Re: Married Only Once

From: Christopher Hutson (
Date: Wed Feb 24 1999 - 14:00:38 EST

Carl wrote:

>I actually find myself in full agreement with Jim West on this one!
And I
>would add, without assuming, as I once might have done, that there is
>linguistic influence at play here, that this conception of fidelity
>Hellenistic and finds expression in the Latin adjective UNIVIRA that
>found on the grave-inscriptions of many a Roman matron, indicating
that the
>lady in question was "a one-man woman" (VIR being, like Greek ANHR,
>word for both "man" and "husband").

This first answer was confusing, Carl. I think you are actually
disagreeing with Jim, unless I misunderstood Jim. That is, you are
endorsing the meaning of "one spouse for life," as you make clear in a
follow-up post:

>I don't really like to make absolute and apodictic assertions, but I
>do think that in terms of that cultural climate, I think that is
>likely. I haven't really studied this TOPOS in Hellenistic
literature, but
>I do know that UNIVIRA is a very proud epithet on a matron's tomb
>inscription, and I have in mind a powerful poem (Propertius 4.11)
about a
>Roman lady Cornelia who died rather young leaving her husband with
>teen-aged children; in the poem she addresses her husband and
children, who
>must be imagined as kneeling at her tomb, and claims UNIVIRA for
>while also suggesting the probability that her husband will never
>so devoted is he to her. While this poem is heavily colored by
rhetoric, I
>personally think that it has to reflect a strong cultural admiration
>marital devotion that cannot seriously contemplate remarriage after
>death of a spouse.

Yes, I am in full agreement with this reading. This is a question
which is not really solved by grammatical analysis but rather benefits
greatly from the insights of social history. This sentiment is
widespread in ancient Greek and Roman cultures. I would add two
points. First, there was no social stigma attached to a widow(er) who
did remarry after the death of a spouse. The point is only that
lifelong faithfulness to a single mate (even after the death of that
mate) was a sentimental ideal and something considered honorable.
Second, the Pastoral Epistles are very much concerned with how the
Christian community appears to outsiders, so this sort of ideal
behavior in its leaders would reflect well on the community.

There is quite a bit of literature on the social meaning of UNIVIRA in
antiquity. The commentary which makes the case most forcefully in my
opinion is Ceslas Spicq, _Les Epitres Pastorales_. Denny and other
interested readers can find plenty of citations there.


Christopher R. Hutson
          Hood Theological Seminary
          Salisbury, NC 28144

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