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:

 

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