Saturday, January 06, 2007
Children Who Resemble Their Fathers
"But come, tell me this and declare it truly, whether indeed, tall as you are, you are the son of Odysseus himself. Wondrously like his are your head and beautiful eyes; for many were the times we consorted with one another before he embarked for the land of Troy, whither others, too, the bravest of the Argives, went in their hollow ships. But since that day neither have I seen Odysseus, nor he me."For most of human history, children did not know for certain the identities of their fathers. This ignorance may be one impulse behind those societies that defined their membership through the maternal line alone. It is only recently that blood and DNA tests have allowed children to know for sure who their fathers are (and vice versa).
Then wise Telemachus answered her: "Therefore, stranger, will I frankly tell you all. My mother says that I am his child; but I do not know this, for never yet did any man know his parentage of his own knowledge."
In the days before blood and DNA tests for paternity, a child who obviously resembled his father was prized:
- Hesiod, Works and Days 235 (when justice flourishes): Women bear children resembling their fathers.
- Theophrastus, Characters 5 (The Complaisant Man, tr. R.C. Jebb): Then, when he is asked to dinner, he will request the host to send for the children; and will say of them, as they come in, that they are as like their father as figs.
- Catullus 61.221-225: May he look like his father Manlius and be easily recognized by all who don't know him and prove with his face his mother's virtue.
- Horace, Odes 4.5.23: Mothers who have just given birth are praised for children resembling [their fathers].
- Dio Cassius 56.3 (supposedly from a speech delivered by the Emperor Augustus, tr. Ian Scott-Kilvert): Is it not a joy to acknowledge a child who possesses the qualities of both parents, to tend and educate a being who is both the physical and spiritual image of yourself, so that, as it grows up, another self is created?
- Martial 6.27.3-4: You have a daughter who is marked with paternal resemblance of face, witness of her mother's virtue.
- G. Kaibel, Epigrammata Graeca 243b (an inscription from Pergamum, 2nd century A.D.), line 5: You bore me children, all resembling me.
- Buecheler and Lommatzsch, Carmina Latina Epigraphica 387, lines 9-10 (restoration conjectural): I have three sons, resembling their father, born from one wife.
- Aeschines, Against Ctesiphon 111 (quoting an Amphictyonic oath): And may their wives not bear children resembling the fathers, but freaks.
- Theocritus 17.43-44 (tr. C.S. Calverley): She that loves not bears sons, but all unlike / Their father: for her heart was otherwhere.
- Martial 6.39 describes in great detail the seven "children" of husband Cinna and wife Marulla, none of whom looks like the supposed father.
- Lucilius, Greek Anthology 11.215 (tr. W.R. Paton): Eutychus the painter was the father of twenty sons, but never got a likeness even among his children.
Andromache in Seneca's Trojan Women (461-468, tr. John G. Fitch) enumerates the ways in which her son Astyanax resembles his dead father Hector, including his gait:
O son, true descendant of a great father, one hope for the Phrygians and only hope for our ruined house, all too famous as issue of ancient blood, and all too like your father! This countenance my Hector had, such he was in walk and bearing, so he carried his brave hands, so he squared his shoulders, so his stern brow conveyed a threat as he spread his flowing hair with a toss of his neck.
O nate, magni certa progenies patris,
spes una Phrygibus, unica afflictae domus,
veterisque suboles sanguinis nimium inclita
nimiumque patri similis! hos vultus meus
habebat Hector, talis incessu fuit
habituque talis, sic tulit fortes manus,
sic celsus humeris, fronte sic torva minax
cervice fusam dissipans iacta comam.