Anaxandra – fl. 220s BCE – Greece

Ancient Greece

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Like her predecessor, Timarete, Anaxandra learned the art of painting from her father and also worked as his assistant, crushing dyes to mix his paints.

We know that Anaxandra’s father, Nealkes, painted scenes from mythology and that his daughter learned his trade – but apart from these few snatches of information, we know nothing.

Nonetheless, the thought of a female artist clearly captured the imaginations of many historians. She is mentioned by Clement of Alexandria 400 years after her death, in a section of his book entitled “Women as Well as Men Capable of Perfection“. Clement cites a lost work of the Hellenistic scholar Didymus Chalcenterus (1st century BC) as his source.

Anaxandra is used again as an example of female talent in Lucrezia Marinella’s 16th Century feminist argument: The Nobility and Excellence of Women and the Defects and Vices of Men.

Her name was given by the International Astronomical Union in 1994 to a large 20 km diameter crater on Venus to commemorate the artist.


References:

Women Artists in All Ages and Countries – Elizabeth Fries Ellet

The Nobility and Excellence of Women and the defects and Vices of MenLucrezia Marinella, Anne Dunhill

On Wikipedia:

Bilistiche – fl. 264 BCE – Alexandria, Ptolemaic Egypt

Ancient Egypt

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The few pieces of information we have about Bilistiche (sometimes Belistiche) carve a mysterious figure of a complex and interesting woman.

A courtesan and mistress of Pharaoh Ptolemy Philadeplphus (brother-husband to Arsinoë II), she won both the tethrippon (four horse) and synoris (two horse) chariot races in the 264 BC Olympic Games.

She was clearly a wealthy and important figure in the Egyptian court as it was often only the rich who could breed and train horses for racing. Bilistiche also held a truly affectionate place in her lover’s heart – the Pharaoh deified her (made her a goddess) as ‘Aphrodite Bilistiche’.

The truth of who she was and where she came from, however, is uncertain. The historian Pausanias describes Bilistiche as ‘a woman from the coast of Macedonia’, and Athenaeus says she was in fact a Macedonian Princess. Plutarch offers the most intriguing backstory, one of rags to riches, as he calls her ‘a barbarian from the marketplace’. This suggests that she was purchased as a slave, and was not Greek or Macedonian at all.

Though she is mysterious to us, Bilistiche was apparently a celebrity in her own time, a visible member of the Egyptian Royal household and a champion athlete.


References:

Women in Hellenistic Egypt: From Alexander to CleopatraSarah B. Pomeroy

Description of Greece, 5.8.11Pausanias

On Wikipedia:

Arsinoë II – 316 BCE – 270/60 BCE – Ptolemaic Egypt

Ancient Egypt

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It’s safe to say that the Ptolemy’s were not like other families. Rulers of Egypt for three hundred years, they were of Macedonian Greek heritage. Every male was called Ptolemy (pronounced ‘toll-uh-mee’) and every woman in the family was named Cleopatra, Berenice or Arsinoë (Ahh-seen-oh-way).

And it wasn’t just names they kept in the family. The Ptolemy’s were notorious for intermarrying.

"ArsinoeII" by PHGCOM - self-made, photographed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Licensed  via Commons -

“ArsinoeII” by PHGCOM – self-made, photographed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Licensed via Commons –

Arsinoë II was the eldest daughter of Ptolemy II ‘the Saviour’, founder Greek rule in Egypt. A high ranking princess, she was married to King Lysimachus of Macedonia at the age of fifteen. She had three sons – Ptolemy, Lysimachus and Philip. However, Lysimachus had a son from an earlier marriage, meaning than Arsinoë’s boys were second in line for the throne. To improve their chances, Arsinoë had the first son poisoned for treason.

Lysimachus died in battle in 281, leaving Arsinoë widowed at thirty-five. The queen acted quickly and went to Cassandreia to marry her half-brother Ptolemy Keraunos (Thunderbolt). The couple proclaimed themselves joint rulers of Lysimachus’ territories; Macedonia and Thrace.

The marriage was not a happy one. Displeased with the amount of power her brother-husband was amassing, Arsinoë conspired against him with her sons. Unfortunately, Ptolemy Keraunos found out and had the two younger boys killed.

Arsinoë fled back home to Egypt, while her eldest son escaped to northern Greece. Ptolemy Philadelphus (sibling-loving) was Arsinoë’s brother and King of Egypt. He granted his sister protection and she was soon conspiring again. First, she had her brother’s first wife, Arsinoë I exiled. Then she married him herself.

Now Arsinoë II was co-ruler of Egypt, the wealthiest country in the world at the time. She had all of her brother’s titles and became hugely influential, having towns dedicated to her, her own cult (as was Egyptian custom), and appearing on coinage.

Arsinoë did not rest once she was queen. She contributed to foreign policy,

"Oktadrachmon Ptolemaios II Arsinoe II" by User:MatthiasKabel - Pergamonmuseum Berlin. Licensed via Commons

“Ptolemy II and Arsinoe II” by User:MatthiasKabel – Pergamonmuseum Berlin. Licensed via Commons

including Ptolemy II’s victory in the First Syrian War (274-271 BC) between Egypt and the Seleucid Empire in the Middle East.

According to Posidippus, she won also three chariot races at the Olympic Games, probably in 272 BC.

Even after her death, Ptolemy II continued to refer to Arsinoë on official documents, as well as supporting her coinage and cult. He also established her worship as a Goddess, a clever move, because by doing this he established also his own worship as a god.


References:

Arsinoe of Egypt and Macedon: A Royal LifeElizabeth Donnelly Carney

On Wikipedia:

Arsinoë II

Anyte – fl. 3Rd Century BCE – Tegea, Greece

Ancient Greece

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Anyte was a famous writer in her own time, well known for her epitaphs and epigrams. She was one of the first to describe nature and landscapes in her work.

She is considered unusual as rather than writing of masculine triumphs and achievements, Anyte’s work expresses sorrow for the deaths of young women. She is the first poet to write epitaphs for animals.

Fellow poet Antipater of Thessalonica named Anyte as one of the nine ‘earthly muses’ and we have more complete poems by Anyte than by any other Greek woman.

Anyte’s striking descriptions of nature are clear in the following epigram, which speaks of a statue of Aphrodite (often known as the “Cyprian”):

This is the site of the Cyprian, since it is agreeable to her

to look ever from the mainland upon the bright sea

that she may make the voyage good for sailors.

Around her the sea trembles looking upon her polished image.”

"Aphrodites Rock". Licensed via Commons

“Aphrodites Rock”. Licensed via Commons

According to some sources, Anyte led a school of poetry and literature on Peloponnesus, which also included the poet Leonidas of Tarentum.


References:

Translation and notes by Marilyn B. Skinner

On Wikipedia:

Nossis – c.300 BCE – Locri, Italy

Italy

How tenderly she stands! See how greatly her charm blooms!
May she fare well: her way of life is blameless.

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Nossis made her living writing epigrams (memorable statements) to be inscribed on votive offerings at the temple in Locri, southern Italy. Her patrons were almost exclusively women from various walks of life including wealthy matrons, new brides and sex workers.

The poem below commemorates the donation of a robe to the goddess Hera on the occasion of a woman’s wedding:

Most reverend Hera, you who often descending from heaven

behold your Lacinian shrine fragrant with incense

receive the linen wrap that with her noble child Nossis

Theophilis daughter of Cleocha wove for you.

 

Roman statue of Aphrodite, circa 4th Century BCE

Roman statue of Aphrodite, circa 4th Century BCE

Twelve of Nossis’ epigrams (one of which may not have been written by her) survive in the Greek Anthology. Meleager of Gadara, in his Garland, includes her among the most distinguished Greek poets and Antipater of Thessalonica ranked her among the nine poets who deserved the honor to compete with the Muses.

Not only were Nossis’ poems dedicated to female goddesses and paid for by women, they were also intended for a female audience, unlike most Greek poetry. In the following poem, she invites other women to go and see a gilded statue commissioned by the hetaera (courtesan) Polyarchis in the temple of Aphrodite:

Let us go to Aphrodite’s temple to see her statue,
how finely it is embellished with gold.
Polyarchis dedicated it, having made a great fortune
out of the splendor of her own body.

The fact that she is giving other women – particularly historically marginalized women – a voice makes Nossis very special. She writes with warmth and honesty, refusing to hide the pride many of these women feel in their professional successes.


References:

12 Epigrams of Nossis – Locri Epizephrii’s Historical Figures

Nossis and Women’s Cult at LocriMarilyn B. Skinner

Epigrams by Women from the Greek AnthologyMarilyn B. Skinner

On Wikipedia:

 

Leontion – fl.300 BCE – Athens, Greece

Ancient Greece

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Like Themista of Lampsacus, Leontion was a follower of the philosopher Epicurus, and likely studied at the school he held in his garden in Athens.

(c) Gallery Oldham; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Hide and Seek in the Garden of Epicurus, Leontium and Ternissa by William Stott(c) Gallery Oldham; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Much like her fellow women philosophers, we are left with scant information of Leontion’s life and personal beliefs.

Later writing describes Leontion as a hetaera – an educated high class companion (see Aspasia). We cannot verify whether or not this is true – on the one hand, it was common for writers even until recently to brush off any woman who lived equally with men as a prostitute. On the other hand, it is entirely possible that it was the freedom of this social class enabled her to study philosophy in the first place.

What we know about Leontion comes to us in echoes, through the words of male writers.

Epicurus himself, who advocated the education of women, and even admitted slaves into his school, once praised an amusing letter Leontion wrote him:

 

‘By Apollo, my dear little Leontion, with what uproarious applause you filled us as we read your letter.’

She must have been a published writer, as Cicero later spoke of Leontion’s criticism of Theophrastus with disdain:

“Leontium, that little prostitute who dared to write a riposte to Theophrastus – mind you, she wrote elegantly in good Attic, but still, this was the license which prevailed in the Garden of Epicurus.”

Though Cicero clearly took issue with Leontion’s daring to learn and write philosophical treatise, he cannot help but praise her skill as a writer.

Similarly, 14th Century writer Boccaccio questioned whether Leontion dragged philosophy down to her level, or whether philosophy was already weak as she was enlightened despite her impure nature.


References:

Life of Epicurus Diogenes Laertius

The Woman and the Lyre: Women Writers in Classical Greece and Rome – Jane McIntosh Snyder

Leontion: The Lost Woman Philosopher George P. Simmons (Philosophynews.com)

On Wikipedia:

 

Amastris – d.284 BCE – Herculea, Greece

Ancient Greece

From war prize to ruling queen in three husbands…

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Amastris’ life was never dull, and never easy. Born a Princess of Persia, her uncle was King Darius III, who was defeated in battle by Alexander the Great. Suddenly the royal women of Persia became the spoils of war.

Macedonian conqueror Alexander offered Amastris in marriage to his general Craterus. A ceremony took place known as the Susa Weddings – Amastris and her cousins, the noblewomen of Persia, were married off to Alexander’s Macedonian officers in a mass wedding between eighty couples.

Once Alexander died, almost every Macedonian later divorced his Persian wife, and Craterus was no different, choosing to marry Phila, one of his own countrywomen. Amastris was sent to live with Dionysius, tyrant of Herculea Pontica. This scenario was no doubt highly preferable to the fate of Stateira, Alexander’s Persian wife and Amastris’ cousin, who was murdered by Alexander’s first wife Roxana.

Amastris was the first woman to issue coins in her own name.

Amastris was the first woman to issue coins in her own name.

Dionysius and Amastris were married in 322 BCE. It was a union which lasted sixteen years and produced two sons and a daughter. While Dionysius was described as a ‘good’ and ‘mild’ ruler, he ‘gave himself up to a life of continual luxury’ and apparently became hugely overweight and lazy.

It was Amastris who took charge, supervising the education of her children and the administration of Herculea. When Dionysius ate himself to death aged 55, he left his wife as head of the government.

The widowed Queen attempted a third marriage, this time to Greek soldier Lysimachus, who supposedly had great affection for her as well as her kingdom. However, greater things beckoned and Lysimachus left Amastris to marry Arsinoë II, princess of Egypt.

Likely very sick of marrying Macedonians by now, Amastris decided to return to Herculea and rule alone, later founding a city which she named after herself. Though she hadn’t been able to keep a husband, Amastris was very effective at keeping hold of her territories.

Sadly, Amastris life ended in tragedy. When her sons, Clearchus and Oxathres, reached maturity, they somehow had cause to drown their mother, by sinking a ship she was on. The brothers were apparently cruel rulers, and when Amastris’ third husband, Lysimachus heard of her murder, he returned to Herculea and had her sons killed for matricide.

Memnon wrote:

When [Lysimachus] arrived there, he was full of praise for Amastris; he marvelled at her character and the way she ruled, how she had built up her realm in size and importance and strength. He exalted Heracleia, and included praise for Tius and Amastris, the city which she had founded in her name. ‘


References:

History of Heracleia, Chapter 5Memnon

Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities – William Smith

On Wikipedia:

Cratesipolis – fl.314 BCE – Achaea, Greece

Ancient Greece

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Cratesipolis lived at a time of huge upheaval, when Empires could be built or destroyed by conquerors and tyrants. She knew this better than most, as she had married Alexander, a Macedonian military general.

When her husband was murdered at Sicyon, Cratesipolis was put in a difficult situation. Suddenly Alexander’s troops were without a leader, and the Sicyonians who has killed him now had their sights on her – hoping for an easy victory against a grieving woman.

Of course, Cratesipolis (whose name means conqueror of the city) wasn’t having any of it. She had accompanied her husband on many campaigns and had gained the respect of his men – apparently due to her kindness.

Unfortunately for the Sicyonians, she did not have kindness in mind this time. She led Alexander’s troops to victory against Sicyon, captured thirty of their leaders and had them crucified as an example.


References:

Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities – William Smith

The Political Activities and the name of Cratesipolis – GH Macurdy

On Wikipedia:

Hipparchia – c.350 BCE – Athens, Greece

Ancient Greece

“I, Hipparchia chose not the tasks of rich-robed woman, but the manly life of the Cynic.

Brooch-clasped tunics, well-clad shoes, and perfumed headscarves pleased me not;

But with wallet and fellow staff, together with coarse cloak and bed of hard ground,

My name shall be greater than Atalanta: for wisdom is better than mountain running”

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When it comes to the ancient Greek philosophers, women appear few and far between. Where they are present, there is so little information on them that – as in the cases of Theano and Aesara – their existence is doubted altogether. Not so in the case of Hipparchia of Maroneia, whose story remains vivid today.

Born in Maroneia, Thrace, Hipparchia’s wealthy family moved to Athens when she must have been in her teens. The city was the centre of the philosophical world at the time, and her brother Metrocles soon befriended Crates of Thebes, a Cynic philosopher.

When Hipparchia met Crates she fell head over heels. She begged her parents to let her marry him, and threatened to kill herself if they did not give their blessing.

Hipparchia’s parents were less than thrilled. As a Cynic, Crates did not lead an ordinary life. To demonstrate this, he removed his clothes before Hipparchia, declaring ‘here is the bridegroom, and this is his property.’

The young woman was not to be dissuaded and eagerly took up the clothes and lifestyle of a Cynic to be with him.

Engraving depicting Hipparchia and Crates from the book Proefsteen van de Trou-ringh (Touchstone of the Wedding Ring) written by Jacob Cats. Hipparchia and Crates are depicted wearing 17th-century clothing. In the scene depicted, Crates is trying to dissuade Hipparchia from her affections for him by pointing to his head to show how ugly he is.

Engraving depicting Hipparchia and Crates from the book Proefsteen van de Trou-ringh (Touchstone of the Wedding Ring) written by Jacob Cats. Hipparchia and Crates are depicted wearing 17th-century clothing. In the scene depicted, Crates is trying to dissuade Hipparchia from her affections for him by pointing to his head to show how ugly he is.

The Cynics believed that a virtuous life was to be attained by living in harmony with nature, as animals did. They rejected material wealth and power, opting instead to live simply with a cloak and staff as their only possessions. They lived in the stoas and porticoes (porches) of Athens, sometimes sleeping outdoors as they did not have homes.

Hipparchia embraced this life. She dressed as her husband did and lived on equal terms with him – shocking to their contemporaries. They went everywhere together and according to some writings, had sex in public like animals.

Though none of her philosophical work survives, there are a number of anecdotes about Hipparchia. Once she attended a symposium and challenged Theodorus the Atheist. Later when Theodorus questioned her by saying : ‘Who is the woman who has left behind the shuttles of the loom?’ she responded:

“I, Theodorus, am that person, but do I appear to you to have come to a wrong decision, if I devote that time to philosophy, which I otherwise should have wasted at the loom?”

Hipparchia’s true legacy is the way she lived her life – making her own choices and using her own voice. Though her lifestyle was unacceptable for women during her lifetime and for many hundreds of years afterwards, today Hipparchia seems thoroughly modern.

Although there were other women who chose to live as Cynics, Hipparchia is the only one who is named to us. She is also the only woman to have her own entry among the 82 philosophers in Diogenes Laërtius’ Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers.


In Fiction:

The story of Hipparchia’s attraction to Crates, and her rejection of conventional values, became a popular theme for later writers:

  • 1568 – Hore di ricreatione by Lodovico Guicciardini – Features the story of Hipparchia’s marriage to Crates.
  • 1637 – Touchstone of the Wedding Ring (Proefsteen van de Trou-ringh) by Jacob Cats
  • 1668 – No Cross, No Crown by William Penn
  • 1676 – Cynogamia, sive de Cratetis et Hipparches amoribus by Pierre Petit
  • 1600s – Sposalizio d’Iparchia filosofa (The marriage of Hipparchia the philosopher) by Clemenza Ninci, a nun. This play deals with Hipparchia’s desire to marry Crates, and the obstacles which are placed in her way until she achieves her desire.
  • 1804 – Krates und Hipparchia by Christoph Martin Wieland
  • 1896 – Vies Imaginaires (Imaginary Lives) by Marcel Schwob
  • 1921 – Hipparchia by H.D. – a highly fictionalised account of Hipparchia’s daughter, (whom H.D. imagines is also called Hipparchia)
  • 1989 – L’Étude et le rouet (Hipparchia’s Choice) by Michèle Le Dœuff – a reflection on women’s relation to philosophy.

In Science:

A genus of butterflies, Hipparchia (genus), bears her name.


 

References:

Encyclopedia of Women in the Ancient WorldJoyce Salisbury

Hipparchia’s Choice: An Essay Concerning Women, Philosophy, Etc – Michèle Le Dœuff, Trista Selous

On Wikipedia: