Zenobia: Queen, Polyglot, and Historian?

The following excerpt represents the only female author included among the Fragments of the Greek Historians. Zenobia was queen of Palmyra in the 3rd Century CE.

Jacoby 626, Zenobia (from Scriptores Historiae Augustae 24.30.2-22)

“Zenobia, concerning whom many things have already been said, including the fact that she used to advertise that she was from the family of Cleopatras and Ptolemies…”

She was not completely knowledgeable of the Latin language, but she could speak it when she restrained her shame. She also spoke Egyptian with near perfection. Indeed, she knew the history of Alexandria and the East so well that it is said she wrote a primer on it. She read the Latin [part of the history], however, in Greek.”

2 … Zenobia de qua multa iam dicta sunt quae se de Cleopatrarum Ptolemaeorumque gente iactaret …

21 ipsa Latini sermonis non usque quaque gnara, sed ut loqueretur pudore cohibita; loquebatur et Aegyptiace ad perfectum modum. 22 historiae Alexandrinae atque orientalis ita perita, ut eam epitomasse dicatur; Latinam autem Graece legerat.


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One thought on “Zenobia: Queen, Polyglot, and Historian?

  1. I suspect that Zenobia featured in Gibbon’s fantasies:

    “Her teeth were of a pearly whiteness, and her large black eyes sparkled with uncommon fire, tempered by the most attractive sweetness. Her voice was strong and harmonious. Her manly understanding was strengthened and adorned by study. She was not ignorant of the Latin tongue, but possesed in equal perfection the Greek, the Syriac, and the Egyptian languages. She had drawn up for her own use an epitome of oriental history, and familiarly compared the beauties of Homer and Plato under the tuition of the sublime Longinus.”

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