Known as the ‘Witch of Thessaly’ Aglaonice was considered a sorceress for her ability to predict the movements of the moon.
In fact, Aglaonice (sometimes Aglaonike) was an astronomer. Her apparent ability to ‘pluck [the moon] down from heaven’ is taken to mean that she could predict lunar eclipses.
We know about Aglaonice mostly from the writings of Plutarch who said that she was ‘thoroughly acquainted with the periods of the full moon when it is subject to eclipse, and, knowing beforehand the time when the moon was due to be overtaken by the earth’s shadow, imposed upon the women, and made them all believe that she was drawing down the moon.’
Plato later wrote about a group of women astronomers, associates of Aglaonice, who were active from the third to the first century BCE, calling them ‘the Thessalian enchantresses’.
Little is known about the life of Aglaonice, other than that her father was Hegetor of Thessaly (and we don’t have any details on him either).
It is suggested that she encouraged the perception of herself as a sorceress and perhaps boasted about her powers – giving rise to the Greek proverb: ‘Yes, as the moon obeys Aglaonice.’
‘Aglaonice… being skilful in astrology, made the vulgar believe, whenever the moon was eclipsed, that by means of some charms and enchantments she brought it down from heaven.’ – Plutarch
Whether she was a serious astronomer, a powerful witch or simply an excellent performance artist, Aglaonice is honored today in the field of astronomy; one of the craters on Venus is named after her.
De defectu oraculorum – Plutarch
Aglaonice is a character in the Jean Cocteau film Orpheus, in which she is a friend of Eurydice and leader of the League of Women.
“FullMoon2010” by Gregory H. Revera – Own work.
Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons