The Athenian marriage vase

Loutrophoros the Athenian marriage vase

This loutrophoros tells us nearly all we need to know about marriage in 5th century Athens.

Marriage was the transfer of a girl from one master (kyrios) - her father, to another - her man. There were no specific words in Greek for husband and wife - aner, man is the only word, and gyne, woman, assumes that woman=wife. Being unmarried could never be a choice - only a misfortune, and would bring shame to the girl's father if she were too ugly, or he not rich enough to afford a decent dowry for her. Medea equates the dowry with "buying a husband" - although the girl is unlikely to have had a say in the purchase. We see the father and the "man" shake hands to confirm that marriage is agreed ( engue - betrothal -would usually take place years earlier - the vase compresses all the events)

The vase was specially ordered by the new kyrios to bring water from the stream of Kallirhoe for the bride's bath: she was assumed to be in need of purification after her journey from her father's house. Her old life is symbolically washed away, and she is prepared for intercourse, which will change her status from parthenos (virgin) to gyne (woman).