Polygamy  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Polygamy is having of a plurality of socially bonded sexual partners at the same time; most commonly, the marriage of a man to more than one woman, or the practice of having several wives, at the same time; -- opposed to monogamy; as, the nations of the East practiced polygamy. See the Note under bigamy, and compare polyandry and polygyny.

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Antonyms

Hyponyms

Coordinate terms

Christianity

Saint Augustine saw a conflict with Old Testament polygamy. He writes in The Good of Marriage (chapter 17) that, although it "was lawful among the ancient fathers: whether it be lawful now also, I would not hastily pronounce. For there is not now necessity of begetting children, as there then was, when, even when wives bear children, it was allowed, in order to a more numerous posterity, to marry other wives in addition, which now is certainly not lawful."

He refrained from judging the patriarchs, but did not deduce from their practice the ongoing acceptability of polygamy. However, Augustine does compare (ch 20) the relationship of woman to man in the context of marriage to slave and master, the latter (husband) can have many slaves (women) but it is against nature for woman to have many slaves (husbands). In chapter 7 he acknowledges that contemporary Christianity had followed the practice of the Roman Empire with respect to monogamy: "now indeed in our times, and after the usage of Rome, neither to marry in addition, so as to have more than one wife living" [emphasis added].

The New Testament is ambiguous with respect to polygamy. In 1 Timothy 3:2 the emphasis is on Church leaders: "A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach." Something similar is repeated in the first chapter of the Epistle of Titus; however, the author of 1 Corinthians (chapter 7, verse 2) writes, "Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband." In modern times a minority of Roman Catholic theologians have argued that polygamy, though not ideal, can be a legitimate form of Christian marriage in certain regions, in particular Africa. The Roman Catholic Church teaches in its Catechism that
"polygamy is not in accord with the moral law. [Conjugal] communion is radically contradicted by polygamy; this, in fact, directly negates the plan of God which was revealed from the beginning, because it is contrary to the equal personal dignity of men and women who in matrimony give themselves with a love that is total and therefore unique and exclusive."

Periodically, Christian reform movements that have aimed at rebuilding Christian doctrine based on the Bible alone (sola scriptura) have at least temporarily accepted polygamy as a Biblical practice. For example, during the Protestant Reformation, in a document referred to simply as "Der Beichtrat" (or "The Confessional Advice" ), Martin Luther granted the Landgrave Philip of Hesse, who, for many years, had been living "constantly in a state of adultery and fornication," a dispensation to take a second wife. The double marriage was to be done in secret however, to avoid public scandal. Some fifteen years earlier, in a letter to the Saxon Chancellor Gregor Brück, Luther stated that he could not "forbid a person to marry several wives, for it does not contradict Scripture." ("Ego sane fateor, me non posse prohibere, si quis plures velit uxores ducere, nec repugnat sacris literis.")

"On February 14, 1650, the parliament at Nürnberg decreed that, because so many men were killed during the Thirty Years’ War, the churches for the following ten years could not admit any man under the age of 60 into a monastery. Priests and ministers not bound by any monastery were allowed to marry. Lastly, the decree stated that every man was allowed to marry up to ten women. The men were admonished to behave honorably, provide for their wives properly, and prevent animosity among them."

The trend towards frequent divorce and remarriage is sometimes referred to as 'serial polygamy'. In contrast, others may refer to this as 'serial monogamy', since it is a series of monogamous relationships. The first term highlights the multiplicity of marriages throughout the life-cycle, the second the non-simultaneous nature of these marriages.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, there has often been a tension between the Christian churches' insistence on monogamy and traditional polygamy. In some instances in recent times there have been moves for accommodation; in others churches have resisted such moves strongly. African Independent Churches have sometimes referred to those parts of the Old Testament which describe polygamy in defending the practice.

Polygamy in fiction and popular culture

The quip "Bigamy is having one spouse too many. Monogamy is the same." is popularly misattributed to Oscar Wilde.

A popular joke with Mark Twain has Twain asked to cite a Scripture reference that forbids polygamy, and he responds with, "No man can serve two masters."

Science fiction, utopias, dystopias

A number of writers have expressed their views on polygamy by writing about a fictional world in which it is the most common type of relationship. These worlds tend to be utopian or dystopian in nature. For instance, Robert A. Heinlein uses this theme in a number of novels, such as Stranger in a Strange Land. Polygamy is practiced by the Fremen in Frank Herbert's Dune as a means to pinpoint male infertility. It is socially accepted as long as the man provides for all wives equally. Cultures described within the Dune novel series have intentional similarities to Islamic, Arab, and other cultures – i.e. desert cultures. Similarly, the Aiel society in Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time series practice a form of polygamy, in which multiple women may marry the same man; in that fictional culture, women are the ones who propose marriage. Among Aiel, sisters or very close friends who have adopted each other as sisters, will often marry the same man, so that he will not come between them. Ursula K. Le Guin describes a planet O, where the cultural norm is a "sedoretu" or four-person marriage (a set combination of both genders and sexual orientations). Dan Simmons describes a culture of three-person marriages (any gender ratio) in his book Endymion. In David Weber's Honor Harrington series, the inhabitants of the planet Grayson practice polygamy (polygyny) due to the human colonists to the planet acquiring a genetic defect that gave rise to a large women-to-men birth ratio combined with a high infant mortality. Honor Harrington herself is married to Hamish Alexander as his second wife alongside Emily Alexander. Their surname then becomes Alexander-Harrington. Wen Spencer's science fiction novel A Brother's Price describes a society where men are very rare and protected, and multiple sisters typically marry one man

In the Star Trek television series Enterprise, the ship's physician, Dr. Phlox (who is a Denobulan) has three wives, each of whom has three husbands of her own (including him). One of his wives seemed to be interested in having extramarital relations with a human, which Phlox himself did not oppose, and even encouraged. It has also been stated that the Andorian species enter into group marriages (although whether this is due to societal custom or biological necessity has not been firmly established.) In the Sci-Fi television series Babylon 5 the Centauris allow for men to have more than one wife. In Star Wars Expanded Universe, it is explained that Cereans (like Ki-Adi-Mundi) have a much higher birth-rate of girls than boys. Thus, every male Cerean must have one wife and multiple "honor wives", to increase the chance of giving birth to another male. Jedi Cerean Ki-Adi-Mundi was allowed to marry multiple times, although Jedi were not supposed to marry at his time; but Ki-Adi-Mundi got a dispense of that norm.

Prehistoric and historic fiction

Jean M. Auel in the pre-historic Earth's Children series depicted several instances of "co-mating," where a person could have more than one mate. Examples included the headwoman Tulie in the Mammoth Hunters, and a man who married a pair of twins in the Shelters of Stone. Also of note was Vincavec, the headman of the Mammoth Camp who wished to mate with the protagonist Ayla and was willing to take her Promised, Ranec, implying a bisexual relationship as well.

In the Chinese Wuxia novel The Deer and the Cauldron by Hong Kong writer Louis Cha, set in the Qing Dynasty era during the reign of the Kangxi Emperor, the protagonist Wei Xiaobao has seven wives. The novel has spawned numerous film and TV series adaptations since the 1960s, with renowned actors such as Tony Leung, Jordan Chan, Stephen Chow and Dicky Cheung playing the role of Wei Xiaobao.

Contemporary setting

Noted libertarian author L. Neil Smith included a character married to two sisters in his book The American Zone. The dominant culture in the novel sees one's religion and personal living accommodations as no one else's business, and "acts of capitalism between consenting adults" as the norm instead of something immoral. A Home at the End of the World is a novel by Michael Cunningham about a polygamous family. It was later adapted into a film. Both explore issues of homosexuality and families. Big Love is an HBO series about a polygamous family in Utah in the first decade of the 21st century. In the series, Bill Henrickson has three wives and eight children, who belong to a fundamentalist Mormon splinter group. Big Love explores the complex legal, moral, and religious issues associated with polygamy in Utah. Henrickson's three wives each have separate houses beside one another, with a shared backyard. By outward appearances, he lives with his primary wife, and has two "friends" living close by, while in reality taking turns sleeping at a different house each night. Henrickson effectively balances his work, the continuing demands of his wives, and his wives' relatives. Random House published David Ebershoff's novel The 19th Wife in 2008. It is about Ann Eliza Young, one of Brigham Young's wives, and the legacy of Mormon polygamy in the United States today.

See also





Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Polygamy" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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