Faithlife Sermons

01436

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Every Athenian citizen is expected to have children, and all the forces of religion, property, and the state unite to discountenance childlessness.  Where no offspring comes, adoptions is the rule, and high prices are paid for prepossessing orphans.  At the same time law and public opinion accept infanticide as a legitimate safeguard against excess population and a pauperizing fragmentation of the land; any father may expose a newborn child to death either as doubtfully his, or as weak or deformed.  The children of slaves are seldom allowed to live.  Girls are more subject to exposure than boys, for every daughter has to e provided with a dowry, and at marriage she passes from the home and service of those who have reared her into the service of those who have not.  Exposure is effected by leaving the infant in a large earthenware vessel within the precincts of a temple or in some other place where it can soon be rescued if any wish to adopt it.  The parental right to expose permits a rough eugenics, and co-operates with a rigorous natural selection by hardship and competition to make the Greeks a strong and healthy people.  The philosophers almost unanimously approve of family limitation:  Plato will call for the exposure of all feeble children, and of those born of base or elderly parents; and Aristotle will defend abortion as preferable to infanticide.  The Hippocratic code of medical ethics will not allow the physician to effect abortion, but the Greek midwife is an experienced hand in this field, and no law impedes her.


The Story of Civilization II, The Life of Greece, by Will Durant, page 287

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