Superphysics Superphysics
Chapters 6-13

Public Continency

by Montesquieu Icon
7 minutes  • 1486 words
Table of contents

SO many are the imperfections that attend the loss of virtue in women, and so greatly are their minds depraved when this principal guard is removed, that, in a popular state, public incontinency may be considered as the last of miseries, and as a certain fore-runner of a change in the constitution.

Hence it is that the sage legislators of republican states have ever required of women a particular gravity of manne rs. They have proscribed not only vice, but the very appearance of it. They have banished even all commerce of gallantry; a commerce that produces idl eness, that renders the women corrupters even before they are corrupted, th at gives a value to trifles, and debases things of importance; a commerce, in fine, that makes people act entirely by the maxims of ridicule, in which the women are so perfectly skilled.

Chapter 9: The Condition or State of Women in different Governments

IN monarchies, women are subject to very little restraint. This is because, as the distinction of ranks calls them to court, there they assume a spirit of liberty, which is almost the only one tolerat ed in that place.

Each courtier avails himself of their charms and passions , in order to advance his fortune= and, as their weakness admits not of pri de, but of vanity, luxury constantly attends them.

In despotic governments, women do not int roduce, but are themselves an object of, luxury. They must be in a state of the most rigorous servitude. Everyone follows the spirit of the governm ent, and adopts in his own family the customs he sees elsewhere established.

As the laws are very severe and executed on the spot, they are afraid lest the liberty of women should expose them to danger. Their quarrels, indisc retions, repugnances, jealousies, piques, and that art, in fine, which litt le souls have of interesting great ones, would be attended there with fatal consequences.

Besides, as princes, in those countries, make a sport of human nature, they allow themselves a multitude of women; a nd a thousand considerations oblige them to keep those women in close confi nement.

In republics women are free by the laws, and restrained by manners; luxury is banished from thence, and with it corr uption and vice.

In the cities of Greece, where they were not under the restraint of a religion, which declares, that, even amongst men, regularity of manners is a part of virtue; where a blind passion triump hed with a boundless insolence, and love appeared only in a shape which we dare not mention, while marriage was considered as nothing more than simple friendship*; such was the virtue, simplicity, and chastity, of women, in those cities, that, in this respect, hardly any people were ever known to have had a better and wiser polity.

Chapter 10: The Domestic Tribunal among the Romans

THE Romans had no particular magistrates, like the Greeks, to inspect the conduct of women. The censors had not an eye over them but as over the rest of the republic. The institution of the domestic tribunal supplied the magistracy established among the Greeks.

The husband summoned the wife’s relations, and tried her in their presence.

This tribunal preserved the manners of the republic. At the same time, those very manners maintained this tribunal.

It decided not only in respect to the violation of the laws, but also of manners: now, in order to judge of the violation of the latter, manners are requisite.

The penalties inflicted by this tribunal should be, and actually were, arbitrary: for all that relates to manners, and to the rules of modesty, can hardly be comprised under one code of laws. It is easy to regulate by laws what we owe to others, but it is very difficult to comprise all we owe to ourselves.

The domestic tribunal inspected the general conduct of women.

But adultery, together with the animadversion of this tribunal, was subject to a public accusation to test whether:

  • so great a depravation of manners interested the government in a republic; or
  • the wife’s immorality might render the husbands suspected
  • they were afraid lest even honest people might choose that adultery should be concealed instead of punished.

Chapter 11: How the Institutions changed at Rome together with the Government

Manners were supposed by the domestic tribunal.

They were also supposed by the public accusation. Hence, these 2 things fell together with the public manners, and ended with the republic.

Thus, perpetual public accusations were established.

  • This increased the jurisdiction among the praetors.

The use of the domestic tribunal was weakened when the praetors determined all cases themselves.

  • This surprised the historians.
    • They look at the decisions given by this tribunal on Tiberius

The establishment of monarchy and the change of manners ended public accusations.

A dishonest man’s approaches might be refused by a virtuous woman.

  • He would then plot to destroy her.

Thus, the Julian law ordained that a woman should not be accused of adultery till after her husband had been charged with favouring her irregularities. This limited greatly, and annihilated, this sort of accusation.

Sixtus Quintus seemed to have wanted to revive the public accusation. But doing so would be more improper in such a monarchy as his, than in any other.

Chapter 12: The Guardianship of Women among the Romans

THE Roman laws subjected women to a perpetual guardianship, except they were under cover and subject to the authority of a husband*.

This guardianship was given to the nearest of the male relations. By a vulgar expression, it appears they were very much confined.

This was proper for a republic, but not at all necessary in a monarchy.

That the women among the ancient Germans were likewise under a perpetual tutelage, appears from the different codes of the laws of the barbarians.

This custom was communicated to the monarchies founded by th ose people, but was not of a long duration.

Chapter 13: The Punishments decreed by E mperors against the Incontinency of Women

THE Julian law punished adultery. But so far was this law, any more than those afterwards made on the same account, from being a mark of regul arity of manners, that, on the contrary, it was a proof of their depravation.

The whole political system, in regard to women, received a change in the monarchical state.

The question was no long er to oblige them to a regularity of manners, but to punish their crimes. T hat new laws were made to punish their crimes was owing to their leaving th ose transgressions unpunished which were not of so criminal a nature.

The frightful dissolution of manners obli ged, indeed, the emperors to enact laws, in order to put some stop to lewdn ess; but it was not their intention to establish a general reformation.

Of this, the positive facts related by historians are a much stronger proof th an all these laws can be of the contrary. We may see, in Dio, the conduct of Augustus on this occasion, and in what manner he eluded, both in his prC3A6torian and censorian office, the repeated i nstances that were made him It is true, that we find, in historians, very rigid sentences, passed in the reigns of Augustus and Tiberius, agains t the lewdness of some Roman ladies. But, by shewing us the spirit of those reigns, at the same time, they demonstrate the spirit of those decisions.

The principal design of Augustus and Tibe rius was to punish the dissoluteness of their relations. It was not their i mmorality they punished, but a particular crime of impiety or high-treaso n* of their own invent ion, which served to promote a respect for majesty, and answered their priv ate revenge. Hence it is that the Roman historians inveigh so bitterly agai nst this tyranny.

The penalty of the Julian law was small. The emperors insisted that, in passing sentence, the judges should increase the penalty of the law. This was the subject of the invecti ves of historians. They did not examine whether the women were deserving of punishment, but whether they had violated the law, in order to punish them.

One of the most tyrannical proceedings of TiberiusE280A1 was the abuse he made of the ancient laws. When he wanted to extend the punish ment of a Roman lady beyond that inflicted by the Juli an law, he revived the domestic tribunal.

These regulations in respect to women con cerned only senatorial families, but not the common people. Pretences were wanted to accuse the great, which were constantly furnished by the dissolut e behaviour of the ladies.

In fine, what I have above observed, name ly, that regularity of manners is not the principle of monarchy, was never better verified than under those first emperors; and whoever doubts of it n eeds only read Tacitus, Suetonius, Juvenal, or Martial.

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