Elderly Care In Ancient Greece

It is said that you can judge a country or a tribe by the way it treats its elderly. In ancient Greece this was very simple. It was the sacred duty of the children to look after the elderly.

Greek law laid down severe penalties for those who failed to discharge their obligations.

In Delphi, for instance, anyone who failed to look after his parents was liable to be put in jail.

In Athens those who neglected their parents or grandparents were deprived of their citizen rights. There were no public facilities for the aged – the very idea would have been alien to the Greeks.

Even in the aristocratic world evoked by the Homeric poems, the elderly seem to have been concerned about the degree of respect that they received from the younger generation. Harking back to a supposedly Golden Age when youth were inherently deferential to their elders, Nestor remarks at the beginning of one of his long speeches, “In former times I associated with better warriors than you and they never made light of me.”

Though Athenians were required by law to look after their parents, contempt of the elderly seems to have become sort of a national characteristic by the late fifth century B.C.

This was in marked contrast to Sparta, where old people were held in high esteem. This difference in attitude is in part a reflection of the conservative temperament of the Spartan people.

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