Plutarch has Erotic Stories: They’re Not What You’d Think

A terrible love story for Women’s History Month

Plutarch, Erotic Stories, Moralia 771

“In Haliartos in Boiotia, there was a certain girl of surpassing beauty whose name was Aristokleia. She was the Daughter of Theophanes. Stratôn the Orkhomenian and Kallisthenes the Haliartian were both wooing her.

Stratôn was wealthier and was somewhat more taken with the virgin. For he happened to see her once when she was bathing in the fountain Herkunêin Lebadeia. For she was making reading to carry a basket for Zeus the king. But Kallisthenes was closer to winning her, for he was related to her.

Theophanes was at a loss in the matter—for he was fearing Stratôn he stood apart from nearly all the Boiotians because of his family and wealth. He was planning on getting advice about the choice from Trophonios. Stratôn, however, was convinced by the girl’s servants that she was leaning towards him, so he considered it best to have the girl to be married make the choice. But when Theophanes asked his daughter in front of everyone, she chose Kallisthenes. It was clear that Stratôn took the dishonor badly.

After a period of two days, he approached Theophanes and Kallisthenes, saying he wanted to preserve their friendship, even if he had been denied the marriage by some envious god. They praised what he said and asked him to come to the feast for the wedding. But he, once he had gathered a mob of his friends and no small a retinue of servants which were distributed among the attendees unnoticed, waited until the girl wen to the Spring Kissoessa to make the customary sacrifice to the local nymphs. There, all the men who were in ambush rushed out and grabbed her. Stratos had gained a hold of the virgin. Kallisthenes, as one might expect, grabbed her in turn and those with him were helping. They all pulled on her until she died without them knowing, stretched to death in their hands.

Kallisthenes was out of sight immediately, either because he killed himself or left Boiotia as an exile. No one is able to say what happened to him. But Stratôn killed himself openty over the maiden.”

Ἐν Ἁλιάρτῳ τῆς Βοιωτίας κόρη τις γίνεται κάλλει διαπρέπουσα ὄνομα Ἀριστόκλεια· θυγάτηρ δ᾿ ἦν Θεοφάνους. ταύτην μνῶνται Στράτων Ὀρχομένιος καὶ Καλλισθένης Ἁλιάρτιος. πλουσιώτερος δ᾿ ἦν Στράτων καὶ μᾶλλόν τι τῆς παρθένου ἡττημένος· ἐτύγχανε γὰρ ἰδὼν αὐτὴν ἐν Λεβαδείᾳ λουομένην ἐπὶ τῇ κρήνῃ τῇ Ἑρκύνῃ· ἔμελλε γὰρ τῷ Διὶ τῷ βασιλεῖ κανηφορεῖν. ἀλλ᾿ ὁ Καλλισθένης γε πλέον ἐφέρετο· ἦν γὰρ καὶ γένει προσήκων τῇ κόρῃ. ἀπορῶν δὲ τῷ πράγματι ὁ Θεοφάνης, ἐδεδίει γὰρ τὸν Στράτων πλούτῳ τε καὶ γένει σχεδὸν ἁπάντων διαφέροντα τῶν Βοιωτῶν, τὴν αἵρεσιν ἐβούλετο τῷ Τροφωνίῳ ἐπιτρέψαι· καὶ ὁ Στράτων, ἀνεπέπειστο γὰρ ὑπὸ τῶν τῆς παρθένου οἰκετῶν, ὡς πρὸς αὐτὸν μᾶλλον ἐκείνη ῥέποι, ἠξίου ἐπ᾿ αὐτῇ ποιεῖσθαι τῇ γαμουμένῃ τὴν ἐκλογήν. ὡς δὲ τῆς παιδὸς ὁ Θεοφάνης ἐπυνθάνετο ἐν ὄψει πάντων, ἡ δὲ τὸν Καλλισθένην προύκρινεν, εὐθὺς μὲν ὁ Στράτων δῆλος ἦν βαρέως φέρων τὴν ἀτιμίαν· ἡμέρας δὲ διαλιπὼν δύο προσῆλθε τῷ Θεοφάνει καὶ τῷ Καλλισθένει, ἀξιῶν τὴν φιλίαν αὐτῷ πρὸς αὐτοὺς διαφυλάττεσθαι, εἰ καὶ τοῦ γάμου ἐφθονήθη ὑπὸ δαιμονίου τινός. οἱ δ᾿ ἐπῄνουν τὰ λεγόμενα, ὥστε καὶ ἐπὶ τὴν ἑστίασιν τῶν γάμων παρεκάλουν αὐτόν. ὁ δὲ παρεσκευασμένος ἑταίρων ὄχλον, καὶ πλῆθος οὐκ ὀλίγον θεραπόντων, διεσπαρμένους παρὰ τούτοις καὶ λανθάνοντας, ἕως ἡ κόρη κατὰ τὰ πάτρια ἐπὶ τὴν Κισσόεσσαν καλουμένην κρήνην κατῄει ταῖς Νύμφαις τὰ προτέλειαCθύσουσα, τότε δὴ συνδραμόντες πάντες οἱ λοχῶντες ἐκείνῳ συνελάμβανον αὐτήν. καὶ ὁ Στράτων γ᾿ εἴχετο τῆς παρθένου· ἀντελαμβάνετο δ᾿ ὡς εἰκὸς ὁ Καλλισθένης ἐν μέρει καὶ οἱ σὺν αὐτῷ, ἕως ἔλαθεν ἡ παῖς ἐν χερσὶ τῶν ἀνθελκόντων διαφθαρεῖσα. ὁ Καλλισθένης μὲν οὖν παραχρῆμα ἀφανὴς ἐγένετο, εἴτε διαχρησάμενος ἑαυτὸν εἴτε φυγὰς ἀπελθὼν ἐκ τῆς Βοιωτίας· οὐκ εἶχε δ᾿ οὖν τις εἰπεῖν ὅ τι καὶ πεπόνθοι. ὁ δὲ Στράτων φανερῶς ἐπικατέσφαξεν ἑαυτὸν τῇ παρθένῳ.

File:Pyxis01 pushkin.jpg
Wedding Preparation Vase, Wikimedia Commons

Roman Epitaphs to and for Wives

A repost of some translations by Brandon Conley.

  1. AE 1983 0040

D(is) M(anibus). Memoriae Publicies Septimines L(ucius) Sammonius Adiutor coniug(i) pientissim(a)e et animules amantissimes

“To the spirits of the dead. Lucius Sammonius Adiutor (made this) for the memory of Publicia Septimina, his most faithful wife and most loving soul.”

Romancouple

  1. AE 1982 0106

D(is) M(anibus) Iucundis[sim]a Priscia[no con]iugi am[antiss]imo b(ene) [m(erenti) fecit]

“To the spirits of the dead. Iucundissima made this for her well-deserving, most loving husband, Priscianus.”

 

  1. CIL 6.18817

Animae sanctae colendae d(is) m(anibus) s(acrum). Furia Spes L(ucio) Sempronio Firmo coniugi carissimo mihi. Ut cognovi puer puella obligati amori pariter. Cum quo vixi tempori minimo et quo tempore vivere debuimus a manu mala diseparati sumus. Ita peto vos manes sanctissimae commendat[um] habeatis meum ca[ru]m et vellitis huic indulgentissimi esse horis nocturnis ut eum videam et etiam me fato suadere vellit ut et ego possim dulcius et celerius aput eum pervenire.

“To a sacred and worshipped spirit: a sacred thing to the spirits of the dead. Furia Spes (made this) for her dearest husband, Lucius Sempronius Firmus. When we met as boy and girl, we were joined in love equally. I lived with him for a short while, and in a time when we should have lived together, we were separated by an evil hand.

So I ask you, most sacred spirits, to protect my dear husband entrusted to you, and that you be willing to be most accommodating to him in the nightly hours, so I may have a vision of him, and so he might wish that I persuade fate to allow me to come to him more sweetly and quickly.”

adiutor

  1. CIL 3.10501

Clausa iacet lapidi coniunx pia cara Sabina. Artibus edocta superabat sola maritum vox ei grata fuit pulsabat pollice c(h)ordas. Set (sed) cito rapta silpi (silet)…

“My beautiful, faithful wife, Sabina, lies enclosed in stone. Skilled in the arts, she alone surpassed her husband. Her voice was pleasing (as) she plucked the strings with her thumb. But suddenly taken, now she is silent.”

 

  1. CIL 3.00333

Dis Manibus Flaviae Sophene [Ge]nealis Caesaris Aug(usti) [se]rvos verna dispens(ator) [ad] frumentum carae coniugi et amanti bene merenti fecit [vix(it)] an(nis) XXXII m(ensibus) VII

//

[Φλ]αβία Σόφη γυνὴ Γενεάλ/[ιος] Καίσαρος δούλου οἰκο/νόμου ἐπὶ τοῦ σείτου / [ζή]σασα κοσμίως ἔτη [λβ] / [μῆ]νας ζ χαῖρε

“To the spirits of the dead. For Flavia Sophe. Genialis, home-born slave of Caesar Augustus, keeper of the grain supply, made this for his loving, dear, well-deserving wife. She lived 32 years, 7 months.”

 

  1. AE 1982 0988.

Iulia Cecilia vicxit annis XLV cui Terensus marit(us) fek(it) dom(um) et(e)r(nalem) f(eci)t

“Julia Caecilia lived 45 years, for whom her husband Terensus made this. He made her an eternal home.”

 

  1. CIL 13.01983 (EDCS-10500938)

D(is) M(anibus) et memoriae aetern(ae) Blandiniae Martiolae puellae innocentissimae quae vixit ann(os) XVIII m(enses) VIIII d(ies) V. Pompeius Catussa cives Sequanus tector coniugi incomparabili et sibi benignissim(a)e quae mecum vixit an(nos) V m(enses) VI d(ies) XVIII sine ul(l)a criminis sorde. Viv(u)s sibi et coniugi ponendum curavit et sub ascia dedicavit. Tu qui legis vade in Apol(l)inis lavari quod ego cum coniuge feci. Vellem si ad(h)uc possem

“To the spirits of the dead and the eternal memory of Blandinia Martiola, a most innocent girl who lived 18 years, 9 months, 5 days. Pompeius Catussa, a Sequani citizen and plasterer, (made this) for his incomparable and most kind wife, who lived with me 5 years, 6 months, 18 days without any transgressions. While alive, he saw to the building and dedicated this, while under construction, to himself and his wife. You who read this, go and bathe in the bath of Apollo, which I did with my wife. I wish I were still able to do it.”

 

  1. CIL 06.15346

Hospes quod deico paullum est. Asta ac pellege. Heic est sepulcrum hau(d) pulcrum pulcrai feminae. Nomen parentes nominarunt Claudiam. Suom mareitum corde deilexit souo. Gnatos duos creavit horunc (horum-ce) alterum in terra linquit alium sub terra locat. Sermone lepido tum autem incessu commodo domum servavit lanam fecit dixi abei

“Stranger, what I say is short. Stand and read over it. This is the hardly beautiful tomb of a beautiful woman. Her parents called her Claudia. She loved her husband with all her heart. She had two sons, one of whom she leaves on earth, the other she placed under it. With pleasant conversing but respectable gait she cared for her home and made wool. I have spoken. Move along.”

 

  1. CIL 06.20307

Iulio Timotheo qui vixit p(lus) m(inus) annis XXVIII vitae innocentissim(a)e decepto a latronibus cum alumnis n(umero) VII. Otacilia Narcisa co(n)iugi dulcissimo

“For Julius Timotheus, who lived around 28 years of a most innocent life, cheated by bandits along with his 7 fostered children. Otacilia Narcisa (made this) for her sweetest husband.”

Image result for roman epitaph
This is from the Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum

Helen’s Serving Girl Wrote the First Greek Sex Manual

From the Suda

Astuanassa: A handmaid of Helen, Menelaos’ wife. She first discovered positions for intercourse and wrote On Sexual Positions. Philainis and Elephantinê rivaled her in this later—they were women who danced out these sorts of wanton acts.

Ἀστυάνασσα, Ἑλένης τῆς Μενελάου θεράπαινα: ἥτις πρώτη τὰς ἐν τῇ συνουσίᾳ κατακλίσεις εὗρε καὶ ἔγραψε περὶ σχημάτων συνουσιαστικῶν: ἣν ὕστερον παρεζήλωσαν Φιλαινὶς καὶ Ἐλεφαντίνη, αἱ τὰ τοιαῦτα ἐξορχησάμεναι ἀσελγήματα.

Photius Bibl. 190.149a 27-30

We have learned about this embroidered girdle, that Hera took it from Aphrodite and gave it to Helen. Her handmaid Astuanassa stole it but Aphrodite took it back from her again.

Περὶ τοῦ κεστοῦ ἱμάντος ὡς λάβοιμὲν αὐτὸν ῞Ηρα παρὰ ᾿Αφροδίτης, δοίη δ’ ῾Ελένῃ, κλέψοι δ’ αὐτὸν ἡ ῾Ελένης θεράπαινα ᾿Αστυάνασσα, ἀφέλοι δ’ αὐτὸν ἐξ αὐτῆς πάλιν ᾿Αφροδίτη.

Hesychius, sv. Astuanassa

Astuanassa: A handmaiden of Helen and the first to discover Aphrodite and her licentious positions.

᾿Αστυάνασσα· ῾Ελένης θεράπαινα ἥτις πρώτη ἐξεῦρεν ᾿Αφροδίτην καὶ ἀκόλαστα σχήματα

Image result for Ancient Greek Helen vase

As is largely unsurprising from the perspective of Greek misogyny, excessive interest in sexual behavior is projected a female quality. Expertise beyond interest is made the province of female ‘professionals’ (slaves) who may act as scapegoats and marginal figures for the corruption of both men and women. There is a combination of such interest with an excessive emphasis on eating (and eating really well) in Athenaeus where the pleasures of the body are combined.

Athenaeus, Deipnosophists 8.335c

“Dear men, even though I have great admiration for Chrysippus as the leader of the Stoa, I praise him even more because he ranks Arkhestratos, well-known for his Science of Cooking along with Philainis who is credited with a licentious screed about sexual matters—even though the iambic poet of Samos, Aiskhriôn, claims that Polycrates the sophist started this slander of her when she was really quite chaste. The lines go like this:

“I, Philainis, circulated among men
Lie here thanks to great old age.
Don’t laugh, foolish sailor, as your trace the cape
Nor make me a target of mockery or insult
For, by Zeus and his sons in Hell
I was never a slut with men nor a public whore.
Polykrates, Athenian by birth,
A bit clever with words and with a nasty tongue,
Wrote what he wrote. I don’t know anything about it.”

But the most amazing Chrysippus combines in the fifth book of his On Goodness and Pleasure that both “the books of Philianis and the Gastronomiai of Arkhestratos and forces of erotic and sexual nature, and in the same way slave-girls who are expert at these kinds of movements and positions and who are engaged in their practice.” He adds that they learn this type of material completely and then thoroughly possess what has been written on these topics by Philainis and Arkhestratos and those who have written on similar topics. Similarly, in his seventh book, he says ‘As you cannot wholly learn the works of Philianis and Arkhestratos’ Gastronomia because they do have something to offer for living better.’ “

Χρύσιππον δ᾿, ἄνδρες φίλοι, τὸν τῆς στοᾶς ἡγεμόνα κατὰ πολλὰ θαυμάζων ἔτι μᾶλλον ἐπαινῶ τὸν πολυθρύλητον ἐπὶ τῇ Ὀψολογίᾳ Ἀρχέστρατον αἰεί ποτε μετὰ Φιλαινίδος κατατάττοντα, εἰς ἣν ἀναφέρεται τὸ περὶ ἀφροδισίων ἀκόλαστον cσύγγραμμα, ὅπερ φησὶ | ποιῆσαι Αἰσχρίων ὁ Σάμιος ἰαμβοποιὸς Πολυκράτη τὸν σοφιστὴν ἐπὶ διαβολῇ τῆς ἀνθρώπου σωφρονεστάτης γενομένης. ἔχει δὲ οὕτως τὰ ἰαμβεῖα·

ἐγὼ Φιλαινὶς ἡ ᾿πίβωτος ἀνθρώποις
ἐνταῦθα γήρᾳ τῷ μακρῷ κεκοίμημαι.
μή μ᾿, ὦ μάταιε ναῦτα, τὴν ἄκραν κάμπτων
χλεύην τε ποιεῦ καὶ γέλωτα καὶ λάσθην.
ὐ γὰρ μὰ τὸν Ζῆν᾿, οὐ μὰ τοὺς κάτω κούρους, |
dοὐκ ἦν ἐς ἄνδρας μάχλος οὐδὲ δημώδης.
Πολυκράτης δὲ τὴν γενὴν Ἀθηναῖος,
λόγων τι παιπάλημα καὶ κακὴ γλῶσσα,
ἔγραψεν οἷ᾿ ἔγραψ᾿· ἐγὼ γὰρ οὐκ οἶδα.

ἀλλ᾿ οὖν ὅ γε θαυμασιώτατος Χρύσιππος ἐν τῷ πέμπτῳ Περὶ τοῦ Καλοῦ καὶ τῆς Ἡδονῆς φησι· καὶ βιβλία τά τε Φιλαινίδος καὶ τὴν τοῦ Ἀρχεστράτου Γαστρονομίαν καὶ δυνάμεις ἐρωτικὰς καὶ συνουσιαστικάς, ὁμοίως δὲ καὶ τὰς θεραπαίνας ἐμπείρους τοιῶνδε κινήσεών τε καὶ σχημάτων καὶ περὶ τὴν eτούτων μελέτην γινομένας. καὶ πάλιν· ἐκμανθάνειν | τ᾿ αὐτοὺς τὰ τοιαῦτα καὶ κτᾶσθαι τὰ περὶ τούτων γεγραμμένα Φιλαινίδι καὶ Ἀρχεστράτῳ καὶ τοῖς τὰ ὅμοια γράψασιν. κἀν τῷ ἑβδόμῳ δέ φησι· καθάπερ γὰρ οὐκ ἐκμανθάνειν τὰ Φιλαινίδος καὶ τὴν Ἀρχεστράτου Γαστρονομίαν ἔστιν ὡς φέροντά τι πρὸς τὸ ζῆν ἄμεινον.

“His Heart Barked”: Sex, Slaves, and Transgression in the Odyssey

Earlier I posted a passage from the Odyssey where the narrator tells us that Penelope raised the slave Melanthô and gave her toys. This detail is paired with the slave woman’s sexual behavior—she is now a bad slave because she is having sex with one of the suitors.

Odyssey, 18.321–5

“Then fine-cheeked Melanthô reproached him shamefully. Dolios fathered her and Penelope raised her, she treated her like her own child and used to give her delights for her heart. But she did not have grief in her thoughts for Penelope. Instead she was having sex with and feeling affection for Eurymakhos.”

τὸν δ’ αἰσχρῶς ἐνένιπε Μελανθὼ καλλιπάρῃος,
τὴν Δολίος μὲν ἔτικτε, κόμισσε δὲ Πηνελόπεια,
παῖδα δὲ ὣς ἀτίταλλε, δίδου δ’ ἄρ’ ἀθύρματα θυμῷ·
ἀλλ’ οὐδ’ ὧς ἔχε πένθος ἐνὶ φρεσὶ Πηνελοπείης,
ἀλλ’ ἥ γ’ Εὐρυμάχῳ μισγέσκετο καὶ φιλέεσκεν.

The meaning of this behavior might not be clear to modern audiences. Ancient audiences might have needed clarification too. The epic shows Odysseus witnessing this later.

20.5–24

“Odysseus was lying there, still awake, devising evils in his heart
For the suitors. And the women went from the hall
The ones who were having sex with the suitors before
Greeting one another with a welcome and a laugh.
And Odysseus’ heart rose in his dear chest.
He debated much in his thoughts and through his heart
Whether after leaping up he should deal out death to each woman
Or he should allow them to have sex with the arrogant suitors
a last and final time. The heart inside his chest barked.
And as a mother dog who stands over her young pups
When she sees an unknown man barks and waits to fight,
So his heart growled within him as he was enraged at the evil deeds.
Then he struck his chest and reproached the heart inside him.
Endure this my heart, you endured a more harrowing thing on that day
When the savage Cyclops, insanely daring, ate
My strong companions. You were enduring this and your intelligence
Led you from that cave even though you thought you were going to die.”

ἔνθ’ ᾿Οδυσεὺς μνηστῆρσι κακὰ φρονέων ἐνὶ θυμῷ
κεῖτ’ ἐγρηγορόων· ταὶ δ’ ἐκ μεγάροιο γυναῖκες
ἤϊσαν, αἳ μνηστῆρσιν ἐμισγέσκοντο πάρος περ,
ἀλλήλῃσι γέλω τε καὶ εὐφροσύνην παρέχουσαι.
τοῦ δ’ ὠρίνετο θυμὸς ἐνὶ στήθεσσι φίλοισι·
πολλὰ δὲ μερμήριζε κατὰ φρένα καὶ κατὰ θυμόν,
ἠὲ μεταΐξας θάνατον τεύξειεν ἑκάστῃ,
ἦ ἔτ’ ἐῷ μνηστῆρσιν ὑπερφιάλοισι μιγῆναι
ὕστατα καὶ πύματα· κραδίη δέ οἱ ἔνδον ὑλάκτει.
ὡς δὲ κύων ἀμαλῇσι περὶ σκυλάκεσσι βεβῶσα
ἄνδρ’ ἀγνοιήσασ’ ὑλάει μέμονέν τε μάχεσθαι,
ὥς ῥα τοῦ ἔνδον ὑλάκτει ἀγαιομένου κακὰ ἔργα.
στῆθος δὲ πλήξας κραδίην ἠνίπαπε μύθῳ·
“τέτλαθι δή, κραδίη· καὶ κύντερον ἄλλο ποτ’ ἔτλης,
ἤματι τῷ, ὅτε μοι μένος ἄσχετος ἤσθιε Κύκλωψ
ἰφθίμους ἑτάρους· σὺ δ’ ἐτόλμας, ὄφρα σε μῆτις
ἐξάγαγ’ ἐξ ἄντροιο ὀϊόμενον θανέεσθαι.”

Beyond whether or not the liaison was a good wooing strategy for Eurymachus, these closely paired statements show that despite being integrated into the family structure, Melantho has not internalized her position and has instead exercised agency in pursuing sexuality. (Or, perhaps more accurately, exercising control over her own body to choose a different master.) When the epic returns to the issue, it takes pains to depict the women as in control and to ensure that Odysseus witnesses it. When he reveals himself to the suitors in book 22, he accuses them of forcefully sleeping with the women.

22.35-38

“Dogs, you were expecting that out of the way I would not come
home from the land of the Trojans and you ruined my home,
Took the slave women in my house to bed by force
And wooed the wife of a man who was still alive…”

“ὦ κύνες, οὔ μ’ ἔτ’ ἐφάσκεθ’ ὑπότροπον οἴκαδε νεῖσθαι
δήμου ἄπο Τρώων, ὅτι μοι κατεκείρετε οἶκον
δμῳῇσίν τε γυναιξὶ παρευνάζεσθε βιαίως
αὐτοῦ τε ζώοντος ὑπεμνάασθε γυναῖκα…

The difference in tone is in part due to the level of narrative—in the first two scenes mentioned above, the sexual acts are observed through the narrator. When Odysseus talks about it, he characterizes the acts differently because he sees the sexual acts as transgressing his control of the household. If the women—who are animate objects, not people—have sex, then they are the sexual objects of aggressors against Odysseus’ control. This transgressive behavior on their part helps to explain why Odysseus decides to slaughter them.

Who should have sex with the slave women is implied by a narrative passage from the beginning of the epic (1.428–33)

“And with him Eurykleia carried the burning torches. She knew proper things, the daughter of Ops, the son of Peisênor whom Laertes bought to be among his possessions when she was just a girl and he paid a price worth 20 oxen. And he used to honor her equal to his dear wife in his home but he never had sex with her and he was avoiding his wife’s anger.”

τῷ δ’ ἄρ’ ἅμ’ αἰθομένας δαΐδας φέρε κεδνὰ ἰδυῖα
Εὐρύκλει’, ῏Ωπος θυγάτηρ Πεισηνορίδαο,
τήν ποτε Λαέρτης πρίατο κτεάτεσσιν ἑοῖσι,
πρωθήβην ἔτ’ ἐοῦσαν, ἐεικοσάβοια δ’ ἔδωκεν,
ἶσα δέ μιν κεδνῇ ἀλόχῳ τίεν ἐν μεγάροισιν,
εὐνῇ δ’ οὔ ποτ’ ἔμικτο, χόλον δ’ ἀλέεινε γυναικός·

It is exceptional here that Laertes does not have sex with Eurykleia. This indicates an economy of sexual slavery in which the slave women are the objects to be used by those who own them. If they are used without permission or act on their own, they represent perversions.

See:

Doherty, Lillian. 2001. “The Snares of the Odyssey: A Feminist Narratological Reading.” 117-133.
Thalmann, William G. 1998. “Female Slaves in the Odyssey.” 22–34

Related image
Red-figure Kylix, c. 490 BCE

 

A List of Women Authors from the Ancient World

I am reposting this list for International Women’s day.

Most of the evidence for these authors has been collected only in Wikipedia. We can probably do better by adding more information from ancient sources and modern ‘scholarly’ texts. I have been translating the fragments of some for the website and linking as appropriate

I received a link to the following 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 who has already won my admiration is Terpsikeraunos.

*denotes comments I have added with this re-post

** denotes names I have added

Calliope

Women in ancient Greece and Rome with surviving works or fragments

 

PHILOSOPHY

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

*Wikipedia on Aesara

Melissa: “Melissa (3rd century BC)[1][2] 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.[2] The letter discusses the need for a wife to be modest and virtuous, and stresses that she should obey her husband.[2] The content has led to the suggestion that it was written pseudonymously by a man.[2] 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.[1]” –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

**Theano the Pythagorean (I have collected her words here)

“When Theano the Pythagorean philosopher was asked what eros is, she said ‘the passion of a soul with spare time.’ ”

Θεανὼ ἡ πυθαγορικὴ φιλόσοφος ἐρωτηθεῖσα τί ἐστιν ἔρως ἔφη· ” πάθος ψυχῆς σχολαζούσης.”

“While Theano was walking she showed her forearm and some youth when he saw it said “Nice skin”. She responded, “it’s not communal”.

Θεανὼ πορευομένη ἔξω εἶχε τὸν βραχίονα· νεανίσκος δέ τις ἰδὼν εἶπε· ” καλὸν τὸ δέμας·” ἡ δὲ ἀπεκρίνατο· ” ἀλλ’ οὐ κοινόν.”

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“What Kinds of Things Are Roses”: More Poems from Nossis

Earlier this week I posted some fragments from Nossis. Here are some more. I noted in the earlier post that while Nossis leaves us the most lines of any woman poet from Ancient Greece other than Sappho, she is barely known.

Greek Anthology, 6. 265

“Reverent Hera, who often comes down
From the sky to gaze upon your fragrant Lakinian home.
Take the linen robe which Theophilos, the daughter of Kleokha
Wove for you with the help of her noble daughter Nossis.”

Ἥρα τιμήεσσα, Λακίνιον ἃ τὸ θυῶδες
πολλάκις οὐρανόθεν νεισομένα καθορῇς,
δέξαι βύσσινον εἷμα, τό τοι μετὰ παιδὸς ἀγαυᾶς
Νοσσίδος ὕφανεν Θευφιλὶς ἁ Κλεόχας.

6.138

“These weapons the Brettian men hurled down from their unlucky shoulders
As they were overcome by the hands of the fast-battling Lokrians.
They are dedicated here singing the Lokrians glory in the temple of the gods.
They don’t long at all for the hands of the cowards they abandoned.”

Ἔντεα Βρέττιοι ἄνδρες ἀπ᾿ αἰνομόρων βάλον ὤμων,
θεινόμενοι Λοκρῶν χερσὶν ὕπ᾿ ὠκυμάχων,
ὧν ἀρετὰν ὑμνεῦντα θεῶν ὑπ᾿ ἀνάκτορα κεῖνται,
οὐδὲ ποθεῦντι κακῶν πάχεας, οὓς ἔλιπον.

7.414

“Pass by me, give an honest laugh, and speak over me
A loving word. I am Rhintho from Syracuse,
A minor nightingale of the Muses. But from my tragic
Nonsense poems, I made my own ivy crown.”

Καὶ καπυρὸν γελάσας παραμείβεο, καὶ φίλον εἰπὼν
ῥῆμ᾿ ἐπ᾿ ἐμοί. Ῥίνθων εἴμ᾿ ὁ Συρακόσιος,
Μουσάων ὀλίγη τις ἀηδονίς· ἀλλὰ φλυάκων
ἐκ τραγικῶν ἴδιον κισσὸν ἐδρεψάμεθα.

Greek Anthology, 5.170

“There is nothing sweeter than love: all other blessings
Take second place. I even spit honey from my mouth.
This is what Nossis says. Whomever Kypris has not kissed,
Does not understand her flowers, what kinds of things roses are.”

Ἅδιον οὐδὲν ἔρωτος· ἃ δ᾽ ὄλβια, δεύτερα πάντα
ἐστίν· ἀπὸ στόματος δ᾽ ἔπτυσα καὶ τὸ μέλι.
τοῦτο λέγει Νοσσίς· τίνα δ᾽ ἁ Κύπρις οὐκ ἐφίλασεν,
οὐκ οἶδεν τήνας τἄνθεα, ποῖα ῥόδα.

Greek Anthology, 9.604

“This frame has the picture of Thaumareta. The painter
Caught the form and the age of the soft-glancing woman well.
Your house dog, the little puppy, would paw at you if she saw this,
Believing that she was looking down at the lady of her home.”

Θαυμαρέτας μορφὰν ὁ πίναξ ἔχει· εὖ γε τὸ γαῦρον
τεῦξε τό θ᾿ ὡραῖον τᾶς ἀγανοβλεφάρου.
σαίνοι κέν σ᾿ ἐσιδοῖσα καὶ οἰκοφύλαξ σκυλάκαινα,
δέσποιναν μελάθρων οἰομένα ποθορῆν.

How A Woman Should Dress (And Sacrifice)

Phintys, fr. 2, On a Woman’s Prudence by the Spartan Phintys, the daughter of Kallikrates the Pythagorean (=Stob. 4.23.61)

“It is also necessary for a woman to take to heart that she will find no kind of purifying remedy for this mistake [adultery], something that would allow her to approach the temples and altars of the gods as a chaste and god-loved woman. This is because in this crime especially the divine spirit is most unforgiving. The most beautiful achievement of a free woman and the foremost glory is to provide as testimony to her prudence toward her husband her children, if they do in fact bear the imprint of similarity to the father who sowed them. That seems to me to be enough regarding marriage.

The following seems to be right to me when it comes to the management of the body. A woman should wear white, but be dressed simply and without decoration. This style of dressing is achieved without transparent or decorated robes or robes which are made from silk; instead a woman should wear modest and white clothing. She preferably also avoids luxury and ostentation and will not cause vile jealousy in other women. She should also not put on gold or emeralds at all—this behavior would make her seem wealthy and haughty to common women.

It is necessary that the well-governed city which is ordered completely with a view to its whole should be one of common experiences and likemindedness. And it should keep out the craftspeople who create these sorts of baubles from its territory. A prudent woman should not embellish her appearance with foreign decoration and makeup but should use the native beauty of the body—she should decorate her body by washing it in water rather than bringing it shame. For this brings honor to herself and the man she lives with.

Women need to make processions from their homes to make sacrifices to the leading-god of the city for themselves, their husbands, and their households. They must make their expedition to the theater or to the market for household goods, however, not when the evening star is rising nor when it is dark but whenever it is still light, accompanied by a single servant or, at most, two as is proper.

In addition, a prudent woman must also perform sacrificial rites for the gods as is permitted to her, but must abstain from the occult rites and rituals of the Great Mother at home. For the common law prohibits women from performing these rituals, since, in addition to other things, these practices make them drunk and insane. The woman of the home needs to be temperate and uncontaminated by everything, even when she is governing the home.”

 

     Κἀκεῖνο δὲ χρὴ διαλογίζεσθαι, ὡς οὐδὲν καθάρσιον εὑρήσει τᾶς ἀμπλακίας ταύτας ἄκος, ὥστε ὡς ἱερὰ θεῶν καὶ βωμὼς ποτερχομέναν ἦμεν ἁγνὰν καὶ θεοφιλάταν· ἐπὶ γὰρ ταύτᾳ τᾷ ἀδικίᾳ μάλιστα καὶ τὸ δαιμόνιον ἀσυγγνωμόνητον γίνεται. κάλλιστος δὲ κόσμος γυναικὸς ἐλευθέρας πρᾶτόν τε κῦδος τὸ διὰ τῶν αὑτᾶς τέκνων ἐπιμαρτύρασθαι τὰν σωφροσύναν τὰν ποτὶ τὸν ἄνδρα, αἴκα τὸν τύπον τᾶς ὁμοιότατος ἐπιφέρωντι τῶ κατασπείραντος αὐτὼς πατρός. καὶ περὶ μὲν εὐνᾶς οὕτως ἔχει· περὶ δὲ τῶ κόσμω τῶ περὶ τὸ σῶμα δοκεῖ μοι οὕτως.

δεῖ λευχείμονα ἦμεν καὶ ἁπλοϊκὰν καὶ ἀπερίσσευτον. ἐσσεῖται  δὲ τοῦτο, αἴκα μὴ διαφανέεσσι μηδὲ διαποικίλοις μηδὲ ἀπὸ βόμβυκος ὑφασμένοις χρᾶται τοῖς περὶ τὸ σῶμα, ἀλλὰ μετρίοις καὶ λευκοχρωμάτοις· οὕτω γὰρ τὸ μᾶλλον κοσμεῖσθαι καὶ τρυφὰν καὶ καλλωπισμὸν φεύξεται, καὶ ζᾶλον οὐκ ἐμποιήσει μοχθηρὸν ταῖς ἄλλαις. χρυσὸν δὲ καὶ σμάραγδον ἁπλῶς μὴ περιτίθεσθαι· καὶ γὰρ πολυχρήματον καὶ ὑπεραφανίαν ἐμφαῖνον ποττὰς δαμοτικάς.

δεῖ δὲ τὰν εὐνομουμέναν πόλιν, ὅλαν αὐτὰν δι’ ὅλας τεταγμέναν, συμπαθέα τε καὶ ὁμοιόνομον ἦμεν, ἀπερύκεν δὲ καὶ δαμιοεργὼς ἐκ τᾶς πόλιος τὼς ἐργαζομένως τὰ τοιαῦτα. χρώματι δὲ φαιδρύνεσθαι τὰν ποτῶπα μὴ ἐπακτῷ καὶ ἀλλοτρίῳ, τῷ δ’ οἰκῄῳ τῶ σώματος δι’ αὐτῶ τῶ ὕδατος ἀπολουομέναν, κοσμὲν δὲ μᾶλλον αὑτὰν αἰσχύνᾳ·

καὶ γὰρ τὸν συμβιῶντα καὶ αὑτὰν ἔντιμον παρέξεται. τὰς δὲ ἐξόδως ἐκ τᾶς οἰκίας ποιεῖσθαι † τὰς γυναῖκας τὰς δαμοτελέας θυηπολούσας τῷ ἀρχαγέτᾳ θεῷ τᾶς πόλιος ὑπὲρ αὑτᾶς καὶ τῶ ἀνδρὸς καὶ τῶ παντὸς οἴκω· ἔπειτα  μήτε ὄρφνας ἐνισταμένας μήτε ἑσπέρας ἀλλὰ πλαθυούσας ἀγορᾶς καταφανέα γινομέναν τὰν ἔξοδον ποιεῖσθαι θεωρίας ἕνεκά τινος ἢ ἀγορασμῶ οἰκῄω μετὰ θεραπαίνας μιᾶς ἢ καττὸ πλεῖστον δύο εὐκόσμως χειραγωγουμέναν.

τὰς δὲ θυσίας λιτὰς παριστάμεν τοῖς θεοῖς καὶ καττὰν δύναμιν, ὀργιασμῶν δὲ καὶ ματρῳασμῶν τῶν κατ’ οἶκον  ἀπέχεσθαι. καὶ γὰρ ὁ κοινὸς νόμος τᾶς πόλιος ἀπερύκει ταῦ<τα> τὰς γυναῖκας ἐπιτελέν, καὶ ἄλλως καὶ ὅτι μέθας καὶ ἐκστάσιας ψυχᾶς ἐπάγοντι ταὶ θρησκεύσιες αὗται· τὰν δ’ οἰκοδέσποιναν καὶ προκαθεζομέναν οἴκω δεῖ σώφρονα καὶ ἀνέπαφον ποτὶ πάντα ἦμεν.

 

Image result for ancient greek women's clothing
Image from Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History 4th Century BCE Marble Statue