Leoparda – 4th Century – Constantinople

Constantinople

Leoparda

Leoparda lived and worked at the court of Emperor Gratian as a gynaecologist, serving the medical needs of the women at the Byzantine court.

She was a respected doctor who we know about from a book by her colleague, the emperor’s physician, Theodorus Priscianus. Priscianus wrote a book on women’s medicine which was intended to teach women in medical professions.

Ad Timotheum fratrem. Book III: Gynaecea ad Slavinam was dedicated to Leoparda, as well as two other women, Salvina and Victoria. It also contains quotes from Aspasia, an earlier physician who specialised in obstetrics and gynaecology.


References:

The Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science: L-ZMarilyn Bailey Ogilvie, Joy Dorothy Harvey

On Wikipedia:

 

Hypatia – c.351/370 – 415 – Alexandria, Egypt

Ancient Egypt

Hypatia

In the centuries since her death, Hypatia has become an icon for women in education and scientific thought. Her story has been told and retold, casting her as a pagan seductress, a prim school ma’am, an enlightened philosopher and a tragic heroine. Her brutal and untimely death is often told in gory detail without recounting the facts of her life.

This is largely because (as with so many women in this era) little is known about the life of Hypatia which can be confirmed. We know that she was a highly intelligent woman with a first class classical Greek education. She lived in Alexandria, Egypt, and headed the Neoplatonic School there, teaching philosophy and astronomy. Most remarkably of all, Hypatia was a woman in charge of her own life and who made her own choices.

A gifted mathematician, she inherited her passion for the subject from her father, Theon Alexandricus. Following her education in Athens, she relocated to Alexandria, at the time the home of the world’s largest and most comprehensive library. She taught Greek philosophy, including the works of Plato and Aristotle to students from all walks of life.

Hypatia occupied a respected position in Alexandrian society. Most sources report that she was well respected and admired for her wisdom and dignity. She refused to marry, though there are stories in which she turns down proposals from her enamoured students. Hypatia’s single status and dedication to her career enabled her to move more freely through male dominated environments than other women at the time.

Socrates Scholasticus, a contemporary of Hypatia’s, describes her self-assured nature and how her advice was well regarded and sought after by the leading minds of Alexandria:

“On account of the self-possession and ease of manner which she had acquired in consequence of the cultivation of her mind, she not infrequently appeared in public in the presence of the magistrates. Neither did she feel abashed in going to an assembly of men. For all men on account of her extraordinary dignity and virtue admired her the more.”

Though no surviving work is attributed to Hypatia, classical scholars make mentions of a number of texts and commentaries which she may have collaborated on with her father.

Mort_de_la_philosophe_Hypatie

“Death of the philosopher Hypatia, in Alexandria” (Source)

Hypatia’s murder took place in 415 in Alexandria. At the time there was an ongoing feud between the Roman Prefect of Alexandria, Orestes, and the Bishop of Alexandria, Cyril. Cyril had demanded that all of the Jewish citizens of Alexandria be banished. Alexandria was a city of multiple faiths at the time – Hypatia’s students included pagans, Jews and Christians – and Orestes was outraged by Cyril’s violent actions.

As previously mentioned, Hypatia was often asked for advice by prominent citizens of the city, and in this case Orestes asked for her input. Unfortunately, by this point the feud would not be solved with reason or debate, and Cyril’s followers felt that Hypatia was siding against them. A mob attacked her and dragged her through the streets to their church, where they brutally killed and mutilated her.


In Fiction:

Literature and theatre:

  • Hypatie et Cyril is a French poem by Charles Marie Rene Leconte de Lisle

    Hypatia_(1900_Play)

    An actress, possibly Mary Anderson, in the title role of the play Hypatia, circa 1900. (Source)

  • Hypatia – or New Foes with an Old Face – Charles Kingsley (novel)
  • In the 1893 performance of the play Hypatia by Stuart Ogilvie (based on Kingsley’s book) Hypatia was played by Julia Neilson, then by Mary Anderson in 1900.
  • The Heirs of Alexandria series by Mercedes Lackey, Eric Flint and Dave Freer portrays am alternate history in which Hypatia is converted to Christianity, saving her life.
  • Fable of Venice by Corto Maltese has Hypatia as an intellectual in pre-fascist Italy.
  • Ipazia, scienziata alessandrina(Hypatia: Scientist of Alexandria) by Adriano Petta
  • Hypatia y la eternidad(Hypatia and Eternity) by Ramon Galí is also set in an alternate history.
  • Azazil by Dr Youssel Ziedan
  • Francis Itty Cora by D. Ramakrishnan
  • Remembering Hypatia: A Novel of Ancient Egyptby Brian Trent
  • Flow Down Like Silver, Hypatia of Alexandriaby Ki Longfellow
  • In The Plot to Save Socratesby Paul Levinson and the sequel Unburning Alexandria, Hypatia turns out to have been a time-traveller from 21st century America.
  • Heresy: the Life of Pelagiusby David Lovejoy includes Hypatia’s death.

Film and Television:

  • 1987 Doctor Who serial Time and the Rani features a brief appearance from Hypatia.
  • Cosmos: A Personal Voyage (1980 and 2014).
  • Agora (2009) stars Rachel Weiss as Hypatia in a fictionalised version of her last years.

Art:

  • Hypatia has a place setting at Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party.

Science:

  • 238 Hypatia is a main belt asteroid named after the philosopher.
  • Lunar crater Hypatia.
  • A genus of moth.

References:

Rejected Princesses: Hypatia

Women Philosophers in the Ancient Greek World: Donning the Mantle – Kathleen Wider

Medieval Sourcebook: The Murder of Hypatia (late 4th Cent.) from Ecclesiastical History,Bk VI: Chap. 15 – Socrates Scholasticus

On Wikipedia:

 

Aelia Eudoxia – c. 377 – 404 – Constantinople

Constantinople

Aelia Eudoxia

In 388 Aelia Eudoxia arrived in Constantinople, the new capital city of the Roman Empire, as an orphan. Her father, a magister militum (master of soldiers) was presumably killed in battle in France and her mother’s fate is unrecorded.

Eudoxia was taken into the household of Promotus, a friend of her father’s, where she was raised and educated alongside his two sons, as well as the emperor’s sons, Arcadius and Honorius.

Some years later in 395, Emperor Theodosius I died and was succeeded by eighteen year old Arcadius. Due to his relative youth, Arcadius was assigned a protector – Praetorian prefect Rufinus. Rufinus hoped to gain control of Arcadius by marrying him to his daughter, but a rival faction led by palace official Eutropius got there first and arranged for Eudoxia to marry Arcadius instead – without Rufinus’ consent.

The two teenage rulers went on to have a generally successful marriage. Considered extraordinarily beautiful and highly intelligent by her contemporaries, Eudoxia divided political opinion. She was immensely strong willed and perceived by many as domineering; holding too much control over the emperor.

TAeliaEudoxia

Coin with Aelia Eudoxia’s image. (Source)

Her influence was certainly wide. Eudoxia involved herself in legal matters, in one case preventing court action against a general who bribed her. She was also active in the affairs of the church, patronising the Nicene Creed, paying for religious processions and involving herself in Christian celebrations and vigils, often appearing without her husband.

By 400, Eudoxia was officially known by the title Augusta (Empress) and was depicted on Roman coinage. A statue was dedicated to her, and her husband even renamed the town of Selymbria Eudoxiopolis in honour of his wife.

As with all powerful women, Eudoxia’s enemies had much to say about her. The historian Zosimus accused her of being easily manipulated by the women of her court, as well as claiming that her son Theodosius was the result of an affair with a courtier. Philostorgius concedes that Eudoxia was cleverer than her husband, but that she was very arrogant, and a barbarian.

She made her greatest enemy in John Chrysostom, the Patriarch of Constantinople. As a church leader, John rejected flamboyant dress and expensive parties. He publicly spoke against extravagant women’s fashion, which the empress took as a personal criticism. Eudoxia used her influence in the church to have John banished.

800px-John_Chrysostom_and_Aelia_Eudoxia

John Chrysostom confronting Aelia Eudoxia by Jean-Paul Laurens. (Source)

However, he had been popular with the common people who threatened to turn against the emperor and empress. Eudoxia had to call the bishop back almost as soon as judgement was passed. Reinstated, John continued to antagonise Eudoxia, comparing her to the biblical seductress Salome and making complaints about a statue erected to the empress.

He was banished again, and this time did not return.

Eudoxia died while she was still in her twenties, due to complications in childbirth. Her son, Theodosius later became Emperor, and one of her four daughters, Pulcheria, eventually became an empress as powerful as her mother.


References:

Theodosian Empresses: Women and Imperial Dominion in Late AntiquityKenneth G. Holum

A to Z of Ancient Greek and Roman Women Marjorie Lightman, Benjamin Lightman

On Wikipedia:

 

Fabiola – d. 399 – Rome

Ancient Rome

Fabiola

In a similar fashion to contemporaries Marcella and Paula, Fabiola was a high ranking Roman noblewoman who chose a life of poverty and charitable work under the influence of Saint Jerome.

She was married twice before her conversion to Christianity – first to a cruel man who she divorced, the second time to a man who left her widowed.

With two husbands behind her and enough money to live comfortably, like so many other women of her generation Fabiola turned to the church. There was only one problem – Fabiola had divorced her first husband and remarried, something forbidden by the Roman church. She would have to prove herself worthy before being accepted.

At Easter, Fabiola dressed in a plain paupers smock and went to do penance at the gates of the Lateran basilica. Impressed, the pope welcomed her.

Lateran_basilica

The Lateran Basilica in Rome where Fabiola did her penance. (Source)

Fabiola got to work at once. She built a hospital and personally tended to the sick herself. Not afraid to get her hands dirty in the service of the poor, Jerome writes of Fabiola’s good works:

“She was the first person to found a hospital, into which she might gather sufferers out of the streets, and where she might nurse the unfortunate victims of sickness and want. Need I now recount the various ailments of human beings? Need I speak of noses slit, eyes put out, feet half burnt, hands covered with sores? Or of limbs dropsical and atrophied? Or of diseased flesh alive with worms? Often did she carry on her own shoulders persons infected with jaundice or with filth. Often too did she wash away the matter discharged from wounds which others, even though men, could not bear to look at.”

She also donated money to support churches and monasteries across Italy and travelled the empire sharing her wealth and caring for the sick. By 395 Fabiola felt she had not yet done enough – she decided to follow Paula’s example and travel to Jerusalem.

In Bethlehem Fabiola lived for a time with Paula and studied with Jerome. Here she threw herself into a life of penitence and contemplation of the scriptures.

“And yet this eagerness to hear did not bring with it any feeling of satiety: increasing her knowledge she also increased her sorrow, and by casting oil upon the flame she did but supply fuel for a still more burning zeal.”

Fabiola had still not found what she was seeking. The political climate in Jerusalem changed for Jerome after the Huns invaded. Between that and Jerome’s quarrel with the bishop of Jerusalem, Fabiola decided to go home.

She kept in touch with Jerome, and eventually went on to found a hospital at Portus for pilgrims travelling into Rome. She spent the rest of her life working in her hospitals caring for others, and is an example of Christian women’s early involvement in medicine and nursing.


References:

St. Jerome wrote a eulogistic memoir of Fabiola in a letter to her relative Oceanus.

Women in Science: Antiquity Through the Nineteenth Century : a Biographical Dictionary with Annotated Bibliography – Marilyn Bailey Ogilvie

On Wikipedia:

Paula – 347 – 404 – Rome/Bethlehem

Ancient Rome

“If all the members of my body were to be converted into tongues, and if each of my limbs were to be gifted with a human voice, I could still do no justice to the virtues of the holy and venerable Paula.” – Saint Jerome

Paula

One of the early ‘desert mothers’ – women who relocated to the holy land to work for the church – Paula of Rome was a key figure in the formation of Christianity.

She came from one of the most prestigious Roman families and inherited immense wealth. Married in her teens to a nobleman of equal standing, Paula had five children. As a young matron of Rome she enjoyed her privilege; Saint Jerome writes that she wore silk dresses and was carried about the city by eunuch slaves.

Paula’s husband died when she was only thirty-two, plunging her into grief.  Her mourning drove her desire to learn more about religion and eventually led her to the brown dress society, led by Marcella. Inspired by this monastic style of living, Paula became devoted to the church, giving away much of her material wealth.

When her family and friends complained that she was giving away her children’s inheritance, she simply dismissed them, claiming that she was exchanging their earthly inheritance for a heavenly one.

It was after she met Saint Jerome in 382 that Paula decided to make a pilgrimage to the holy land. Though she was doing good work in Rome, she was unhappy with the life she had because of her familial ties and social status and felt she would be free from these burdens in the desert.

Paula’s journey was an epic one by the standards of the time. Her children accompanied

800px-Francisco_de_Zurbarán_043

Saint Jerome with Saint Paula and Saint Eustochium by Francisco de Zurbaran (Source)

her as far as the Roman port of Portus at Ostia, and once she was on board the ship she refused to look back at them on the shore in case seeing them there drew her back.

Only her daughter Eustochium chose to make the journey with her. They stopped at the island of Pontia to visit the exiled martyr Flavia Domitilla, who further strengthened Paula’s resolve to reach Jerusalem.

Later she stopped at Cyprus to visit the bishop Epiphanius. Here she travelled to at every monastery on the island to leave behind a donation of money. Paula continued on her journey through to Seleucia, then Antioch, stopping at a number of holy places in modern day Syria, Lebanon and Israel to see the sights and worship, before eventually arriving in Bethlehem.

After seeing a number of important places from the bible, including the cave in which Jesus was said to have been born, Paula decided that she would stay in Bethlehem. Immediately she set to work building a monastery for monks and a convent for the women who joined her.

Bethlehem_Geburtskirche_3

The Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem (Source)

For the rest of her life, Paula dedicated herself tirelessly to working for the poor, the sick and pilgrims who passed through Bethlehem. She may have had some basic medical knowledge as she is described as tending to the sick personally.

She also assisted Jerome academically, helping his Bible translation into Latin and later (with her daughter Eustochium) making copies to circulate the gospel.

After Paula’s death, Eustochium continued running the convent she had left behind. Her final resting place is beneath the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the spot thought to be Jesus’ birthplace.

Paula is honoured as a Saint in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox church and her feast day is celebrated on 26th January.


In fiction:

Geoffrey Chaucer played upon the relationship between Jerome and Paula in the Wife of Bath‘s Prologue.


References:

Jerome’s Letter 108

On Wikipedia:

Marcella – 325 – 410 – Rome

Ancient Rome

Marcella

Marcella was a Roman noblewoman who was active in the early Christian church as one of the founders of monasticism (renouncing a worldly life to dedicate oneself to spiritual service).

The majority of information we have on Marcella comes from a letter written by Saint Jerome, a theologian and doctor of the church, in which he gives a biography of her life and praises her intelligence and good works.

“I will not set forth her illustrious family and lofty lineage… I will praise her for nothing but the virtue which is her own and which is the more noble, because forsaking both wealth and rank she has sought the true nobility of poverty and lowliness.”

– Saint Jerome on Marcella

Like Faltonia Betitia Proba, who lived around the same time, Marcella was born into a wealthy and influential Roman family. She was widowed young, after only seven months of marriage, and while it was Roman custom to remarry quickly, Marcella chose instead to dedicate the rest of her life to serving the poor, rather than a husband.

This was shocking to her contemporaries, including her mother, Albina, who had already found her a suiter, the elderly consular Cerealis. After hearing that Marcella planned to remain unmarried, Cerealis attempted to win her over by promising her his fortune, claiming that she would be more of a daughter to him than a wife, due to their age difference. Marcella’s cutting response was:

“Had I a wish to marry and not rather to dedicate myself to perpetual chastity, I should look for a husband and not an inheritance.”

Being uninterested in material wealth was an unusual trait at the time, particularly in a Roman Matron, for whom wealth and status was everything. Still, Marcella’s life of quiet prayer, chastity and charity struck a chord, and soon other young women were following her example.

Known as ‘the brown dress society’, Marcella and her community of Roman women dressed in coarse plain garments and stopped dressing their hair or wearing makeup. Marcella opened up her luxurious mansion as a refuge for the poor and a house of hospitality for pilgrims travelling to Rome.

Tiber_with_the_Ponte_Rotto_and_the_Aventine_Hill_1690

Painting of the Tiber with the Aventine Hill where Marcella’s house once stood. 1690 (Source)

It was through her hospital that Marcella met Jerome in 382 as he stayed with her while visiting Pope Damasus I. An intelligent and learned woman, Marcella thrived on the opportunity to debate with Jerome, a leading mind in theological matters. Fluent in Greek and Hebrew as well as her native Latin, she was invaluable to the scholar as he spent three years translating the Bible from her home.

Not content to simply listen and learn, Marcella was active in her pursuit of knowledge, openly challenging Jerome a number of times, impressing him immensely:

“..she never came to see me without asking me some questions about [the scriptures]… nor would she rest content at once, but on the contrary would dispute them; this, however, was not for the sake of argument, but to learn by questioning the answers to such objections might, as she saw, be raised. How much virtue and intellect, how much holiness and purity I found in her I am afraid to say, both lest I may exceed the bounds of men’s belief… This only will I say, that whatever I had gathered together by long study, and by constant meditation made part of my nature, she tasted, she learned and made her own.”

Marcella’s influence spread throughout Rome, reaching another future collaborator of Jerome’s – Paula. Eventually Jerome and Paula chose to travel to the holy land to set up churches and monasteries there, but Marcella opted to stay in Rome and oversee her brown dress society.

The virgins in her society called Marcella ‘Mother’, and their lives can be compared to convent nuns in later Christianity. She was in her late seventies when the Goths attacked and ravaged Rome. Marcella’s house was invaded by soldiers seeking the treasure which was by then long gone on various charitable causes.

Marcella fled to the church of St Paul, where she died soon after. She is honoured today in the Roman Orthodox and Easter Orthodox churches as a saint. Her feast day is 31st January.


References:

Letter from Saint Jerome ‘To Principia’ detailing the life of Marcella – 412 AD

Parade of Faith: A Biographical History of the Christian Church – Ruth A. Tucker

On Wikipedia:

 

Faltonia Betitia Proba – c. 306/c. 315 – c. 353/c. 366 – Rome

Ancient Rome

20160110_172637-1

Faltonia Betitia Proba was an early Christian Roman woman who was inspired by her faith to create one of the most influential poems of late antiquity (4th – 6th Centuries).

Born into a wealthy and noble family, Proba was the daughter of a Roman consul. She was clearly highly educated and made a politically useful marriage to the Prefect Clodius Celsinus Adelphus in 351.

Boccaccio_-_Faltonia_Proba_-_De_mulieribus_claris,_XV_secolo_illuminated_manuscript

Faltonia Betitia Proba teaching the history of the world since the creation through her Cento Vergilanius de laudibus Christi. From a 15th Century manuscipt of the De muliberibus claris by Giovanni Boccaccio. (Source)

Though she had been raised in the Roman pagan religion, at some point during adulthood Proba converted to Christianity, a relatively new cult which was increasing in popularity in Rome at this time. Devout in her beliefs, Proba influenced her husband and two sons to convert as well.

There are two poems attributed to Proba, the first of which is believed to have been written before her conversion. Known as Constantini bellum adversus Magnentium, it told the story of the war between emperor Constantius II and the usurper Magnentius. This poem no longer exists, and some scholars think that Proba may have personally had it destroyed due to its pagan themes.

Following her conversion, Proba completed her master work; the  Cento vergilianus de laudibus Christi.

CentoProbae

An image of Faltonia Betitia Proba holding a scroll. Underneath is the beginning of her Cento. (Source)

A cento is a poem which is entirely composed of verses or passages taken from other authors, reworked to tell a different story. Proba used verses by the ancient poet Virgil combined with biblical passages to create an epic style poem about the life of Jesus of Nazareth.

In 694 lines, Proba tells the story of the bible, from the Old Testament stories of creation, the fall of man, the great flood and the story of Moses, to the New Testament and teachings of Jesus.

De Laudibus Christi was hugely popular upon publication. It was written in a style which was accessible and entertaining, which led to the work being shared and taught in schools. Faltonia Betitia Proba was praised well into the medieval period for her work.


References:

Early Christian Women Writers: The Interesting Lives and Works of Faltonia Betitia Proba and Athenais-Eudocia – Cătălina Mărmureanu, Gianina Cernescu, Laura Lixandru 

A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology. By various writers. Edited by Sir William Smith

On Wikipedia:

 

Aemilia Hilaria – c.300 – c.363 – Moselle, Gaul

France

20160109_210419

Aemilia Hilaria (Aemilia the cheerful) was so nicknamed because she was such a happy baby. She was born and educated as a Roman citizen in Roman Gaul, in an area which is now Moselle, France.

We know about her thanks to a poem written by her nephew, Ausonius, who remembered his aunt with great affection in a poem:

VI Aemilia Hilaria, my mother’s sister, an avowed virgin

You too who, though in kinship’s degree an aunt, were to me a mother,

must now be recalled with a son’s affection.

Aemilia, who in the cradle gained the second name of Hilarius, because,

Bright and cheerful after the fashion of a boy,

You made without pretence the very picture of a lad.

…[text missing] busied in the art of healing like a man.

You ever hated your female sex

And so there grew up in you the love of consecrated maidenhood.

Through three and sixty years you maintained it, and your life’s end was also a maiden’s end.

The poem describes an affectionate relationship between aunt and nephew.

Ausonius describes how Hilaria chose a life as a ‘dedicated virgin’ – that is to say she would never marry – in order to pursue a career as a physician. Based on the information from her nephew, it seems that Hilaria was successful in her work and lived a long life.


References:

Parentalia (VI)Ausonius

This Female Man of God: Women and Spiritual Power in the Patristic Age, 350 450 – Gillian Cloke

Women in Roman Law and Society – Jane F. Gardner

 

Xun Guan – 3rd Century – Xiangyang city, China

Ancient China, China

20160105_203348-1

Xun Guan was born at a time of turbulence and uncertainty for feudal China. Her father, Xun Song, was the governor of Xiangyang (also Xiangcheng) during the last years of the Western Jin dynasty (265 – 316).

She was thirteen years old and with her father when their city came under attack from the insurgent Du Zeng, who had amassed some 2000 troops and surrounded the city. Under siege and low on supplies, Xun Song found himself in a desperate situation. If he could just get word to Shi Lan, a general and ally in neighbouring Pinyang, then perhaps they could send supplies and reinforcements – but to do this someone would have to break through Du Zeng’s forces.

It was a dangerous mission, one that no one was willing to take. As food supplies dwindled further, Xun Song prepared himself to carry out the task himself. Xun Guan stopped him.

His young daughter was adamant that he must stay with his people, who needed his leadership now more than ever. Instead, she volunteered to lead a small party past the enemy line and go for help herself.

Though she was only thirteen, Xun Guan clearly had some military training and was a persuasive speaker, because her father allowed her to go. She waited for night to fall, when she knew that Du Zeng’s soldiers lowered their guard, and managed to escape the city unscathed.

From there, she headed straight to Pinyang where she pleaded to Shi Lan for help. She also wrote a letter on behalf of her father to General Zhou Fang in the south, asking for further reinforcements. Zhou sent 3000 men at once and the two armies fell upon the besieged city, forcing Du Zeng to retreat.

xun_guan6024d331bd7981c6eab8.jpg

Xun Guan (source)

Once the city was freed, Shi Lan commented to Xun Song:”You daughter is clever and brave. I am envious of you!”

Zhou Fang added:

“Xiangyang is no longer under siege and the people are saved. Respect and thanks to young Xun Guan!”


References:

Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Women: Antiquity Through Sui, 1600 B.C.E – 618 C.E. Lily Xiao Hong Lee, A. D. Stefanowska, Sue Wiles

Xun GuanCultural China