Sparta was the only city state in the Greek empire that provided public education for girls. As a result, a number of ancient Greek female poets were Spartan…
Sparta’s reputation today is that of a brutal culture which was staunchly patriarchal; exposing ‘weak’ children at birth and submitting young boys to rigorous training for war. However, unlike Athens, in Spartan society girls were reared and educated alongside boys, which included learning philosophy, poetry and Greek mythology as well as physical fitness.
It should come as no surprise then that the first female Greek poet in this project is Megalostrata, a Spartan. While any brothers Megalostrata may have had would have been removed from their home at the age of seven to take part in agoge, she would have remained at her mother’s house until the age of eighteen when she married. She would not have been expected to learn domestic tasks such as cleaning or weaving, as the Spartan’s used slaves for such menial labour. Instead, Megalostrata would have learned about governance and logistics, supervising the helots (slaves) in her household.
Megalostrata grew up in a predominately female world, as at any given time at least half of the men of Sparta might be away at war. Women were social and political leaders in the Spartan community. They also studied music, dancing and poetry. It is documented by Athenian visitors to Sparta that Spartan women could sing and dance beautifully.
Though none of Megalostrata’s work survives, we know about her from Alcman, a contemporary lyric poet. He described her as ‘a golden haired maiden enjoying the gift of the muses’. Alcman further notes that Megalostrata attracted lovers due to her conversation skills – showing that her well-rounded education meant that she could hold her own in discussion with men of the time.
Encyclopaedia of Women in the Ancient World – Joyce Salisbury