the primeval father

Chapter I of 'The ecstasies of eros',
wherein it is shown that human polygamy runs up against the fact
that there are as much fertile males as fertile females
and the fact that all males harbour polygamous desires,
so that, in the absence of economic and political inequality,
the majority has to settle for factual monogamy.

  the patriarchal primeval horde
swan lake
 historical harems

the abduction of women
factual monogamy (1)

'How happy were our Syres in ancient time,
Who held plurality of loves no crime'.
John Donne, Elegy XVII.


Polygamy is undoubtedly the form of marriage that appeals most to the imagination, especially in the variant of the Eastern harem. That is why we begin our journey through the labyrinth of sexual relations with an examination of the male's desire to monopolise many females.

The most fascinating theory of male polygamy has undoubteldlty been proposed by Sigmund Freud. He formulated it for the first time in 'Totem und Taboo' and returned to it on four more occasions: a second time in 'Massenpsychologie und Ich-analyse (1921), a third time in 'Das Unbehagen in der Kultur (1930), a fourth time in 'Der Mann Moses und der Monotheismus' 1937) and a fifth time in the third essay of the same book (1939). The theory goes that, in primeval times, a strong male monopolised all the women in a harem: his mother, sisters and daughters, and also women captured from other harem holders. The sons were kept at a distance, chased and, if necessary, castrated or killed. Thus, for Freud, primeval love was polygamous and incestuous.

That modern man gave up the polygamous desire of the primeval father and complied to monogamous love of non-incestuous women, is a consequence of the primeval patricide. In primeval times, such primeval patricide must have occurred many times in many hordes. It was carried out by the sons of the primeval father, united in the fraternal horde. After the patricide, the cannibalistic brothers consumed their father's body communally. Their feeling of guilt inspired them to install the two fundamental taboos: the taboo on patricide and the taboo on incest, which had been the privilege of the primeval father. Henceforward, humans have to repress their polygamous and incestuous nature.

Freud based his construction of the primeval horde on Darwin en Atkinson, who studied the sexual behaviour of wild animals, respectively gorillas and wild horses. These authors are situated in a tradition that compares human behaviour with that of wild animals, a tradition that begins to flourish with the advent of urban man after the industrial revolution. The fittest male was allowed to polygamously and incestuously mate with all the females (particularly his daughters). What, with Freud, is merely a theory on primeval man, has from way back been a practice granted by men to the animals domesticated by him.

Not only the observation of animals strengthened the belief in polygamous primeval times. The ever extending network of trade relations brought the so-called 'monogamous' cultures in contact with people with different habits. Already the Greeks felt themselves surrounded by polygamous 'barbarians' (Herodotus), and the monogamous island of Christian culture was embedded in a polygamous ocean, especially after the ascent of Islam. From the Age of Exploration onwards, the evidence of the existence of polygamous societies increased, especially after the advent of the first specialised anthropologists.

No wonder that many authors became convinced that Western monogamy was merely a thin layer of Christian varnish over more profound, heathen polygamous aspirations. As soon as the bible could be read in the vernacular, the polygamy of the patriarchs began to stimulate the imagination. It suffices to remind of the Anabaptist Jan van Leyden who openly propagated polygamy in Munster in 1534, of the 'Dialogus Nebuli' written in 1541 by Lening on instigation of Philip van Hesse, who wanted to obtain permission for a bigamous marriage from Luther and Melanchton. In 1563,the former FranciscanBernardino Ochino, a Calvinist with growing sympathy for Anabaptism, wrote his 'XXX Dialogues'. Only in 1823 was discovered the manuscript 'De doctrina' written by Milton simultaneously with 'Paradise Lost'. In 1637 Johan Lyserus (Leyser) writes a 'Discursus de Polygamia', and in 1676 he publishes a book wherein is written that Adam had many ribs: 'Das Koenigliche Mark aller Laender'. 'Polygamia Triumphatrix' is published in 1682. Think also of the former Methodist Westley Hall and the 'Thelyphthora' published in 1780 by the equally apostate Martin Madan.

The biblical paradigms are gradually replaced with more secular legitimations. Especially the stories of the explorers stirred the imagination. The report of de Léry on the Indians (1578) inspired Montaigne to an elogy on polygamy. Authors like D. Versa ('L'île des Séverambes', 1677) and C. Gilbert ('Histoire de Cal java', 1700) constructed profane utopias rather than millenarian visions. Voltaire ('Essay sur les Moeurs') and Diderot were inspired by the report of Abbé Rochon on Madagascar, but foremost by that on ' the love island' Tahiti - "la Nouvelle Cythère - a presumed paradise in the Pacific of Bougainville (1768) and Cook (1769). Also jurists provide new arguments. Johan Selden demonstrates in 1640 that polygamy was allowed under the Mosaic Law and that it was practically universal in the Ancient World. In 1672, Pufendorf refutes the idea that polygamy would be contrary to Natural Law in his 'De Jure Naturae et Gentium'. Even philosophers join the discussion. Schopenhauer holds that monogamy is artificial for man, but natural for woman because of her larger investment in parental care. In the end of the 19th century, all these perspectives are combined in ambitious historical reconstructions. Not only Darwin, Atkinson and Freud, but alsoLubbock, Anquetil, Pitt Rivers and even Westermarck hold that, in primeval times, one man took many wives. Lubbock (1870) thinks that polygamy became the rule after an initial period of promiscuity. According to Simmel (1911) woman chooses an individual, while man is attracted by the species. Lévi-Strauss (1947) believes that 'social as well as biological givens suggest that polygamous tendencies are natural and universal among humans, and that only restrictions imposed by culture are responsible for their repression'. That is also the opinion of Symons.Tiger and Fox (1974) hold that there is no universal form of marriage except male (!) unfaithfulness. Barasch (1979) writes that man has been a harem holder for the largest part of our history. Shepher (1983) thinks that polygamy has been the rule before man began to hunt cooperatively. With R. Smith (1984) the vegetarian Australopithecus was a harem holder, and Homo erectus could no longer maintain his harem because of his hunting existence...


The abundance of scientific pleas for the polygamous nature of man contrast sharply with the dearth of literary works that celebrate polygamy. Briffault holds thatMerovingian and Carolingian literature celebrated polygamy and that the Christian adaptations have erased the tracks. There is, however, an abundant literature where polygamy is negatively depicted as a stage that has been overcome by monogamy. That holds true not only of Western literature, where courtly love is a leitmotif, but also for the Eastern literature that has been the inspiring model. In Eastern tales, a most cherished theme is that of the harem holder who gets enamoured amidst the temptations (Sheherazade). In the West, we often find the theme of the liberation of the beloved from the tyranny of the harem holder ('Die Entführung aus dem Serail').'The 'Swan Lake', in which the young girls, transformed into swans by a sorcerer who holds them firmly in his grip, might serve as a paradigm. From her metamorphosis into a swan, woman can only be liberated through unconditional love. It should be noticed that it is not a horde of rebellious brothers that brings about liberation, but an individual lover.

And in that day seven women shall take hold of one man,
saying, We will eat our own bread, and wear our own apparel:
only let us be called by thy name, to take away our reproach.
Isaiah 4:1

Polygamy is undoubtedly an old and widespread practice among humans. We can assume that it has been practiced from primeval times by all man who could afford it. Very common is 'sororal polygyny'*: a man marries all the sisters. Murdock found it among 70 of the 132 polygamous tribes in his selection. Often, polygamy was a necessity in societies where marriage and inheritance played the role of contemporary money relations. The supply of women (and the concomitant delivery of services and gifts) to the head of the tribe was the way in which the tribe paid its 'taxes'.

The development of commerce and the concomitant appearance of the state after the agricultural revolution have given a strong impetus to polygamy. Not only for economic, but also for political reasons (the sealing of alliances) do kings sometimes marry many wives. Increasingly, women are also accumulated in view of procreation and sexual recreation. The women may live in separate houses, as has been the custom in the earlier tribal stage. But far more obvious is the concentration of women in an enclosed space, guarded by old men or eunuchs, that has become widely known under the Arabic name 'harem'. In what follows, we shall adopt this term - in the wake of primatologists - in the broader sense of the 'collection of women of a polygamous man''. It should be noted thatthe relations in the harem are not seldom legally diversified: next to full marriages, there are also relations with concubines or slaves who do not enjoy the same legal privileges. Also in these cases, we continue to speak of harems.

In the new cities or states a kind of pyramidal structure develops. The man on the top disposes of a big harem. It consists of the most beautiful girls gathered from all the corners of the empire. Next comes a second layer of lower nobility, bureaucrats and merchants, keeping smaller harems. The majority below them has to settle for one single wife. And on the base, a more or less large group has to content themselves with no mate altogether.

Already in ancient Sumer, kings seized the opportunities of their privileged position. In Egypt, polygamy seems to haven been the custom in the third millennium. Gradually, a mitigated form of monogamy was introduced that left room for concubines and slaves. In Babylon a man could marry only one woman, but was allowed to have many concubines. The Assyrian kings had many wives and concubines. Also the Persians were harem holders With the Jews, Rehabeam had eighteen wives and sixty concubines, and Solomon is told the have kept more than seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines. Polygamy has never been forbidden, but withered away under the influence of Christendom and survived only in an Islamic context. With the Greeks, Themistocles had himself ride around in a chariot pulled by four hetaires under the trees of the Kerameikos. Also the Romans practiced polygamy: the emperor Commodus kept a harem of three hunderd women and three hundred boys.

In ancient China the modest tribal polygamy was gradually replaced with a pyramidal structure. Above a broad layer of monogamous peasants, there was a middle layer of modest harems with three to twelve wives and some concubines. Then came the nobility that kept up to thirty wives. The emperor was expected to have one queen, three wives of the first rank, nine of the second and twenty seven of the third, and eighty one concubines. Already under the Tjou Dynasty (1100 222 BC) the harems grew to considerable proportions. During the reign of the T'ang (618 907 BC) the harems consisted of hundreds of wives. A calendar of copulation was kept, so that each woman could mate during oestrus. Also the Mongols extend tribal polygamy to imperial proportions. Djenghis Khan kept more than five hundred women in his harem and each of Kublai Khan's four empresses had no less than then thousand servants and eunuchs. Kublai Khan himself disposed of some five hundred secondary wives that were replaced every two years. They were divided in groups of five that had to woo their master for three days and three nights. The most beautiful girls were selected from all the corners of the empire. The nobility had to content themselves with the lesser beauties.

The Arabic world shows a similar evolution. Mohammed did not introduce polygamy, but only encouraged the already existing polygamy, although he limited the number of wives to four. Many Muslims circumvent the problem through taking secondary wives and concubines. The Turks, who were polygamous just like the other people of the steppe, took over the harem after the conquest of Byzantium in 1453. In the heydays of Ottoman power in the sixteenth century, the legendary 'seraglio' of the sultan numbered some thousand women, mostly concubines. In the seventeenth century king Ismail of Maroc had 1056 children. Ismail Pasha, the underking of Egypt, kept around 1860 several harems on the banks of the Nile, some on the Bosporus and one on the isle Chios. Faruk, the last king of Egypt, had problems with his potency and had to call the help of rhinos. Ibn Saud (1880-1953), Keeper of the Holy Places, managed to comply with Mohammed's restrictions by divorcing as soon as he grew tired of one of his four legal wives: when he drew his last breath, four hundred legal wives had passed the review. He also kept slaves and concubines and a stableof five hundred cars at that. He sired 44 legal sons and 64 daughters.

In ancient India polygamy was practiced by kings and rich merchants. Under the Persian name 'zenana' the harem was introduced by the Muslims in India. In the sixteenth century the Moguls kept harems that numbered several thousands, personnel and eunuchs inclusive. In Siam, Mongkut (1804-1868), who lived as a monk until he was 46, was offered a harem of three hundred women on his crowning ceremony.

Polygamy was popular also in African kingdoms. In Sudan, Mahdi Mohammed Ahmed owned an enormous harem with concubines who worshipped him like a messiah before his fall in 1898. In Christian Ethiopia the king owned hundreds of wives and concubinate was widespread. The otherwise impotent 'Fon' of Bikon in Cameroun owned some hundred woman. The number of wives of the king of the Ashanti was not allowed to surpass 3.333. In recent times we remind of Idi Amin Dada in Uganda and Bocassa of the Central African Republic, and of Mobutu in Zaire.

In the New World, which remained isolated from the Old World up to 1492, we find the same pattern. With the Inca, prominent citizens were expected to keep fifty wives to keep the numbers of citizens growing. The harem of the Inca himself was composed of a selection of the most beautiful girls selected from the four corners of the empire, like with Kublai Khan. Among the Aztecs harems were kept in view of the growth of the population.

In the pre-Christian West polygamy was widespread. The early Christians inherited the custom from the Jews, who forbade polygamy in the 11th century (Gershom ben Judah). Paul forbids only bishops to keep a harem. That did not prevent leaders of sects from being susceptible to the charms of female admirers. Many a priest or a bishop - only to mention Paul of Samosata, bishop of Palmyra - took advantage of celibate woman working in his household. In the fifth century the Christian emperor Valentianus had many wives, but Justinian imposes a ban on polygamy in the sixth century. That did not prevent many a feudal lord from keeping a concubine and begetting many a bastard. Suffice it to mention Chlotar I, Charibert I, Pepin I, Charlemagne, Count Roger of Sicily, the crusader Frederic II, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Philip the Good, Charles the Brave, Charles VII (Agnes Sorel), François I and his 'petite bande' composed of willing noble daughters (and Agnes Sorel), Rodrigo Borgia, Louis XV. In some cases the secondary relations were sealed with a marriage. In 726, Gregory II declares that one can take a second wife when the first cannot fulfil her marital duties. Up to Sigismund August of Poland appealed to this decree and in 1521 the pope consents in a second marriage of Henry IV of Castily because of the infertility of Dona Blanca. Many a medieval theologist was kindly disposed to polygamy, especially in Spain with its strong Islamic influence. Many a crusaders took a second wife, and even brought her home, like Count Gleichen of Thüringen. In the 16th century, the Portuguese, who not seldom kept harems with slaves like the Dutch, were allowed to marry one wife in Portugal and another one in Goa. Many trappers had a Indian woman in each of the villages they visited on a regular basis. Also the clerics practiced polygamy. In the 11th century, the bishop of Fiesole lived openly amidst of a whole harem of concubines with children. The same goes for bishop Henry of Liege in the 13th century. Especially Protestants were inclined to endorse their attack on celibacy with polygamous arguments against monogamy. One and another comes to its apogee when Jan van Leyden proclaims Munster to 'The New Jerusalem' in 1534 and installs polygamy. It was not reserved for him alone - even when he had himself venerated like a Messiah and surrounded himself with well dressed young women. The feast was drowned in blood eleven months later and a celibate bishop took over the throne of the polygamous Messiah. Henceforward, the Anabaptists had to restrict themselves to secret polygamy. Jan Willemsen, who had founded a new polygamous community in Westphalia, ended on the stake in 1580. Increasingly, the Catholic Church took a stronger stance. In 1531, Henry VIII intended to engage in a bigamous relations, but Rome refused. Charles V had bigamy declared to be one of the cardinal sins in 1532. But we have to await the Council Trent to see polygamy officially forbidden. Luther and Melanchton - who were not opposed to polygamy on principle - granted Philip von Hesse a bigamous marriage in 1539, on condition that it would remain secret. The stringent stance of the Catholic Church could not prevent that, in 1650, after the population had been decimated as a consequence of the Thirty Years War - a regional council in Nuremberg in 1650 determined that young men were no longer allowed to enter a cloister, that priests were allowed to marry and laics to take a second wife. The spirit of the Anabaptists continued to haunt also the mind of many a Protestant. The dissident Methodist Westley Hall kept a religious commune in the 18th century and the New Jerusalem of Munster knows a revival in 19the century Utah, where Joseph Smith founded the Mormon movement. He contended that Jesus Christ was a polygamist. He himself kept 27 wives. When Utah joined the United States in 1890, polygamy had to be forbidden. There is a revival from the sixties onward (Mormon fundamentalism). Let us also mention that, under Hitler, Bormann proposed to launch a campaign for polygamy in 1944.

Polygamy, finally, has been practiced covertly by many Christians. Figures like king Ethelbald (8th century) regarded women's cloisters as their private harems. Via the 'ius primae noctis', the right of the first night, a kind of marriage of the feudal lord with all his serfs was sealed. In Carolingian times the 'women's house' where wives and daughters of the serfs gathered to work also functioned as a brothel. Similar customs survive with the gentlemen farmers and large landowners after the feudal era. Well known is the relation of the landowner with his black slaves in the United States and in Middle- and South America. Also the bourgeoisie took over the habit on a modest scale: think of the 'harems' of Pietro Aretino and Byron in Venice, of Shelley with Mary Wollstonecraft and the daughter of W. Godwin, the double-relation of Claude Monet, Auguste Rodin with Camille Claudel and Rose Beuret (and countless models), of Carl Gustav Jung with Emma Jung and Toni Wolff, of Sigmund Freud with his sister in law Minna, to mention only some notorious cases. A special case is Howard Hughes who kept countless beauties in apartments like birds in their cage.

In the West, polygamy has for a long time been a practice hidden behind a monogamous facade. Seiler estimates that there are 25.000 à 35.000 polygynous marriages in the United States and Cuber and Harroff mention many secret polygynous marriages among successful Americans. Open polygamy without religious legitimation, on pure sexual grounds, has become more popular in the fifties. It suffices to refer to the many stars who have exchanged the former serial monogamy for the harem. Also rich Westerners often keep a harem in the Third World.


Polygamy saw its highest flowering in the feudal world of nobility, kings and emperors. It should not escape our attention that the harem holders had to go to great lengths to protect the harem from intruders with the help from castrated guards, the eunuchs. We find them in the harems of the Assyrians, Persians, Chinese, Mongols, Muslims, Ottoman, Moguls, in Africa and with the Inca. the Inca and the Indians also used old man. The number of eunuchs often matches the number of guarded women.

Their presence makes us ask how the excluded men reacted on the monopolising of the women through a harem holder. In his story of the primeval father, Freud bluntly assumes that the sons let themselves be chased away by their father. Also Desmond Morris plays with the idea that the adult male would chase away the younger males and mate with the females when no other mechanisms would prevent such polygamous incest. Freud and Morris seem to take for granted that the father is stronger than his sons. Whoever assumes that also a human father can build out his harem at the expense of his sons, will have to consider that it takes very long before a son has become a grown up man. That means that the father is already over the acme of his power when he is confronted with grown up sons that are out at bereaving him of his wives: many an ageing father would have a hard time keeping his grown up sons at a distance! Moreover, not only the sons pose a problem, but also and foremost the other adult competitors. With gorillas, to which Darwin, Atkinson and Freud appeal, the harem holder is actually the strongest. Recent research reveals that he nevertheless cannot monopolise the females. Moreover, harem holders can only maintain their position for a short period: they will soon be replaced by competitors. More than often they have to resort to making alliances to expel competitors from the harem. Why should it have been different with our ancestors? Already McLennan pointed out that a male would not have been able to monopolise were it a single female, how valiant and strong he might have been. Also Shepherd thinks that males hold each other's polygamous claims in check, unless the balance of power is seriously upset. It cannot but surprise us, then, that Atkinson and Freud deem only a fraternal horde capable of eliminating the mighty primeval father...

How far more realistic are the power relations assessed with the Greek primeval father Uranus, even when this time no harem is at stake, but rather a throne! For fear of being dethroned by his sons, Uranus banishes them to the underworld. The Titans are the fruit of his affair with Gaia. His youngest son Kronos will bereave him of his member, wholly on his own. That the son castrates the father, makes us doubt whether it was actually a throne that was at stake. Be that as it may, to prevent his sons to emasculate him in their turn, he decides to cannibalise them immediately after birth.

This Greek myth was the source of inspiration of Freud's myth. It underwent a double metamorphosis: newly born sons are transformed in young men and cannibalism in castration. This double metamorphosis makes Freud's version incredible. Another Greek myth - that of Oedipus - leaves no doubt as to how Oedipus, in the bloom of his youth, saw no obstacle to killing the decrepit Laios on his own. That is why, in the Greek myth, the fathers do not await the coming of age of their sons: their power is at its highest when that of their sons is at its lowest. Laios tries to get rid of the newborn Oedipus by throwing him to the vultures. Kronos was more valiant and cannibalised his sons. Only as a Kronos is Freud's primeval father conceivable. To monopolise his (mother, sisters) and daughters, he has to kill and cannibalise his sons. That his only competitors are his children (his sons) and not adults (his brothers) was the merit of his father, who already cannibalised his brothers. It is our conviction that Freud's construction of a primeval father that castrates his sons is the outcome of a process of repression. The story of a primeval father castrating his sons conceals the spectre of the completed, almighty primeval father that cannibalises his sons.

The repression is revealed in two remarkable details in Freud's story. First, he replaces the cannibalism of the father with that of the sons, who devour the corpse of their father collectively after the murder. The kind of punishment betrays the character of the father's crime: cannibalism! If the father contented himself with castrating his sons, we would expect, according to the principle of the talio, that the rebellious fraternal horde would restrict itself equally to castration. Second, in the Greek myth, Kronos castrates his father on his own, while in Freud's story an entire fraternal horde is summoned up to kill an ageing father. Just like the brotherly cannibalism, the brotherly cooperation betrays its truth in its reversal. When the father wants to forbid his sons their access to his harem, he will have to surround himself with an horde of eunuchs, just like his historical counterparts. And it is these eunuchs that he will have to castrate, to prevent them from cuckolding him. The mythical fraternal horde must hence be understood as the reversal of the historical army of eunuchs.


Still, there is a kernel of truth in the story of the father cannibalising his sons: polygamy presupposes a surplus of women. When every male is polygamous, and every male wants to keep a harem, then there must be far more females than males. Many authors refer to such a surplus with polygamous people. Bachofen refers the to 18th century explorers Bruce and Niebuhr and to ancient authors like Pausanias and Strabo to substantiate his claim that in the Near East and Egypt there was a surplus of women (four to two against one). Many authors ascribe such a surplus to a surplus of female births. However, Darwin pointed out that there is an equilibrium of male and female births and, in 1930, Fisher described the 'Fisher principle' that accounts for a principal balance of the sexes. An imbalance had now to be ascribed to other factors. Already Darwin pointed to a higher male death as a consequence of a more difficult birth and exposure to dangers (predators and fighting). Others, like Lowie ascribe the larger male death rate to the dangers of hunting. The latter author argues that such a modest surplus does not suffice to introduce polygamy even on the modes scale of bigamy.

By contrast, many polygamous animals show a considerable surplus of fertile females. That surplus is generated not so much through a surplus of female births, nor through a larger death rate of males, but through the fact that it takes up to twice as long before males become fertile. Imagine that, with humans, girls would become fertile at twelve, boys at twenty four and that the average lifespan would be thirty six! The number of fertile females would be twice the number of fertile males. Only such a surplus of women would allow an average of two females per male. Stronger men could take more females to the detriment of weaker males.

Authors who appeal to primates in their defence of polygamy, should not forget that, with humans, there are as much fertile females as fertile males, because there is no substantial difference in the onset of puberty, especially when some initial infertile cycles are taken into account. In this light, we can cast a doubt on the contention of Hrdy's (1981) and others that humans show a degree of sexual dimorphy that is appropriate to a polygynous species. The degree of sexual dimorphy is greater with our ancestors. Male Chimpanzees are 25% larger than females, whereas as with humans man are only 5 à 12% longer than woman.And they overlook also that there is something like a menopause, which reduces the number of fertile years drastically in women. There is rather a shortage than a surplus of fertile women. When polygamous men nevertheless insist on gratifying their polygamous needs, they will have to create a surplus of women.

Such a surplus can be created in various ways. Many polygamous tribes create a surplus by postponing the marriageable age of the males or through murder on newborn boys. But real harem holders prefer war: many women in the historical harems have been conquered during military campaigns. That is the truth in the widespread theory of the 'abduction of woman', introduced in anthropology by McLennan (1865) and taken over by Lubbock, Spencer and Wundt (1916) The latter regards polygyny as a characteristic of 'the barbarian period' and distinguishes this kind of compulsory abduction from the more 'peaceful abduction' that was the habitual form of marriage in primeval times, and he describes how the habit is taken over by the 'rich' in times of peace. The term 'abduction of women' conceals the preliminary murder on men that changes the quantative relations between the sexes. By killing men in another group, their wives can be incorporated in the own group. To protect them against competition from within, it suffices to castrate some enemies and to use them as eunuchs.

It should be remarked that soldiers are killed not only in the ranks of the enemy. An additional surplus of females is created through killings of males in the own ranks. 24 percent of Yanonamo males fall in battle. The decimation of males in ware is above all a problem with 'monogamous' people. In Jan van Leydens' Munster the ratio of males to females was 1 to 5. That surplus was created in that many women of expelled Catholics remained in the city, and in that many women, who had lost their husband in war, concentrated in the city. Since all the men were allowed to be polygamous, however, the demand for women continued to exceed the supply: many girls married before puberty!. Also in Mormon Utah, the surplus was created through the influx of females converts. After the Thirty Years War, the Council of Nuremberg in 1650 pleads for temporary polygamy to cope with the surplus of women. After the First World War, Anquetil pleads for polygamy for the same reason. And the campaign of Borman mentioned above was inspired by a surplus of some three to four million women created by Hitler's wars.

He who can kill other men, can also bereave them of their wealth. He thereby acquires the means of keeping a harem. Soon, more subtle means are developed to obtain the same results. When an armed state protects private property, it suffices to accumulate monetary power to buy women. Abduction of women is then transformed into purchase of women. The bereaved men are now allowed to stay alive, but, being economically castrated, they have no means of bidding up against the rich.

The conclusion of the foregoing must be that the castration by the primeval father is only the mythical version of a historical reality: the armies that decimate each other and their successors, the rich who bereave the poor of their women!


Human polygamy is of an altogether different nature than that of our brothers, the primates. The similarities are only superficial and cannot justify any foundation of human polygamy in a supposed common inheritance shared with primates or mammals. With humans, the formation of harems depends on the extent to which economic or political inequality can be realised. That is why human polygamy flourishes in the wake of the development of military and economic power, and is even then restricted to the upper layers of the population.

Killing of enemies orabduction of their wives are the oldest methods of harem building. The historical conditions for such raids have not always been present and evolve in an unfavourable direction. Conquest of territory is increasingly unfeasible from a military point of view, and, as a consequence of the recent technological revolution, increasingly less profitable. The more military power makes place for economic power, the more abduction is replaced with purchase of women with the concomitant economic castration of men. Also economic castration - to bereave men of their power to purchase women - is doomed to disappear. The steady increase in productivity in the wake of industrialisation eliminates poverty to the extent that it becomes increasingly less rewarding to sell sexual favours. We will come back on that subject in the chapter on asceticism. And what is more, economic castration has the drawback that it does not influence the quantitative relation between men and women. Those who are economically castrated thus become a permanent threat, not so much to the harems, but of the economic privileges on which they are built in the first place. We will come back on that topic in the chapter on primeval communism', where we will describe the historical counterpart of the mythical fraternal horde.

These factors explain why the formation of harems bloomed in the pre-industrial, feudal era and they allow to predict that it is doomed to die out in the long run. Meanwhile, the prospects for open or concealed harem formation are still very good on the short term: the increasing differences between rich and poor only transform the world in a huge hunting ground for potential harem keepers, even when the harems will never attain the same huge proportions as in former times, because all the forms of whoredom have become far more attractive (see chapter IV).

Meanwhile, those who cannot afford a harem, can console themselves with the idea that the power of the harem keepers is merely relative. The excluded are out at breaking it, and they are successful in their attempts to do so. The fact alone that the mighty harem holders not only keep wives, but also eunuchs, testifies to the fact that they feel constantly threatened by competitors who are all too eager to pluck some flowers from their garden.

The conclusion, then, is inevitable. That, with humans, there are as much fertile females as fertile males cannot but lead to factual monogamy, even when all the males would have polygamous tendencies - always in the supposition that there is no political or economic inequality. The slight and only physical differences in power between the males would only allow exceptional males to monopolise a rather modest number of females. Polygamy on a rather modest scale could then be a negligible exception, but never the rule.

This conclusion should draw our attention to the fact that, for a proper approach of the problematic of polygamy (or of love in general) it is important to make a distinction between desired and factual form of marriage. Even when all marriages would be monogamous, that would not allow us to conclude that people would be monogamous. Conversely, we have to consider the possibility that the widespread practice of polygamy does not necessarily betray a supposedly polygamous human nature.

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