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Lecture XV

◄Lecture XIV - Lecture XVI►

Should every child that is born be raised?[1]

1Is it not true that the lawgivers, whose special function it was by careful search to discern what is good for the state and what is bad, what promotes and what is detrimental to the common good, all considered the increase of the homes of the citizens the most fortunate thing for the cities and the decrease of them the most shameful thing? And when the citizens had few or no children did they not regard it as a loss, but when they had children, yes, plenty of them, did they not regard it as a gain? So it was for this reason that they forbade women to suffer abortions and imposed a penalty upon those who disobeyed; for this reason they discouraged them from choosing childlessness and avoiding parenthood, and for this reason they gave to both husband and wife a reward for large families, and set a penalty upon childlessness.[2] How, then, can we avoid doing wrong and breaking the law if we do the opposite of the wish of the lawgivers, godlike men and dear to the gods, whom it is considered good and advantageous to follow? And certainly we do the opposite if we avoid having many children. How can we help committing a sin against the gods of our fathers and against Zeus, guardian of the race, if we do this? For just as the man who is unjust to strangers sins against Zeus, god of hospitality, and one who is unjust to friends sins against Zeus, god of friendship, so whoever is unjust to his own family sins against the gods of his fathers and against Zeus, guardian of the family, from whom wrongs done to the family are not hidden, and surely one who sins against the gods is impious. And that raising many children is an honorable and profitable thing one may gather from the fact that a man who has many children is honored in the city, that he has the respect of his neighbors, that he has more influence than his equals if they are not equally blest with children. I need not argue that a man with many friends is more powerful than one who has no friends, and so a man who has many children is more powerful than one without any or with only a few children, or rather much more so, since a son is closer than a friend. One may remark what a fine sight it is to see a man or woman surrounded by their children. Surely one could not witness a procession arrayed in honor of the gods so beautiful nor a choral dance performed in order at a religious celebration so well worth seeing as a chorus of children forming a guard of honor for their father or mother in the city of their birth, leading their parents by the hand or dutifully caring for them in some other way. What is more beautiful than this sight? What is more enviable than these parents, especially if they are good people? For whom would one more gladly join in praying for blessings from the gods, or whom would one be more willing to assist in need?[3] Very true, you say, but I am a poor man and quite without means, and if I have many children, from what source should I find food for them all? But pray, whence do the little birds, which are much poorer than you, feed their young, the swallows and nightingales and larks and blackbirds? Homer speaks of them in these words:

"Even as a bird carries to her unfledged young whatever morsels she happens to come upon, though she fares badly herself—"[4]

Do these creatures surpass man in intelligence? You certainly would not say that. In strength and endurance, then? No, still less in that respect. Well, then, do they put away food and store it up? Not at all, and yet they rear their young and find sustenance for all that are born to them. The plea of poverty, therefore, is unjustified.[5]

But what seems to me most monstrous of all, some who do not even have poverty as an excuse, and in spite of prosperity and even riches are so inhuman as not to rear later-born offspring in order that those earlier born may inherit greater wealth—by such a deed of wickedness planning prosperity for their surviving children. That these may have a greater share of their father's goods, their parents rob them of brothers, never having learned how much better it is to have many brothers than to have many possessions. For possessions inspire intrigue on the part of the neighbors, but brothers discourage intriguers. And possessions need support, but brothers are the strongest supporters. One cannot compare a good friend to a brother nor the help which others, friends and equals, give to that which a brother gives. What good would one compare to the good will of a brother as a pledge of security? What better disposed sharer of common goods could one find than a good brother? Whose presence in misfortune would one desire more than such a brother's? For my part I consider the man most enviable who lives amid a number of like-minded brothers, and I consider most beloved of the gods the man who has these blessings at home. Therefore I believe that each one of us ought to try to leave brothers rather than money to our children so as to leave greater assurances of blessings.

◄Lecture XIV - Lecture XVI►