“Oath runs right alongside crooked judgments.
But a roar comes from Justice as she is dragged where
bribe-devouring men lead when they apply laws with crooked judgments.
She attends the city and the haunts of the hosts
weeping and cloaked in mist, bringing evil to people
who drive her out and do not practice righteous law.
For those who give fair judgments to foreigners and citizens
and who do not transgress the law in any way,
cities grow strong, and the people flourish within them;
A child-nourishing peace settles on the land, and never
Does wide-browed Zeus sound the sign of harsh war.”
Justice is a maiden who was born from Zeus.
The gods who live on Olympus honor her
and whenever someone wrongs her by bearing false witness
she sits straightaway at the feet of Zeus, Kronos’ son
and tells him the plans of unjust men so that the people
will pay the price of the wickedness of kings who make murderous plans
and twist her truth by proclaiming false judgments.
Keep these things in mind, bribe-swallowing kings:
whoever wrongs another also wrongs himself;
an evil plan is most evil for the one who makes it.
The eye of Zeus sees everything and knows everything
and even now, if he wishes, will look on us and not miss
what kind of justice the walls of our city protects.
Today, I wouldn’t wish myself to be just among unjust people
nor my child, since it bad to be a just person
If anyone who is more unjust has greater rights.
But I hope that Zeus, the counselor, will not let this happen.”
“Amasis made this law for the Egyptians, that each one should reveal how he makes his living to the leader of his state each year and if he does not prove in some way that he lives justly to be punished by death. Solon took this law from Egypt and made it the rule among his people. May they keep this law forever because it is perfect.”
“Noble Socrates used to rebuke those fathers who failed to educate their sons and then, when they fell into poverty, took their boys to court and were suing them for lack of gratitude because they were not supporting their fathers. He said the fathers were expecting the impossible because people who have not learned just acts are never able to perform them.”
“I will lead you taking you by the hands like a ship
That pulls smaller ships behind it. I do not refuse
Care to my children. All humans have this
Richer people love their children and so do
Those who have nothing. They differ in wealth.
Some have, some don’t. But every kind loves their children.”
“Hope is the only noble god left among mortals:
The rest of have abandoned us to go to Olympos.
Trust, a great god, left; Prudence has left men.
The Graces, my friend, have surrendered the earth.
Oaths in a court of law can no longer be trusted;
And no one fears shame before the immortal gods
As the race of righteous men has disappeared.
People no longer recognize precedents or sacred duties.
But as long as someone lives and sees the light of the sun,
Let him foster Hope and act righteously before the gods.
Let him pray to the gods and, while burning shining thigh bones,
Sacrifice to Hope first and last.
And let each person always look out for the crooked word of unjust men:
Those men who do not fear the rage of the gods at all,
Who forever conspire in their thoughts against others’ property,
Men who make shameful agreements for future evil deeds.”
“As matters of state go, whenever there are taxes, the just person pays in more from the same amount on which the unjust man pays less. And when there are refunds, the former takes nothing while the lesser profits a lot.”
In our now annual tradition, we are re-posting this list with more names and updated links. Most of the evidence for these authors has been collected only in Wikipedia. I have added new translations and new names over the past few years (especially among the philosophers). Always happy to have new names and links suggested.
I originally received a link to the core list in an email from my undergraduate poetry teacher, the amazing poet and translator Olga Broumas. The post is on tumblr on a page by DiasporaChic, bit the original author is Terpsikeraunos.
** denotes names I have added
Women in ancient Greece and Rome with surviving works or fragments
Here is a list of Women philosophers with testimonia and fragments (with French translations and commentary).
Aesara of Lucania: “Only a fragment survives of Aesara of Lucania’s Book on Human Nature, but it provides a key to understanding the philosophies of Phintys, Perictione, and Theano II as well. Aesara presents a familiar and intuitive natural law theory. She says that through the activity of introspection into our own nature – specifically the nature of a human soul – we can discover not only the natural philosophic foundation for all of human law, but we can also discern the technical structure of morality, positive law, and, it may be inferred, the laws of moral psychology and of physical medicine. Aesara’s natural law theory concerns laws governing three applications of moral law: individual or private morality, laws governing the moral basis of the institution of the family, and, laws governing the moral foundations of social institutions. By analyzing the nature of the soul, Aesara says, we will understand the nature of law and of justice at the individual, familial, and social levels.” – A History of Women Philosophers: Volume I: Ancient Women Philosophers, 600 B.C.-500 A.D., by M.E. Waith
Melissa: “Melissa (3rd century BC) was a Pythagorean philosopher…Nothing is known about her life. She is known only from a letter written to another woman named Cleareta (or Clearete). The letter is written in a Doric Greek dialect dated to around the 3rd century BC. The letter discusses the need for a wife to be modest and virtuous, and stresses that she should obey her husband. The content has led to the suggestion that it was written pseudonymously by a man. On the other hand, the author of the letter does not suggest that a woman is naturally inferior or weak, or that she needs a man’s rule to be virtuous.” –Wikipedia
Perictione (I and II): “Two works attributed to Perictione have survived in fragments: On the Harmony of Women and On Wisdom. Differences in language suggest that they were written by two different people. Allen and Waithe identify them as Perictione I and Perictione II. Plato’s mother was named Perictione, and Waithe argues that she should be identified as the earlier Perictione, suggesting that similarities between Plato’s Republic and On the Harmony of Women may not be the result of Perictione reading Plato, but the opposite–the son learning philosophy from his mother. On the Harmony of Women, however, is written in Ionic prose with occasional Doric forms. This mixed dialect dates the work to the late fourth or third centuries BC. The reference in On the Harmony of Women to women ruling suggests the Hellenistic monarchies of the third century BC or later. On Wisdom is written in Doric and is partly identical with a work by Archytas of the same name. This work should be dated later, to the third or second centuries BC. Both the dates of the works and their dialects mean Perictione as the mother of Plato could not have written them. We then have two Pythagorean texts, attributed to otherwise unknown women named Perictione who should be dated perhaps one hundred years apart.” –Women Writers of Ancient Greece and Rome: An Anthology, by I.M. Plant
*N.B. This account leaves out the the basic narrative from Diogenes Laertius, that Plato’s father Ariston raped his mother Perictione.
Phintys: “Phintys (or Phyntis, Greek: Φίντυς; 4th or 3rd century BC) was a Pythagorean philosopher. Nothing is known about her life, nor where she came from. She wrote a work on the correct behavior of women, two extracts of which are preserved by Stobaeus.” –Wikipedia
*Note, Stobaeus (4.32.61a) calls her the daughter of Kallikrates the Pythagorean (Φιντύος τᾶς Καλλικράτεος θυγατρὸς Πυθαγορείας). Here are some of her fragments on the prudence befitting women: part 1 and part 2.
Ptolemais of Cyrene: “Ptolemais is known to us through reference to her work by Porphyry in his Commentary on the Harmonics of Ptolemy. He tells us that she came from Cyrene and gives the title of her work, The Pythagorean Principles of Music, which he quotes. She is the only known female musical theorist from antiquity. Her dates cannot be known for sure. She clearly preceded Porphyry, who was born about AD 232; Didymus, who is also quoted by Porphyry, knew Ptolemais’ work and may even have been Porphyry’s source for it. This Didymus is probably the one who lived in the time of Nero, giving us a date for Ptolemais of the first century AD or earlier…One of the problems in dealing with this text is that it is in quotation. Porphyry does not clearly distinguish between the text he quotes from Ptolemais and his own discussion of the issues raised…A second issue is the problem of the accuracy of the quotation. Porphyry says in the introduction to fragment 4 that he has altered a few things in the quotation for the sake of brevity. We should not assume that this is the only quotation to have suffered from editing. On the other hand, where he quotes the same passage twice (fragment 3 is repeated almost verbatim in fragment 4) his consistency is encouraging. Ptolemais’ extant work is a catechism, written as a series of questions and answers. She discusses different schools of thought on harmonic theory, distinguishing between the degree to which they gave importance to theory and perception. Her text prefers the approach of Aristoxenus to that of the Pythagoreans, thus she should not be thought a Pythagorean, despite the title of her work.” –Women Writers of Ancient Greece and Rome: An Anthology, by I.M. Plant
‘When there is insurrection, as frequently happens even in our time, sometimes it turns out some ways, other times it turns out differently and not the same for everyone. A disturbance is advantageous for some people but it disappoints the expectations of others.”
Ah, the world is filled with people of all kinds, yet so many of the stories we tell from the ancient world focus on the lives and experiences of angry men! Some may tell you that this is because we have so little from and about women, but there are authors, texts, and records we overlook in favor of stories of violence, conquest, and rage.
Today Reading Greek Tragedy Online presents a special episode conceived and directed by LeeAnet Noble: Goddess and the Women of Gods. This brings together a series of speeches from ancient literature centering and exploring the experiences and perspectives of women.
Reading Greek Tragedy Online is a series produced in partnership with Out of Chaos Theatre, the Center for Hellenic Studies, and the Kosmos Society. This project started at the onset of COVID19 lockdowns in the US and UK and brings together actors and researches to stage scenes from the ancient stage and talk about how they impact us to this day. We have over 45 episodes posted already and will add a few more by the end of the year. In the first year of the Pandemic, we went through every extant Greek tragedy. As we have moved on, we have tried to broaden our scope, expanding the questions we ask of the past and reaching out to bring more people and perspectives into discussion.
Performers and Scenes
LeeAnet Noble, creator and director
Colleen Longshaw: Clytemnestra (Agamemnon)
Ayanda Nghlangothi KaNokwe: Cassandra
Tamieka Chavis: Hecuba
Kim Bey: Clytemnestra (Iphigenia)
Rad Pereira: Homeric Ode to Demeter
Evelyn Miller: Nurse (Hippolytus)
Noree Victoria: Tecmessa
Nikaury Rodriguez: Lysistrata
Sophokles, Ajax 1185-1191
“What is left, what will be the final number
For the years of wandering lost?
This count piling up an endless
Ruin of battle’s toils,
The Greeks’ sorrowful insult,
Artistic Director: Paul O’Mahony (Out of Chaos Theatre) Host and Faculty Consultant: Joel Christensen (Brandeis University) Executive Producer: Lanah Koelle (Center for Hellenic Studies) Producers: Keith DeStone (Center for Hellenic Studies), Hélène Emeriaud, Janet Ozsolak, and Sarah Scott (Kosmos Society) Director of Outreach: Amy Pistone (Gonzaga University) Poster Designer: Allie Marbry (Center for Hellenic Studies) Poster Illustration Artist: John Koelle
Euripides, Iphigenia at Aulis 559-567
“People have different natures;
They have different ways. But acting rightly
Always stands out.
The preparation of education
points the way to virtue.
For it is a mark of wisdom to feel shame
and it brings the transformative grace
of seeing through its judgment
what is right; it is reputation that grants
an ageless glory to your life.”
All start times are 3pm ET unless otherwise noted. Live stream available at chs.harvard.edu and on YouTube.
December 1The Laodamiad by Chas LiBretto
December 15An Ancient Cabaret
Euripides, Hecuba 864-871
No one who is mortal is free—
We are either the slave of money or chance;
Or the majority of people or the city’s laws
Keep us from living by our own judgment.
Since you feel fear and bend to the masses,
I will make you free of fear:
Understand anything wicked I plan against
My son’s murderer, but don’t help me do it.”
Nothing is credible, not a good reputation
Nor that one who is lucky will not do badly in the end.
The gods churn these waters up back and forth
Mixing in confusion so that we worship them
In our ignorance. But why mourn at all?
It has no effect on our sufferings to come.”
“You haven’t paid up, but perhaps you’ll pay soon.
Like a man who has fallen into water with no harbor
You’ll fall far from your heart’s desire
And lose your life. The meeting place
Of debt to Justice and to the gods
Is a terrible, terrible place.”
“Why does this woman abuse the god with words
And twist him up with constant riddles?
Is it because she loves the women she gets oracles for?
Is she keeping something silent because she needs to?
But why does Erekhtheus’ daughter matter to me?
She’s nothing to me! I will go to fill
The purificatory vessels with golden cups of water
I need to criticize Apollo. What’s he thinking?
He keeps ruining girls for marriage with rape
And producing children in secret only to ignore them
As they die. Don’t act this way, but since you can,
Pursue excellence. The gods punish any mortal
Who does wrong. How is it right for those who write
The laws for mortals to lead lawless lives?”
“Play your pipe, Pan
In your caves
Where some pitiful girl
Gave birth to a child with Apollo
And then exposed it as a feast
For the birds and beasts
The insult of their bitter ‘marriage’.
Never at the loom or in tales have I heard of
Mortal women having divine children and good fortune.”