In my presentation I propose to search for the "discourse of marriage" in texts rarely considered by scholars examining ancient views on marital relationships, namely Plutarch's texts on animals. I focus on Plutarch's account of the kingfisher (á¼€λκυÏŽν) in De sollertia animalium (982f-3e), in which the bird is compared to a married woman (γυνá½´ γαμετÎ®) and praised for being, among other, φÎ¯λανδρος and φιλÏŒτεκνος. I examine earlier traditions concerning the kingfisher to which Plutarch is indebted and which he (or his source) skilfully combines in order to represent the kingfisher as a manifestation of uxorial virtues.
In the second part of the paper, I discuss Plutarch's application of marriage terminology to the world of animals in De amore prolis, its implications, and the distinction between the natural and human in his treatment of marriage. The kingfisher is the most elaborate example of animal marital virtues in Plutarch's texts. The discussion of the bird in De sollertia animalium (coming from a youth Phaedimus) combines separate earlier traditions: we can distinguish a 'zoological' one, which focuses on bird's exceptional love for its offspring and its marvelous nest (Aristotle); a 'mythical' one, which narrates a transformation of a woman into a kingfisher and her love for husband (Ps. Plato, Halcyon); and a 'paradoxographical' one, which narrates the female bird's care for her elderly mate (Antigonus of Carystus). Plutarch, or his source, fuses elements of these traditions and creates the model of a perfect wife, i.e. wife that excels in three areas: the love for husband, the protective affection for offspring, and the care for household. I discuss Plutarch's presentation of the kingfisher and compare his choice of adjectives (such as φιλÏŒμουσος, φÎ¯λανδρος, φιλÏŒτεκνος, φιλÏŒπονος, φιλÏŒτεχνος) with the vocabulary used in reference to women in his other texts. In the second part of the paper I examine Plutarch's employment of marriage terminology in (unfortunately corrupt) De amore prolis, in which Plutarch discusses animal marriages (γÎ¬μοι, 493e) in order to identify the natural basis (τá½¸ κατá½° φÏσιν) of human marital relationships. The employment of the term 'marriage' in reference to animals is a noteworthy phenomenon, one that can not be found in the zoological writings of the sober Aristotle nor in Aesop's fables (except for the rare cases of animals marrying people); interestingly, it will become a staple in Aelian. I argue that Plutarch's usage of marriage vocabulary in reference to animals is closely tied to the moralizing nature of his texts and is indicative of the fact that marriage becomes for Plutarch a legitimate theme of moral reflection: animals are here "both modelled on humans and in their turn used as models for humans" (Gilhus). I examine Plutarch's employment of the concept of nature in the context of the discussion of marital relationships and broader implications of Plutarch's decision to reflect on the concept of marriage by putting it against the backdrop of animal lore.