snatch a mate end up spending their lives with fools. From “Advice to the Bride and Groom”:

“Fishing with poison is a quick way to catch fish and an easy method of taking them, but it makes the fish inedible and bad. In the same way women who artfully employ love-potions and magic spells upon their husbands, and gain the mastery over them through pleasure, find themselves consorts of dull-witted, degenerate fools.”

4. HAVE FUN WITH YOUR WIFE, OR SHE’LL LOOK FOR FUN WITHOUT YOU.

For Plutarch, marriage is all about two people joining as one. Accordingly, husbands should spend time with their wives, having fun and laughing with them. Otherwise, wives will look for fun elsewhere. As Plutarch explains in “Advice to the Bride and Groom”:

“Men who do not like to see their wives eat in their company are thus teaching them to stuff themselves when alone. So those who are not cheerful in the company of their wives, nor join with them in sportiveness and laughter, are thus teaching them to seek their own pleasures apart from their husbands.”

5. REALIZE THAT YOUR MOTHER-IN-LAW WILL PROBABLY BE JEALOUS.

Conflict between a wife and her mother-in-law is not a modern phenomenon. Plutarch addressed the inevitability of this conflict by telling a story about an African marriage custom. The day after a bride’s wedding in the African city of Leptis, she asks the groom’s mother for a pot. The groom’s mother refuses, which is meant to set the tone for their future relationship. Plutarch’s advice for brides? Realize that your mother-in-law is hostile because she envies you, and tread carefully when dealing with the relationship between your husband and his mother. From “Advice to the Bride and Groom”:

“A wife ought to take cognizance of this hostility, and try to cure the cause of it, which is the mother's jealousy of the bride as the object of her son's affection. The one way at once cure this trouble is to create an affection for herself personally on the part of her husband, and at the same time not to divert or lessen his affection for his mother.”

6. FOR THE MARRIAGE TO WORK, BOTH PARTIES NEED TO BE GOOD PEOPLE.

As Rufus explains, both husband and wife should be virtuous in order to attain a good partnership. Marriage simply won’t work if both people are bad, or if one is bad and one is good. It takes two, as Rufus says in “On the Chief End of Marriage”:

“With respect to character or soul one should expect that it be habituated to self-control and justice, and in a word, naturally disposed to virtue. These qualities should be present in both man and wife. For without sympathy of mind and character between husband and wife, what marriage can be good, what partnership advantageous? How could two human beings who are base have sympathy of spirit one with the other? Or how could one that is good be in harmony with one that is bad?”

7. DON’T COMMIT ADULTERY.

Rufus condemns adultery, arguing that it goes against nature and is shameful. Although he acknowledges that some of his contemporaries didn’t have a moral problem with a man committing adultery with his slave-maid, Rufus states that this is wrong, too. Challenging husbands to imagine if their wives had relations with slaves, Rufus points out the troubling double standard. From his lecture “On Sexual Indulgence”:

“If it seems neither shameful nor out of place for a master to have relations with his own slave, particularly if she happens to be unmarried, let him consider how he would like it if his wife had relations with a male slave. Would it not seem completely intolerable not only if the woman who had a lawful husband had relations with a slave, but even if a woman without a husband should have?”

8. … BUT IF YOUR HUSBAND CHEATS WITH A MAID, IT’S BECAUSE HE RESPECTS YOU TOO MUCH.

Plutarch explains that Persian kings eat dinner with their wives, but the kings send their wives away when they want to get drunk and wild with concubines. According to Plutarch, Persian kings are doing their wives a favor by partying with concubines because the men don’t want to subject their wives to such debauchery. Wives, then, shouldn’t be angry when their husbands cheat on them with maids. As he writes in “Advice to the Bride and Groom”:

“The lawful wives of the Persian kings sit beside them at dinner, and eat with them. But when the kings wish to be merry and get drunk, they send their wives away, and send for their music-girls and concubines. In so far they are right in what they do, because they do not concede any share in their licentiousness and debauchery to their wedded wives. If therefore a man in private life … commit some peccadillo with a paramour or a maidservant, his wedded wife ought not to be indignant or angry, but she should reason that it is respect for her which leads him to share his debauchery, licentiousness, and wantonness with another woman.”

9. TIME WILL MAKE YOUR RELATIONSHIP STRONGER.

As Plutarch states, marriage gets stronger as the years go by. Newlyweds, then, should take good care to settle disagreements and tackle arguments because their relationship is inchoate and fragile. People who have been married a long time can withstand a lot, as Plutarch writes in “Advice to the Bride and Groom”:

“In the beginning, especially, married people ought to be on their guard against disagreements and clashes, for they see that such household vessels as are made of sections joined together are at the outset easily pulled apart by any fortuitous cause, but after a time, when their joints have become set, they can hardly be separated by fire and steel.” 

All photos from iStock unless otherwise noted. 

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Bea Arthur: Golden Girl, U.S. Marine
Kevin Winter, Getty Images
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

When Bea Arthur joined the cast of The Golden Girls in 1985, she had already established an impressive career on stage and television. But one of her most important jobs predates her acting career—for 2.5 years, Arthur served in the U.S. Marine Corps.

According to the National World War II Museum, her service came at a time when women enlisting in the military was still an anomaly. The country had recently entered the Second World War, and the Marines began recruiting women as a way to free more men to fill combat roles. The Marines opened the Women's Reserve in 1943 after every other military branch had already started accepting female members.

One of the program's first enrollees was a 20-year-old woman who was called Bernice Frankel at the time, and who's best known as Bea Arthur today. Prior to enlisting, she had attended Blackstone College in Virginia for a year, worked as a food analyst at the Phillips Packing Company, and volunteered as a civilian air-raid warden. As she later wrote in a letter, she joined the Marines on a whim: “I was supposed to start work yesterday, but heard last week that enlistments for women in the Marines were open, so [I] decided the only thing to do was to join.”

After attending the first Women Reservists school at Hunter College in New York, Arthur spent the remainder of her service at the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station in Cherry Point, North Carolina as a truck driver and typist. According to her Official Military Personnel File (OMPF), she exhibited “meticulous good taste” and was "argumentative," "over aggressive," and “officious—but probably a good worker if she has her own way!”

Bea Arthur entered the Marines a private and had risen to staff sergeant by the time she was discharged. Her exit paperwork shows that she expressed interest in going to drama school after the military, foreshadowing a long career ahead.

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5 Things You Might Not Know About Henry Kissinger
Keystone/Getty Images
Keystone/Getty Images

You probably know Henry Kissinger as a Nobel Peace Prize winner and former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State. Let’s take a look at five things you might not know about the German-born political scientist and diplomat.

1. MAO ZEDONG TRIED TO GIVE HIM "10 MILLION" WOMEN.

In 1973, Henry Kissinger was engaged in a discussion of trade with Mao Zedong when the chairman abruptly changed the subject by saying, “We [China] don't have much. What we have in excess is women. So if you want them we can give a few of those to you, some tens of thousands.”

Kissinger sidestepped this bizarre offer and changed the subject, but Mao later returned to the subject by jokingly asking, “Do you want our Chinese women? We can give you 10 million.”

This time Kissinger diplomatically replied, “It is such a novel proposition. We will have to study it.”

Other Chinese officials in the room pointed out that Mao’s attitudes toward women would cause quite a stir if the press got their hands on these quotes, so Mao apologized to his female interpreter and talked Kissinger into having the comments removed from the records of the meeting.

2. NO, HE'S NOT THE INSPIRATION FOR DR. STRANGELOVE.

Here’s a riddle that’s been bugging film buffs for decades: who was the basis for the title character in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove? For years many observers thought that Kissinger might have inspired Peter Sellers’s memorable performance. Blame it on the accent and the glasses. Even though Kissinger was still a relatively obscure Harvard professor when the film premiered in 1964, the rumor that Kubrick modeled the character on him just wouldn't die.

Kubrick did what he could to dispel this notion before his death, saying, “I think this is slightly unfair to Kissinger ... It was unintentional. Neither Peter nor I had ever seen Kissinger before the film was shot.” Most observers now think that Dr. Strangelove was actually a distorted version of Herman Kahn, an eccentric nuclear strategist for the RAND Corporation.

3. HE WAS QUITE THE LADIES MAN.

Even in his youth, Kissinger didn’t quite fit the bill of a matinee idol, but he has always been a hit with the ladies. A 1972 poll of Playboy bunnies selected Kissinger as the man with whom Hef’s ladies would most like to go out on a date. He also had a string of celebrity girlfriends in his younger days, including Diane Sawyer, Candice Bergen, Jill St. John, Shirley Maclaine, and Liv Ullman, who called Kissinger, “the most interesting man I have ever met.”

Kissinger’s swinging bachelor days are long gone, though. He was married to Ann Fleischer from 1949 to 1964 then married philanthropist Nancy Maginnes in 1974—a union that at one point seemed so improbable that just a year before they tied the knot, Maginnes had called speculation that she and Kissinger would marry “outrageous.”

4. PROTECTING HIM ISN'T ALWAYS EASY.

In 1985 former Secret Service agent Dennis McCarthy released the memoir Protecting the President—The Inside Story of a Secret Service Agent, in which he described being on Kissinger’s security detail as “a real pain.” McCarthy shared a funny anecdote about a 1977 trip to Acapulco with Kissinger and his wife. There were signs warning of sharks in the water, but Nancy wanted to go for a swim. Kissinger then told his security detail to get in the water to guard for sharks.

Personal protection is one thing, but McCarthy and his fellow agents drew the line at fighting off sharks. Instead, they made the reasonable point that if the Kissingers were afraid of sharks, they shouldn’t go swimming. Agent McCarthy did, however, offer a compromise; he told Kissinger, “If the sharks come up on this beach, my agents will fight them.”

5. THE STATE DEPARTMENT NIXED HIS OFFICIAL PORTRAIT.

Official portraits of government luminaries don’t usually become big news, but in 1978 the painting of Kissinger commissioned by the State Department for its gallery made headlines. Boston artist Gardner Cox had previously painted Secretaries of State Dean Acheson and Dean Rusk, so he got the $12,000 commission to paint Kissinger. The finished product didn’t earn rave reviews, though.

Some viewers at the State Department thought the painting lacked Kissinger’s dynamism and made him look “somewhat a dwarf.” Others felt the portrait was “a rogues' gallery thing." The State Department offered to let Cox fix the painting, but he said he didn’t see anything that need changing. He lost the commission but got $700 for his expenses.

Kissinger took the whole episode in stride, though. When Houston artist J. Anthony Wills painted a replacement, Kissinger declared it to be, “an excellent likeness, swelled head and all,” and called the unveiling "one of my most fulfilling moments. Until they do Mount Rushmore."

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