Adultery and the Marriage Bed: Then and Now

Posted on January 28th, 2011 by

Harvard classics professor Kathleen Coleman has had a letter to the editor published in the New York Times in response to this article on infidelity, which states that…

…it is no surprise to find, when a marriage comes apart, that a third person was involved. But even in a sexually liberal culture, the home is still usually off-limits, as if protected by an invisible force field. And the marriage bed — a phrase that in itself seems quaintly out of date — remains a sacred object.

Here’s her letter:

The rage felt by the cuckolded spouse at adultery committed in the marriage bed (“Don’t Try This at Home,” Jan. 13) transcends time and culture. In the story of the affair between Ares and Aphrodite in “The Odyssey,” it is the dishonor to their marriage bed that spurs Aphrodite’s husband, Hephaistus, to his exquisite revenge. Being the blacksmith of Olympus, he makes a gossamer-fine net of metal that descends over the couple when next they make love, then crowns their humiliation by summoning the rest of the gods to mock them in the trap. He only removes the net when Poseidon promises to guarantee the fine Ares owes him as the injured party.

The “invisible force field” that you identify around the marriage bed was felt as keenly by Homer and his audience as it is by us, nearly three millennia later.

One might also note that Penelope’s trick of the marriage bed is what really pushes Odysseus over the edge and proves his true identity.


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