Telesilla: Argive Woman, Warrior Poet

From Pausanias,  2.20.8-10

“Beyond the theater is the shrine of Aphrodite. In front of the foundation is a stele on which Telesilla, a poet of lyric, is depicted. Her books are tossed near her feet while she looks at the helmet she holds in her hand as she is about to put it on her head. Telesilla was famous among women and especially honored for her poetry.

But a greater story about her comes from when the Argives were bested by Kleomenes the son of Alexandrides and the Lakedaimonians. Some Argives died during the battle itself and however many fled to the grove of Ares died there too—at first they left the grove under an armistice but they realized they were deceived and were burned with the rest in the grove. As a result, Kleomenes led the Spartans to an Argos bereft of men.

But Telesilla stationed on the wall of the city all the slaves who were unable to bear arms because of youth or old age and, after collecting however many weapons had been left in homes or in the shrines, she armed all the women at the strongest age and once she had armed herself they took up posts were the army was going to attack.

When the Spartans came near and the women were not awestruck by their battle-cry but waited and were fighting bravely, then the Spartans, because they reasoned that if they killed the women the victory would be ill-rumored even as their own defeat would come with great insult, yielded to the women.

The Pythian priestess had predicted this contest earlier in the prophecy relayed by Herodotus who may or may not have understood it (6.77):

But when the female conquers the male
And drives him away and wins glory for the Argives,
It will make many Argive women tear their cheeks.

These are the words of the oracle on the women’s accomplishment.”

ὑπὲρ δὲ τὸ θέατρον ᾿Αφροδίτης ἐστὶν ἱερόν, ἔμπροσθεν δὲ τοῦ ἕδους Τελέσιλλα ἡ ποιήσασα τὰ ᾄσματα ἐπείργασται στήλῃ· καὶ βιβλία μὲν ἐκεῖνα ἔρριπταί οἱ πρὸς τοῖς ποσίν, αὐτὴ δὲ ἐς κράνος ὁρᾷ κατέχουσα τῇ χειρὶ καὶ ἐπιτίθεσθαι τῇ κεφαλῇ μέλλουσα. ἦν δὲ ἡ Τελέσιλλα καὶ ἄλλως ἐν ταῖς γυναιξὶν εὐδόκιμος καὶ μᾶλλον ἐτιμᾶτο ἔτι ἐπὶ τῇ ποιήσει. συμβάντος δὲ ᾿Αργείοις ἀτυχῆσαι λόγου μειζόνως πρὸς Κλεομένην τὸν ᾿Αναξανδρίδου καὶ Λακεδαιμονίους, καὶ τῶν μὲν ἐν αὐτῇ πεπτωκότων τῇ μάχῃ, ὅσοι δὲ ἐς τὸ ἄλσος τοῦ ῎Αργου κατέφευγον διαφθαρέντων καὶ τούτων, τὰ μὲν πρῶτα ἐξιόντων κατὰ ὁμολογίαν, ὡς δὲ ἔγνωσαν ἀπατώμενοι συγκατακαυθέντων τῷ ἄλσει τῶν λοιπῶν, οὕτω τοὺς Λακεδαιμονίους Κλεομένης ἦγεν ἐπὶ ἔρημον ἀνδρῶν τὸ ῎Αργος. Τελέσιλλα δὲ οἰκέτας μὲν καὶ ὅσοι διὰ νεότητα ἢ γῆρας ὅπλα ἀδύνατοι φέρειν ἦσαν, τούτους μὲν πάντας ἀνεβίβασεν ἐπὶ τὸ τεῖχος, αὐτὴ δὲ ὁπόσα ἐν ταῖς οἰκίαις ὑπελείπετο καὶ τὰ ἐκ τῶν ἱερῶν ὅπλα ἀθροίσασα τὰς ἀκμαζούσας ἡλικίᾳ τῶν γυναικῶν ὥπλιζεν, ὁπλίσασα δὲ ἔτασσε κατὰ τοῦτο ᾗ τοὺς πολεμίους προσιόντας ἠπίστατο. ὡς δὲ <ἐγγὺς> ἐγίνοντο οἱ Λακεδαιμόνιοι καὶ αἱ γυναῖκες οὔτε τῷ ἀλαλαγμῷ  κατεπλάγησαν δεξάμεναί τε ἐμάχοντο ἐρρωμένως, ἐνταῦθα οἱ Λακεδαιμόνιοι, φρονήσαντες ὡς καὶ διαφθείρασί σφισι τὰς γυναῖκας ἐπιφθόνως τὸ κατόρθωμα ἕξει καὶ σφαλεῖσι μετὰ ὀνειδῶν γενήσοιτο ἡ συμφορά, ὑπείκουσι ταῖς γυναιξί. πρότερον δὲ ἔτι τὸν ἀγῶνα τοῦτον προεσήμηνεν ἡ Πυθία, καὶ τὸ λόγιον εἴτε ἄλλως εἴτε καὶ ὡς συνεὶς ἐδήλωσεν ῾Ηρόδοτος·

ἀλλ’ ὅταν ἡ θήλεια τὸν ἄρρενα νικήσασα
ἐξελάσῃ καὶ κῦδος ἐν ᾿Αργείοισιν ἄρηται,
πολλὰς ᾿Αργείων ἀμφιδρυφέας τότε θήσει.

τὰ μὲν ἐς τὸ ἔργον τῶν γυναικῶν ἔχοντα τοῦ χρησμοῦ ταῦτα ἦν·

Telesilla

Plutarch, On the Virtues of Women 245d-f6 reports a version of this tale; the Suda (s.v. Telesilla) likely takes its account from Pausanias.

“Telesilla, a poetess. On a stele her books are tossed around and she has placed a helmet on her head. And When the Lakedaimonians slaughtered the Argives who had fled to a shrine and were heading to the city to sack it, then Telesilla armed the women of the right age and set them against where they were marching. When the Lakedaimonians saw this, they turned back because they believed it shameful to fight against women whom it would be inglorious to conquer but a great reproached to be defeated by….” [the oracle is listed next”

Τελέσιλλα, ποιήτρια. ἐπὶ στήλης τὰ μὲν βιβλία ἀπέρριπτε, κράνος δὲ τῇ κεφαλῇ περιέθηκε. καὶ γὰρ ὅτε Λακεδαιμόνιοι τοὺς ἐν τῷ ἱερῷ τοῦ ῎Αργους καταφυγόντας διέφθειρον καὶ πρὸς τὴν πόλιν ᾔεσαν ὡς αἱρήσοντες, τότε Τελέσιλλα τὰς ἐν ἡλικίᾳ γυναῖκας ὁπλίσασα ὑπήντησεν οἷ προσῄεσαν. ὅπερ ἰδόντες οἱ Λακεδαιμόνιοι ἐς τοὐπίσω ὑπέστρεψαν, αἰσχρὸν νομίσαντες γυναιξὶ πολεμεῖν, ἃς καὶ τὸ νικᾶν ἄδοξον καὶ ἡττᾶσθαι μέγα ὄνειδος. ἐς τοῦτο καὶ ὁ χρησμὸς πεπλήρωτο, ᾿Αργείοις λέγων· ἀλλ’ ὅταν ἡ θήλεια τὸν ἄρρενα νικήσασα ἐξελάσῃ καὶ κῦδος ᾿Αργείοισιν ἄρηται, πολλὰς ᾿Αργείων ἀμφιδρυφέας τότε θήσει.

The extant fragments of Telesilla are not much to work with (each line is a separate fragment:

ἁ δ’ ῎Αρτεμις, ὦ κόραι,

φεύγοισα τὸν ᾿Αλφεόν

φιληλιάς,

†βελτιώτας

δῖνον.

οὐλοκίκιννε

〚ποιητριαν〛

〚Τελεσ̣ι̣λ̣λα̣ν̣〛

Tacitus on Germanic Standards for Women and Child-Rearing

Some of the rhetoric here seems a bit familiar…

Tacitus, Germania 19-20

In that country, no one finds vice amusing; nor is seducing or being seduced celebrated as a sign of the times. Even better are those communities where only virgins marry and a promise is made with the hope and vow of a wife. And so, they have only one husband just as each has one body and one life so that there may be no additional thought of it, no lingering desire, that they may not love the man so much as they love the marriage. It is considered a sin to limit the number of children or to eliminate the later born. There good customs are stronger than good laws.

There are children there naked and dirty in every house growing into the size of limbs and body at which we wonder. Each mother nourishes each child with her own breasts; they are not passed around to maids and nurses.”

nemo enim illic vitia ridet, nec corrumpere et corrumpi saeculum vocatur. melius quidem adhuc eae civitates, in quibus tantum virgines nubunt et cum spe votoque uxoris semel transigitur. sic unum accipiunt maritum quo modo unum corpus unamque vitam, ne ulla cogitatio ultra, ne longior cupiditas, ne tamquam maritum, sed tamquam matrimonium ament. numerum liberorum finire aut quemquam ex agnatis necare flagitium habetur, plusque ibi boni mores valent quam alibi bonae leges.In omni domo nudi ac sordidi in hos artus, in haec corpora, quae miramur, excrescunt. sua quemque mater uberibus alit, nec ancillis aut nutricibus delegantur.

Image result for medieval manuscript Tacitus germania

Festivals for Women and Different Marriage Customs

Paradoxographus Vaticanus, 25-28, 45

25 “Among the Iberians there is a tribe [and] and in a certain festival they honor women with gifts, however so many demonstrate at that time that they can weave the most numerous and beautiful cloaks.”

Παρὰ τοῖς ῎Ιβηρσιν ἔθνος ἐστὶ ἐν ἑορτῇ τινι τὰς γυναῖκας τιμῶν δώροις, ὅσαι ἂν πλεῖστα καὶ κάλλιστα ἱμάτια ὑφήνασαι τότε ἐπιδείξωσιν.

26 “Among the Krobuzoi it is the custom to mourn when an infant is born and consider the one who dies lucky”

Παρὰ Κροβύζοις ἔθος ἐστὶ τὸ μὲν γεννώμενον βρέφος θρηνεῖν, τὸν δὲ θανόντα εὐδαιμονίζειν.

27 “Among the Nasamoi in Libya it is the custom that on the first day a woman is married that she has sex with everyone who is present and then take gifts from them. After that, she has sex only with the one who marries her.”

Παρὰ Νασαμῶσι τοῖς ἐν Λιβύῃ νόμος ἐστὶ τὴν γαμουμένην τῇ πρώτῃ ἡμέρᾳ συγγίνεσθαι πᾶσι τοῖς παροῦσι καὶ παρ’ αὐτῶν δῶρα λαμβάνειν καὶ μετὰ τοῦτο τῷ γήμαντι μόνῳ μίγνυσθαι.

28 “The women of the Sauromatoi do not get married unless they kill an enemy man.”

Αἱ τῶν Σαυροματῶν γυναῖκες οὐ πρότερον γαμοῦνται, ἂν μὴ ἄνδρα κτάνωσι πολέμιον.

45 “The Liburnians have shared wives and they raise their children in common for five years. When they make it to the eighth year, they compare the children for their similarity to the men and they distribute to each one who is similar. And that one keeps him as a son.”

Λιβύρνιοι κοινὰς τὰς γυναῖκας ἔχουσι καὶ τὰ τέκνα ἐν κοινῷ τρέφουσι μέχρι ἐτῶν πέντε· εἶτα τῷ ἔκτῳ συνενέγκαντες ἅπαντα τὰ παιδία τὰς ὁμοιότητας πρὸς τοὺς ἄνδρας εἰκάζουσι, καὶ ἑκάστῳ τὸν ὅμοιον ἀποδιδόασι, καὶ λοιπὸν ἐκεῖνος ὡς υἱὸν ἔχει.

51 “The Assyrians sell their daughters in the marketplace to whoever wants to settle down with them. First the most well-born and most beautiful and then the rest in order. Whenever they get to the least attractive, they announce how much someone is willing to take to live with them and they add this consolation price from the fee charged for the desirable girls to these [last ones].”

᾿Ασσύριοι τὰς παρθένους ἐν ἀγορᾷ πωλοῦσι τοῖς θέλουσι συνοικεῖν, πρῶτον μὲν τὰς εὐγενεστάτας καὶ καλλίστας, εἶτα τὰς λοιπὰς ἐφεξῆς· ὅταν δὲ ἔλθωσι ἐπὶ τὰς φαυλοτάτας, κηρύττουσι πόσον τις θέλει προσλαβὼν ταύταις συνοικεῖν, καὶ τὸ συναχθὲν ἐκ τῆς τῶν εὐπρεπῶν τιμῆς ταύταις προστίθενται [ταῖς παρθένοις].

Image result for ancient greek wedding

A Natural Fix for the Public Housing Crisis

Strabo 16

“The Khelônophagoi live underneath turtle shells that are big enough to sail in too. Some of them, because a lot of seaweed is cast onto the shore and makes piles as high as hills, dig into them and live inside. They dispose of corpses as food for fish by allowing them to be drawn away in the high tides.

Three islands are situated in a row: they are named Turtle Island, Seal Island, and Hawk Island. The whole shoreline has palm-trees, olive trees, and laurels and this is not just in the straits but on the outside too. There is a certain Philip’s island, facing which, above the coastline, is a hunting preserve for elephants which is called Pythangelos’ Hunting Ground.

Next to this is Arsinoê which has a city and harbor and beyond these, to Deirê above which is another hunting preserve for elephants. The land right above Deirê is rich in aromatics: the first part part produces myrrh—and it is the land of the Fish-Eaters and Meat-Eaters—and it also produces persea and the Egyptian sykamin. Beyond this land is Likha, another hunting ground for elephants. Frequently there are pools of rain water in the region and when these dry, the elephants dig with their tusks and teeth and uncover water.

On that coast, there are two enormous lakes extending up as far as the Pytholaian headland. One of them has salt water and they call it a sea; the other is fresh and contains both hippopotamuses and crocodiles. It also has papyrus on its shores. People also find the Ibis around this lake. Starting near the Pytholaus, the people who live there have unblemished bodies….”

  1. Οἱ δὲ Χελωνοφάγοι τοῖς ὀστράκοις αὐτῶν σκεπάζονται μεγάλοις οὖσιν, ὥστε καὶ πλεῖσθαι ἐν αὐτοῖς· ἔνιοι δὲ τοῦ φύκους ἀποβεβλημένου πολλοῦ καὶ θῖνας ὑψηλὰς καὶ λοφώδεις ποιοῦντος, ὑπορύττοντες ταύτας ὑποικοῦσι. τοὺς δὲ νεκροὺς ῥίπτουσι τροφὴν τοῖς ἰχθύσιν, ἀναλαμβανομένους ὑπὸ τῶν πλημμυρίδων. τῶν δὲ νήσων τινὲς τρεῖς ἐφεξῆς κεῖνται, ἡ μὲν Χελωνῶν, ἡ δὲ Φωκῶν, ἡ δ᾿ Ἱεράκων λεγομένη· πᾶσα δ᾿ ἡ παραλία φοίνικάς τε ἔχει καὶ ἐλαιῶνας καὶ δαφνῶνας, οὐχ ἡ ἐντὸς τῶν στενῶν μόνον, ἀλλὰ καὶ τῆς ἐκτὸς πολλή. ἔστι δέ τις καὶ Φιλίππου νῆσος, καθ᾿ ἣν ὑπέρκειται τὸ Πυθαγγέλου καλούμενον τῶν ἐλεφάντων κυνήγιον· εἶτ᾿ Ἀρσινόη πόλις καὶ λιμήν, καὶ μετὰ ταῦτα ἡ Δειρή· καὶ τούτων ὑπέρκειται θήρα τῶν ἐλεφάντων. ἀπὸ δὲ τῆς Δειρῆς ἡ ἐφεξῆς ἐστιν ἀρωματοφόρος, πρώτη μὲν ἡ τὴν σμύρναν φέρουσα (καὶ αὕτη μὲν Ἰχθυοφάγων καὶ Κρεοφάγων), φύει δὲ καὶ περσέαν καὶ συκάμινον Αἰγύπτιον· ὑπέρκειται δὲ ἡ Λίχα θήρα τῶν ἐλεφάντων· πολλαχοῦ δ᾿ εἰσὶ συστάδες τῶν ὀμβρίων ὑδάτων, ὧν ἀναξηρανθεισῶν οἱ ἐλέφαντες ταῖς προβοσκίσι καὶ τοῖς ὀδοῦσι φρεωρυχοῦσι καὶ ἀνευρίσκουσιν ὕδωρ. ἐν δὲ τῇ παραλίᾳ ταύτῃ μέχρι τοῦ Πυθολάου ἀκρωτηρίου δύο λίμναι εἰσὶν εὐμεγέθεις· ἡ μὲν ἁλμυροῦ ὕδατος, ἣν καλοῦσι θάλατταν, ἡ δὲ γλυκέος, ἣ τρέφει καὶ ἵππους ποταμίους καὶ κροκοδείλους, περὶ τὰ χείλη δὲ πάπυρον· ὁρῶνται δὲ καὶ ἴβεις περὶ τὸν τόπον. ἤδη δὲ καὶ οἱ πλησίον τῆς ἄκρας τῆς Πυθολάουτὰ σώματα ὁλόκληροί
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Silver Turtle Stater from Aigina

Homer’s Tales and The Narrative Animal

Strabo, Geography 1.2.7-8

Homer tells precisely of not merely the neighboring lands and Greece itself—as Eratosthenes has claimed—but many other places farther afield too and he tells his myths better than those who followed him. For he does not offer every tale for wonder only, but also to contribute to knowledge—especially in the wanderings of Odysseus—he allegorizes, provides warnings, and delights [his audiences]. This is something [Eratosthenes] is really wrong about when he asserts that the poet and his interpreters are fools. This is a subject worth speaking on to a much greater extent.”

The first point is that it is not only poets who used myths, but cities and lawmakers did too for the sake of their usefulness, once they noted the native disposition of the story-oriented animal. For Humans love to learn; loving stories is a prelude to this. This is why children start by listening and making a common ground in stories.

The reason for this is that story/myth is a novel-kind-of-thought [to them] which helps them thing not about what they already know but about different kinds of things too. To children we are obliged to hold out such enticements, in order that in riper years, when the mind is powerful, and no longer needs such stimulants, it may be prepared to enter on the study of actual realities.

There is sweetness in novelty and what someone does not already know, This is the very thing that also creates a love-of-learning. Whenever something amazing and ominous is present, it nurtures pleasure, which is a magic charm for learning. In the early years it is necessary to use these types of attractions, but when age increases toward the study of things as they really are, then the understanding has advanced and no longer requires flatteries.”

᾿αλλ᾽ οὐδὲ τὰ σύνεγγυς μόνον, ὥσπερ Ἐρατοσθένης εἴρηκε, καὶ τὰ ἐν τοῖς Ἕλλησιν, ἀλλὰ καὶ τῶν πόρρω πολλὰ λέγει καὶ δι᾽ ἀκριβείας Ὅμηρος καὶ μᾶλλόν γε τῶν ὕστερον μυθολογεῖται, οὐ πάντα τερατευόμενος, ἀλλὰ καὶ πρὸς ἐπιστήμην ἀλληγορῶν ἢ διασκευάζων ἢ δημαγωγῶν ἄλλα τε καὶ τὰ περὶ τὴν Ὀδυσσέως πλάνην, περὶ ἧς πολλὰ διαμαρτάνει τούς τ᾽ ἐξηγητὰς φλυάρους ἀποφαίνων καὶ αὐτὸν τὸν ποιητήν: περὶ ὧν ἄξιον εἰπεῖν διὰ πλειόνων.

καὶ πρῶτον ὅτι τοὺς μύθους ἀπεδέξαντο οὐχ οἱ ποιηταὶ μόνον, ἀλλὰ καὶ αἱ πόλεις πολὺ πρότερον καὶ οἱ νομοθέται τοῦ χρησίμου χάριν, βλέψαντες εἰς τὸ φυσικὸν πάθος τοῦ λογικοῦ ζῴου: φιλειδήμων γὰρ ἅνθρωπος, προοίμιον δὲ τούτου τὸ φιλόμυθον. ἐντεῦθεν οὖν ἄρχεται τὰ παιδία ἀκροᾶσθαι καὶ κοινωνεῖν λόγων ἐπὶ πλεῖον.

αἴτιον δ᾽, ὅτι καινολογία τίς ἐστιν ὁ μῦθος, οὐ τὰ καθεστηκότα φράζων ἀλλ᾽ ἕτερα παρὰ ταῦτα: ἡδὺ δὲ τὸ καινὸν καὶ ὃ μὴ πρότερον ἔγνω τις: τοῦτο δ᾽ αὐτό ἐστι καὶ τὸ ποιοῦν φιλειδήμονα. ὅταν δὲ προσῇ καὶ τὸ θαυμαστὸν καὶ τὸ τερατῶδες, ἐπιτείνει τὴν ἡδονήν, ἥπερ ἐστὶ τοῦ μανθάνειν φίλτρον. κατ᾽ ἀρχὰς μὲν οὖν ἀνάγκη τοιούτοις δελέασι χρῆσθαι, προϊούσης δὲ τῆς ἡλικίας ἐπὶ τὴν τῶν ὄντων μάθησιν ἄγειν, ἤδη τῆς διανοίας ἐρρωμένης καὶ μηκέτι δεομένης κολάκων.

Jerome Bruner, Actual Minds, Possible Worlds. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986.

123: “The most general implication is that a culture is constantly in process of being recreated as it is interpreted and renegotiated by its members. In this view, a culture is as much a forum for negotiating meaning and for explicating action as it is a set of rules or specifications for action. Indeed, every culture maintains specialized institutions or occasions for intensifying this “forum-like” feature. Storytelling, theater, science, even jurisprudence are all techniques for intensifying this function—ways of exploring possible worlds out of the context of immediate need. Education is (or should be) one of the principal forums for performing this function—though it is often timid in doing so. It is the forum aspect of a culture that gives its participants a role in constantly making and remaking the culture…”

Bern Le Hunte and Jan A. Golembiewski. “Stories Have the Power to Save Us: A Neurological Framework for the Imperative to Tell Stories.” Arts and Social Sciences Journal 5.2 (2014) 73-76.

73: “The claim that stories have the power to save us is audacious, yet it is one that can be validated by neuroscience. This article demonstrates that the brain is hard-wired to process stories in a most fundamental way, indicating the evolutionary priority that storytelling has had in human development, and the importance it has in forging a future humanity.”

Edward O. Wilson. “On Free Will and How the Brain is Like a Colony of Ants.” Harper’s September 2014, 49-52.

51: “The final reason for optimism is the human necessity for confabulation, which offers more evidence of a material basis to consciousness. Our minds consist of storytelling.”

Jonathan Gottschall. The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human. Boston: Mariner Books, 2012.

58: “The psychologist and novelist Keith Oakley calls stories the flight simulators of human social life.”

Mark Turner. The Literary Mind: The Origins of Thought and Language. Oxford: 1996.

4-5: “narrative imagining—story—is the fundamental instrument of thought. Rational capacities depend upon it. It is our chief means of looking into the future, of predicting, of planning, and of explaining. It is a literary capacity indispensable to human cognition generally. This is the first way in which the mind is essentially literary.”

[Large Figures on the North Porch, Chartres Cathedral]
A story waiting to be told…

Hold Olympics, End a Plague? Make Herakles Your Friend Too

Pausanias, Description of Greece, 5.4.5-6

“After Oksulos, Laias, his son, held power, but I have learned that his descendants did not rule as kings. I am going to pass over them even though I know who they are, since I do not want my story to descend to talking about private citizens.

Later on, Iphitos, who was a descendant of Oksulos and around the same age as Lukourgos who wrong the laws for the Spartans, he organized the contests at Olympia and re-organized the Olympic festival and the truce from the beginning, since the games had been neglected for some amount of time. I explain this in the parts of my record which discuss the region of Olympia.

It was Iphitos’ responsibility to ask the god in Delphi for a relief from suffering since Greece was at that time especially suffering destruction from civil strife and epidemic disease. The story is that the Pythia commanded that Iphitos himself had to renew the Olympic Games along with the Eleians. Iphitos persuaded the Eleians to sacrifice to Herakles too, even though that had previously believed that Herakles was their enemy.

The inscription at Olympia claims that Iphitos was the child of Haimon. But most Greeks say that he was the son of Praksônides, not Haimôn. But the Eleians’ ancient writings attribute Iphitos to a father of the same name.”

μετὰ δὲ ῎Οξυλον Λαίας ἔσχεν ὁ ᾽Οξύλου τὴν ἀρχήν, οὐ μὴν τούς γε ἀπογόνους αὐτοῦ βασιλεύοντας εὕρισκον, καὶ σφᾶς ἐπιστάμενος ὅμως παρίημι· οὐ γάρ τί μοι καταβῆναι τὸν λόγον ἠθέλησα ἐς ἄνδρας ἰδιώτας. χρόνωι δὲ ὕστερον ῎Ιφιτος, γένος μὲν ὢν ἀπὸ ᾽Οξύλου, ἡλικίαν δὲ κατὰ Λυκοῦργον τὸν γράψαντα Λακεδαιμονίοις τοὺς νόμους, τὸν ἀγῶνα διέθηκεν ἐν ᾽Ολυμπίαι πανήγυρίν τε Ολυμπικὴν αὖθις ἐξ ἀρχῆς καὶ ἐκεχειρίαν κατεστήσατο, ἐκλιπόντα ἐπὶ χρόνον ὁπόσος δὴ οὗτος ἦν. αἰτίαν δέ, δι᾽ ἥντινα ἐξέλιπε τὰ ᾽Ολύμπια, ἐν τοῖς ἔχουσιν ἐς ᾽Ολυμπίαν τοῦ λόγου δηλώσω. (6) τῶι δὲ ᾽Ιφίτωι, φθειρομένης τότε δὴ μάλιστα τῆς ῾Ελλάδος ὑπὸ ἐμφυλίων στάσεων καὶ ὑπὸ νόσου λοιμώδους, ἐπῆλθεν αἰτῆσαι τὸν ἐν Δελφοῖς θεὸν λύσιν τῶν κακῶν· καί οἱ προσταχθῆναί φασιν ὑπὸ τῆς Πυθίας ὡς αὐτόν τε ῎Ιφιτον δέοι καὶ ᾽Ηλείους τὸν ᾽Ολυμπικὸν ἀγῶνα ἀνανεώσασθαι. ἔπεισε δὲ ᾽Ηλείους ῎Ιφιτος καὶ ῾Ηρακλεῖ θύειν, τὸ πρὸ τούτου πολέμιόν σφισιν ῾Ηρακλέα εἶναι νομίζοντας. τὸν δὲ ῎Ιφιτον τὸ ἐπίγραμμα τὸ ἐν ᾽Ολυμπίαι φησὶν Αἵμονος παῖδα εἶναι· ῾Ελλήνων δὲ οἱ πολλοὶ Πραξωνίδου καὶ οὐχ Αἵμονος εἶναί φασι· τὰ δὲ ᾽Ηλείων γράμματα ἀρχαῖα ἐς πατέρα ὁμώνυμον ἀνῆγε τὸν ῎Ιφιτον.

File:A competitor in the long jump, Black-figured Tyrrhenian amphora showing athletes and a combat scene, Greek, but made for the Etruscan market, 540 BC, found near Rome, Winning at the ancient Games, British Museum (7675649600).jpg
Jump Your Way to Health! Black Figure Vase, British Museum

Telesilla: Argive Woman, Warrior Poet

From Pausanias,  2.20.8-10

“Beyond the theater is the shrine of Aphrodite. In front of the foundation is a stele on which Telesilla, a poet of lyric, is depicted. Her books are tossed near her feet while she looks at the helmet she holds in her hand as she is about to put it on her head. Telesilla was famous among women and especially honored for her poetry.

But a greater story about her comes from when the Argives were bested by Kleomenes the son of Alexandrides and the Lakedaimonians. Some Argives died during the battle itself and however many fled to the grove of Ares died there too—at first they left the grove under an armistice but they realized they were deceived and were burned with the rest in the grove. As a result, Kleomenes led the Spartans to an Argos bereft of men.

But Telesilla stationed on the wall of the city all the slaves who were unable to bear arms because of youth or old age and, after collecting however many weapons had been left in homes or in the shrines, she armed all the women at the strongest age and once she had armed herself they took up posts were the army was going to attack.

When the Spartans came near and the women were not awestruck by their battle-cry but waited and were fighting bravely, then the Spartans, because they reasoned that if they killed the women the victory would be ill-rumored even as their own defeat would come with great insult, yielded to the women.

The Pythian priestess had predicted this contest earlier in the prophecy relayed by Herodotus who may or may not have understood it (6.77):

But when the female conquers the male
And drives him away and wins glory for the Argives,
It will make many Argive women tear their cheeks.

These are the words of the oracle on the women’s accomplishment.”

ὑπὲρ δὲ τὸ θέατρον ᾿Αφροδίτης ἐστὶν ἱερόν, ἔμπροσθεν δὲ τοῦ ἕδους Τελέσιλλα ἡ ποιήσασα τὰ ᾄσματα ἐπείργασται στήλῃ· καὶ βιβλία μὲν ἐκεῖνα ἔρριπταί οἱ πρὸς τοῖς ποσίν, αὐτὴ δὲ ἐς κράνος ὁρᾷ κατέχουσα τῇ χειρὶ καὶ ἐπιτίθεσθαι τῇ κεφαλῇ μέλλουσα. ἦν δὲ ἡ Τελέσιλλα καὶ ἄλλως ἐν ταῖς γυναιξὶν εὐδόκιμος καὶ μᾶλλον ἐτιμᾶτο ἔτι ἐπὶ τῇ ποιήσει. συμβάντος δὲ ᾿Αργείοις ἀτυχῆσαι λόγου μειζόνως πρὸς Κλεομένην τὸν ᾿Αναξανδρίδου καὶ Λακεδαιμονίους, καὶ τῶν μὲν ἐν αὐτῇ πεπτωκότων τῇ μάχῃ, ὅσοι δὲ ἐς τὸ ἄλσος τοῦ ῎Αργου κατέφευγον διαφθαρέντων καὶ τούτων, τὰ μὲν πρῶτα ἐξιόντων κατὰ ὁμολογίαν, ὡς δὲ ἔγνωσαν ἀπατώμενοι συγκατακαυθέντων τῷ ἄλσει τῶν λοιπῶν, οὕτω τοὺς Λακεδαιμονίους Κλεομένης ἦγεν ἐπὶ ἔρημον ἀνδρῶν τὸ ῎Αργος. Τελέσιλλα δὲ οἰκέτας μὲν καὶ ὅσοι διὰ νεότητα ἢ γῆρας ὅπλα ἀδύνατοι φέρειν ἦσαν, τούτους μὲν πάντας ἀνεβίβασεν ἐπὶ τὸ τεῖχος, αὐτὴ δὲ ὁπόσα ἐν ταῖς οἰκίαις ὑπελείπετο καὶ τὰ ἐκ τῶν ἱερῶν ὅπλα ἀθροίσασα τὰς ἀκμαζούσας ἡλικίᾳ τῶν γυναικῶν ὥπλιζεν, ὁπλίσασα δὲ ἔτασσε κατὰ τοῦτο ᾗ τοὺς πολεμίους προσιόντας ἠπίστατο. ὡς δὲ <ἐγγὺς> ἐγίνοντο οἱ Λακεδαιμόνιοι καὶ αἱ γυναῖκες οὔτε τῷ ἀλαλαγμῷ  κατεπλάγησαν δεξάμεναί τε ἐμάχοντο ἐρρωμένως, ἐνταῦθα οἱ Λακεδαιμόνιοι, φρονήσαντες ὡς καὶ διαφθείρασί σφισι τὰς γυναῖκας ἐπιφθόνως τὸ κατόρθωμα ἕξει καὶ σφαλεῖσι μετὰ ὀνειδῶν γενήσοιτο ἡ συμφορά, ὑπείκουσι ταῖς γυναιξί. πρότερον δὲ ἔτι τὸν ἀγῶνα τοῦτον προεσήμηνεν ἡ Πυθία, καὶ τὸ λόγιον εἴτε ἄλλως εἴτε καὶ ὡς συνεὶς ἐδήλωσεν ῾Ηρόδοτος·

ἀλλ’ ὅταν ἡ θήλεια τὸν ἄρρενα νικήσασα
ἐξελάσῃ καὶ κῦδος ἐν ᾿Αργείοισιν ἄρηται,
πολλὰς ᾿Αργείων ἀμφιδρυφέας τότε θήσει.

τὰ μὲν ἐς τὸ ἔργον τῶν γυναικῶν ἔχοντα τοῦ χρησμοῦ ταῦτα ἦν·

Telesilla

Plutarch, On the Virtues of Women 245d-f6 reports a version of this tale; the Suda (s.v. Telesilla) likely takes its account from Pausanias.

“Telesilla, a poetess. On a stele her books are tossed around and she has placed a helmet on her head. And When the Lakedaimonians slaughtered the Argives who had fled to a shrine and were heading to the city to sack it, then Telesilla armed the women of the right age and set them against where they were marching. When the Lakedaimonians saw this, they turned back because they believed it shameful to fight against women whom it would be inglorious to conquer but a great reproached to be defeated by….” [the oracle is listed next”

Τελέσιλλα, ποιήτρια. ἐπὶ στήλης τὰ μὲν βιβλία ἀπέρριπτε, κράνος δὲ τῇ κεφαλῇ περιέθηκε. καὶ γὰρ ὅτε Λακεδαιμόνιοι τοὺς ἐν τῷ ἱερῷ τοῦ ῎Αργους καταφυγόντας διέφθειρον καὶ πρὸς τὴν πόλιν ᾔεσαν ὡς αἱρήσοντες, τότε Τελέσιλλα τὰς ἐν ἡλικίᾳ γυναῖκας ὁπλίσασα ὑπήντησεν οἷ προσῄεσαν. ὅπερ ἰδόντες οἱ Λακεδαιμόνιοι ἐς τοὐπίσω ὑπέστρεψαν, αἰσχρὸν νομίσαντες γυναιξὶ πολεμεῖν, ἃς καὶ τὸ νικᾶν ἄδοξον καὶ ἡττᾶσθαι μέγα ὄνειδος. ἐς τοῦτο καὶ ὁ χρησμὸς πεπλήρωτο, ᾿Αργείοις λέγων· ἀλλ’ ὅταν ἡ θήλεια τὸν ἄρρενα νικήσασα ἐξελάσῃ καὶ κῦδος ᾿Αργείοισιν ἄρηται, πολλὰς ᾿Αργείων ἀμφιδρυφέας τότε θήσει.

The extant fragments of Telesilla are not much to work with (each line is a separate fragment:

ἁ δ’ ῎Αρτεμις, ὦ κόραι,

φεύγοισα τὸν ᾿Αλφεόν

φιληλιάς,

†βελτιώτας

δῖνον.

οὐλοκίκιννε

〚ποιητριαν〛

〚Τελεσ̣ι̣λ̣λα̣ν̣〛

Val Max on Indian and Phoenician Women

Valerius Maximus, Memorable Words and Deeds 2.6.14-15

“But why must I praise the bravest men in this category? Take, for example, the women of the Indians, who by national custom are typically married to the same man. When that man has died they submit to a contest and judgment about who of them he loved the most. The winner, as she celebrates with joy and is led by her friends who have happy faces, casts herself upon the flames of her husband and is cremated with him as if the happiest women.

Those who lost persist in a saddened life of grief. Compare Cimbrian daring, add to it the Celtiberian loyalty, insert the Tracian spirit, and even weave in the cleverly developed Lycian method of rejecting grief, you will still find nothing superior to the Indian pyre, which the wifely devotion climbs onto as if it were merely a marriage bed.

To this glory, let’s compare the dishonor of the Punic women, so it may be more clearly foul. At Sicca there is a temple of Venus into which married women used to meet. They used to leave there for business, earning ‘dowries’ by bringing insult to their bodies, trying to arrange a clean marriage with so unclean a chain.”

Verum quid ego fortissimos hoc in genere prudentiae viros laudem? respiciantur Indorum feminae, quae, cum more patrio complures eidem nuptae esse soleant, mortuo marito in certamen iudiciumque veniunt quam ex iis maxime dilexerit. victrix gaudio exsultans, deductaque a necessariis laetum praeferentibus vultum, coniugis se flammis superiacit et cum eo tamquam felicissima crematur; superatae cum tristitia et maerore in vita remanent. protrahe in medium Cimbricam audaciam, adice Celtibericam fidem, iunge animosam Thraciae [potentiam]46 sapientiam, adnecte Lyciorum in luctibus abiciendis callide quaesitam rationem, Indico tamen rogo nihil eorum praeferes, quem uxor<ia>47 pietas in modum genialis tori propinquae mortis secura conscendit.

Cuius gloriae Punicarum feminarum, ut ex comparatione turpius appareat, dedecus subnectam: Siccae enim fanum est Veneris, in quod se matronae conferebant atque inde procedentes ad quaestum dotes corporis iniuria contrahebant, honesta nimirum tam inhonesto vinculo coniugia iuncturae.

willigula:“ A Hindu girl throws herself on the funeral pyre of her betrothed, from the poem Sūz va gudāz (Burning and Melting) by Nawʿī Khabūshānī, illuminated by Muḥammad ʿAlī Mashhadī, Iran, 1657 ”
 Sūz va gudāz (Burning and Melting) by Nawʿī Khabūshānī, illuminated by Muḥammad ʿAlī Mashhadī, Iran, 1657

Tacitus on Germanic Standards for Women and Child-Rearing

Some of the rhetoric here seems a bit familiar…

Tacitus, Germania 19-20

In that country, no one finds vice amusing; nor is seducing or being seduced celebrated as a sign of the times. Even better are those communities where only virgins marry and a promise is made with the hope and vow of a wife. And so, they have only one husband just as each has one body and one life so that there may be no additional thought of it, no lingering desire, that they may not love the man so much as they love the marriage. It is considered a sin to limit the number of children or to eliminate the later born. There good customs are stronger than good laws.

There are children there naked and dirty in every house growing into the size of limbs and body at which we wonder. Each mother nourishes each child with her own breasts; they are not passed around to maids and nurses.”

nemo enim illic vitia ridet, nec corrumpere et corrumpi saeculum vocatur. melius quidem adhuc eae civitates, in quibus tantum virgines nubunt et cum spe votoque uxoris semel transigitur. sic unum accipiunt maritum quo modo unum corpus unamque vitam, ne ulla cogitatio ultra, ne longior cupiditas, ne tamquam maritum, sed tamquam matrimonium ament. numerum liberorum finire aut quemquam ex agnatis necare flagitium habetur, plusque ibi boni mores valent quam alibi bonae leges.In omni domo nudi ac sordidi in hos artus, in haec corpora, quae miramur, excrescunt. sua quemque mater uberibus alit, nec ancillis aut nutricibus delegantur.

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Festivals for Women and Different Marriage Customs

Paradoxographus Vaticanus, 25-28, 45

25 “Among the Iberians there is a tribe [and] and in a certain festival they honor women with gifts, however so many demonstrate at that time that they can weave the most numerous and beautiful cloaks.”

Παρὰ τοῖς ῎Ιβηρσιν ἔθνος ἐστὶ ἐν ἑορτῇ τινι τὰς γυναῖκας τιμῶν δώροις, ὅσαι ἂν πλεῖστα καὶ κάλλιστα ἱμάτια ὑφήνασαι τότε ἐπιδείξωσιν.

26 “Among the Krobuzoi it is the custom to mourn when an infant is born and consider the one who dies lucky”

Παρὰ Κροβύζοις ἔθος ἐστὶ τὸ μὲν γεννώμενον βρέφος θρηνεῖν, τὸν δὲ θανόντα εὐδαιμονίζειν.

27 “Among the Nasamoi in Libya it is the custom that on the first day a woman is married that she has sex with everyone who is present and then take gifts from them. After that, she has sex only with the one who marries her.”

Παρὰ Νασαμῶσι τοῖς ἐν Λιβύῃ νόμος ἐστὶ τὴν γαμουμένην τῇ πρώτῃ ἡμέρᾳ συγγίνεσθαι πᾶσι τοῖς παροῦσι καὶ παρ’ αὐτῶν δῶρα λαμβάνειν καὶ μετὰ τοῦτο τῷ γήμαντι μόνῳ μίγνυσθαι.

28 “The women of the Sauromatoi do not get married unless they kill an enemy man.”

Αἱ τῶν Σαυροματῶν γυναῖκες οὐ πρότερον γαμοῦνται, ἂν μὴ ἄνδρα κτάνωσι πολέμιον.

45 “The Liburnians have shared wives and they raise their children in common for five years. When they make it to the eighth year, they compare the children for their similarity to the men and they distribute to each one who is similar. And that one keeps him as a son.”

Λιβύρνιοι κοινὰς τὰς γυναῖκας ἔχουσι καὶ τὰ τέκνα ἐν κοινῷ τρέφουσι μέχρι ἐτῶν πέντε· εἶτα τῷ ἔκτῳ συνενέγκαντες ἅπαντα τὰ παιδία τὰς ὁμοιότητας πρὸς τοὺς ἄνδρας εἰκάζουσι, καὶ ἑκάστῳ τὸν ὅμοιον ἀποδιδόασι, καὶ λοιπὸν ἐκεῖνος ὡς υἱὸν ἔχει.

51 “The Assyrians sell their daughters in the marketplace to whoever wants to settle down with them. First the most well-born and most beautiful and then the rest in order. Whenever they get to the least attractive, they announce how much someone is willing to take to live with them and they add this consolation price from the fee charged for the desirable girls to these [last ones].”

᾿Ασσύριοι τὰς παρθένους ἐν ἀγορᾷ πωλοῦσι τοῖς θέλουσι συνοικεῖν, πρῶτον μὲν τὰς εὐγενεστάτας καὶ καλλίστας, εἶτα τὰς λοιπὰς ἐφεξῆς· ὅταν δὲ ἔλθωσι ἐπὶ τὰς φαυλοτάτας, κηρύττουσι πόσον τις θέλει προσλαβὼν ταύταις συνοικεῖν, καὶ τὸ συναχθὲν ἐκ τῆς τῶν εὐπρεπῶν τιμῆς ταύταις προστίθενται [ταῖς παρθένοις].

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