Wedding Planner, an Ancient Profession

May 18, 2018

It may come as a surprise to some that the profession of wedding planner is very ancient.

In fact, this profession emerged as wedding rituals became more complex and elaborate, in terms of planning and preparation.  

I recently went to the “Daily Life in Ancient Greece” exhibit at the MFA in Boston.

The exhibit was very interesting and spoke about the varying activities and professions of ancient times and about peoples’ everyday lives.

I was especially pleasantly surprised at seeing a vase on which the wedding process is depicted in detail. This vase was made in around 450-425 BC.

Next to the vase was an interactive game: the vase’s images were copied onto the screen and you were asked to determine who is who in the image. And among the expected characters (bride, groom, parents, friends), there was a wedding planner!

 The institution of marriage in Ancient Greece was unusually strong. For the Greeks, the continuation of the family was incredibly important and, in fact, one’s main goal in life. Therefore, it was essential for a man to find a healthy wife capable of giving him as many children as possible (not many lived past childhood in those times), to make sure the family had an heir.

The system of choosing a bride was complex and kept parents on both sides deeply engaged.  Parents had to make sure that the marriage was mutually beneficial to both sides and would consent only in this case. The groom’s role was limited to asking the father of the bride for her hand in marriage after everything was already arranged. No one even bothered to ask the bride. As a rule, the family married off their daughters at the age of 12-14 years old, sometimes even younger, while the husbands were twice as old. The groom’s family had to wait for the girl to enter childbearing age, after which it was her task to give birth as many times as her body could.

Weddings would last three days and would include many rituals which had to be performed in strict order. A specialist was indispensable to navigate this complex sequence of events and follow all the details. Such specialists were, in essence, wedding planners.

The wedding planner was usually responsible for organizing the event on the part of the bride and was responsible for her readiness for the wedding. With the help of the Wedding planner, the bride was prepared, styled, dressed in a wedding outfit (which included a dress and a veil), and then was handed over to the groom. 

 

It is this moment that is depicted on a vase in the museum: the wedding planner checks that everything in the bride's outfit is in order, while the groom is already taking her by the hand, and the motion reveals that he owns her. 

In addition to this scene, many other characters and the order of events are depicted on the vase. In fact, it tells a whole story. It begins with the moment where the father of the bride and the groom shake hands, as if making a deal. It should be understood, however, that the Greeks did not like to associate a wedding with buying and selling, so before the wedding the bride and groom's families exchanged gifts which were perceived as a token of the bride’s family love for their daughter. This demonstrated that parents do not get rid of an unloved child, but, on the contrary, express their affection. Therefore, on the vase the groom is depicted twice: at the beginning of the story shaking hands with the father of the bride, and at the end taking the bride by her hand and leading her to the matrimonial bed. The mother of the groom stands in front of the couple with a lighted torch in hand, illuminating the road to the bedroom.

Ceramic bottles with aromatic oils for the body, bowls for washing, and metallic mirrors were gifted as wedding presents. These items were traditionally decorated with love scenes depicting the god of marriage Hymen, the god of love and sexual attraction Eros, and the goddess of love Aphrodite. Since marriages in Ancient Greece were not made for love, the newlyweds depended on the gods to ignite them with passion and love. Therefore, beautiful expensive clothes were considered a good gift as they helped to improve the couple’s looks. 

Centuries have passed and the attitude to marriage has changed significantly, as well as the institution of the family. It's funny that next to this exhibit in the museum there is a photo exhibit called “(Un) expected families”.

But no matter how future spouses find each other, wedding planners are always ready to help with the organization and celebration of their union, to remove from their shoulders unnecessary worries and stress, which often accompanies the planning process, and to allow them to concentrate on each other during the wedding, without being distracted by inevitable fuss!

 Photo credits: Primavera Dreams, Elizabeth Willis, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Preparations_for_a_wedding_-_ancient_Greek_ceramic_painting.jpg

 

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