The household tables.

Also known as Haustafel.


The idea of laying out household tables (German Haustafel) as we find in Ephesians 5.22-6.9 and in Colossians 3.18-4.4 appears ultimately to derive from Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 1160b (translation modified from H. Rackham):

Ομοιωματα δ αυτων και οιον παραδειγματα λαβοι τις αν και εν ταις οικιαις. η μεν γαρ πατρος προς υιεις κοινωνια βασιλειας εχει σχημα, των τεκνων γαρ τω πατρι μελει. εντευθεν δε και Ομηρος τον Δια πατερα προσαγορευει, πατρικη γαρ αρχη βουλεται η βασιλεια ειναι. εν Περσαις δ η του πατρος τυραννικη, χρωνται γαρ ως δουλοις τοις υιεσιν. τυραννικη δε και η δεσποτου προς δουλους, το γαρ του δεσποτου συμφερον εν αυτη πραττεται. αυτη μεν ουν ορθη φαινεται, η Περσικη δ ημαρτημενη, των διαφεροντων γαρ αι αρχαι διαφοροι. ανδρος δε και γυναικος αριστοκρατικη φαινεται, κατ αξιαν γαρ ο ανηρ αρχει, και περι ταυτα α δει τον ανδρα οσα δε γυναικι αρμοζει, εκεινη αποδιδωσιν. απαντων δε κυριευων ο ανηρ εις ολιγαρχιαν μεθιστησιν παρα την αξιαν γαρ αυτο ποιει, και ουχ η αμεινων.

One may find likenesses and so to speak models of these various forms of constitution in the household. The relationship of father to sons is regal in type, since the first concern of a father is for the welfare of his children. This is why Homer styles Zeus as father, for the ideal of kingship is paternal government. Among the Persians paternal rule is tyrannical, for the Persians use their sons as slaves. The relation of master to servants is also tyrannic, since in it the interest of the master is aimed at. The autocracy of a master appears to be right, that of the Persian father wrong; for different subjects should be under different forms of rule. The relation of husband to wife seems to be in the nature of an aristocracy; the husband rules in virtue of fitness, and in matters that belong to the sphere of a man; matters suited to a woman he hands over to his wife. When the husband controls everything, he transforms the relationship into an oligarchy, for he governs in violation of fitness, and not in virtue of superiority.

Three relationships feature prominently in such tables:

  1. Father and children.
  2. Master and slaves.
  3. Husband and wife.

The centrality of the adult male is obvious; a male may be father, master, and husband all at once, whereas the other parties (children, slaves, wife) do not overlap at any given time. Such tables essentially offer advice, then, to men on how to treat the three main kinds of relationship they will find themselves in within their households.