Theano – fl. 6Th Century BCE – Athens, Greece

Ancient Greece

“Better to be on a runaway horse than a woman who does not reflect…”

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Much mystery surrounds the figure of Theano – questions about whether she was the wife, daughter or pupil of Pythagoras, or whether she was one person or many. What remains is evidence of women learning, teaching and writing about Philosophy.

The strict constraints which governed women’s lives in ancient Greece restricted their participation in just about every activity outside of the home – including philosophy. Women philosophers we do know of were often family members of male philosophers, which is why it is not surprising that Theano is credited as Pythagoras’ wife, or that their three supposed daughters, Damo, Myia and Arignote were also philosophers. As Greek women, Theano and her daughters did not have the freedom to move about society or explore education; it was likely their direct contact with philosophers that led them to become engaged in the study.

Pythagoras ran the first philosophical school which encouraged women to study. Pythagoreans believed that the ability to reason was not affected by gender, and there is a legend that Pythagoras himself was taught by a woman. Putting aside the controversies surrounding Theano’s existence, where she came from, or who her husband was, she is representative of a number of Pythagorean women philosophers during this time.

Theano would have shared Pythagoras’ belief that numbers can illuminate the nature of things and that mathematics could be used to show harmony in the universe. She would also have believed in reincarnation of the soul, arguing in one of her attributed works that transmigration of souls was essential to restore justice to the universe. “If the soul is not immortal then life is truly a feast for evil doers who die after having lived their lives so iniquitously.”

Though Theano’s surviving work is of uncertain authorship, writings believed to have been written by her are:

– Pythagorean Apothegms

– Female Advice

– On Virtue

– On Piety

– On Pythagoras

– Philosophical Commentaries

– Letters


References

Encyclopaedia of Women in the Ancient World – Joyce Salisbury

On Wikipedia

Theano

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