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

Ancient Egypt


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.


“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


    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.


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


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


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:



Aretaphila of Cyrene – c. 50 BCE – Cyrene, North Africa



We know the story of Aretaphila from Plutarch’s work De mulierum virtutes (On the Virtues of Women), in which he describes her struggle to depose the tyrannical ruler Nicocrates.

A Greek noblewoman, Aretaphila lived with her husband Phaedimus in Cyrene, North Africa. Her life was changed forever when the cruel Nicocrates murdered Phaedimus and forced her to marry him instead.

This was not the worst Nicocrates had done – the people of Cyrene lived in fear of their violent ruler, who seized their property and destroyed their homes. Determined to have her revenge, Aretaphila attempted to poison Nicrocrates.

Nicocrates’ mother, Calbia, caught Aretaphila before she could act, and had the young woman tortured. Aretaphila confessed nothing, instead convincing Nicocrates that she had given him a love potion, not poison, in order to win his affections. Polyaenus writes:

She was acquitted by the tyrant’s order; and supposing that she had suffered innocently, he afterwards treated her with marks of great attention and affection.

Ruins of Cyrene (modern day Libya)

Ruins of Cyrene (modern day Libya)

After this, Aretaphila bided her time. She gave birth to a daughter, who grew up to be very beautiful, and when she was old enough, Aretaphila introduced her to Nicocrates’ brother Leander, who fell in love and married her.

Aretaphila used Leander’s love for her daughter to win him over and managed to convince him to kill Nicorates. Unfortunately, Leander turned out to be an even worse tyrant than his brother. Aretaphila was forced to come up with a new plan to rid her people of the oppressive foreign rulers once and for all.

She won favour with Ababus, the prince of Libya and bribed him to capture and arrest Leander.

Aretaphila was celebrated by the people of Cyrene, and in their gratitude they even offered her a role in the new government. However, Aretaphila declined. After dedicating her life to avenging her first husband, she opted for a quiet retirement.


Mulierum virtutesPlutarch, translated by William W. Goodwin

Stratagems 8:38Polyaenus translated by R.Shepherd

On Wikipedia:

Aretaphilia of Cyrene

Image credits:

Cyrene8” by Maher27777 – Own work.

Licensed under Public Domain via Commons

Cleopatra VII – 69 BCE – 30 BCE – Alexandria, Egypt

Ancient Egypt


Kleopatra VII Philopator, known commonly as ‘Cleopatra’, is perhaps the most well-known woman so far in this project, and one of the most famous figures in history.

Though she was not the first woman to rule Egypt (see Merneith, Sobekneferu, Hatshepsut, Nefertiti and Tausret), she was the last active pharaoh (only very briefly survived by her son) of Egypt as an independent country.

Cleopatra’s reputation precedes her. Thanks to hundreds of paintings, plays, operas, novels and films, the story of the ‘Queen of the Nile’ continues to be shared worldwide. She is remembered by turns as a great beauty, a seductress, a tragic lover, a passionate ruler and a cold, calculated femme fatale.

* * * * *

Born in 69 BCE, Cleopatra was a Ptolemy; a Macedonian Greek family who had ruled Egypt for three hundred years and could trace their lineage back to Ptolemy Soter, General to Alexander the Great. (See other Ptolemies in this project: Arsinoë II, Bilistiche, Arsinoë III, Cleopatra II).

The Ptolemaic dynasty was marked by corruption and power struggles. Before she was even fourteen years old, Cleopatra had seen both of her elder sisters, Cleopatra VI and Berenice overthrow their father – both were killed; one executed, one found dead in suspicious circumstances.


Ptolemaic princess, thought to be Cleopatra VII

Now the eldest living daughter, the teenage Cleopatra was elevated to co-regent beside her father.

Her father, Ptolemy XII Auletes died when she was eighteen. As was tradition, Cleopatra married her younger brother, ten year old Ptolemy XIII, with whom she became joint ruler. It was clear that this arrangement was not a happy one. To assert her authority over her brother Cleopatra withdrew Ptolemy’s name from official documents and issued coins which showed only her face.

This sole reign caused uproar among certain factions in the royal court, and in 48 BCE Cleopatra was chased out of Egypt along with her younger sister, Arsinoë.

Cleopatra was not without supporters. An intelligent young woman with a

Cleopatra VII as the goddess Isis

Cleopatra VII as the goddess Isis

political mind, she was the first Ptolemy ruler who bothered to learn the Egyptian language. (In fact, including her mother-tongue, Greek, Cleopatra spoke nine languages fluently, making her very popular with foreign diplomats as she rarely needed an interpreter). She also fully embraced the religion of Egypt like no Ptolemy before her, presenting herself as a reincarnation of the goddess Isis.

During Cleopatra’s exile, her thirteen year old brother-husband made a very powerful enemy. Julius Caesar had been at civil war with his General and co-ruler Pompey. When Pompey fled to Alexandria to seek sanctuary, the young pharaoh had him beheaded as he watched from a throne in the Alexandrian harbor.

Hoping that the execution would win him favor with Rome, Ptolemy cheerfully presented Caesar with the head of his enemy when the dictator arrived in Alexandria two days later. Caesar was furious. Though they had been political rivals, Pompey was a Roman consul and the widower of Caesar’s only legitimate daughter, Julia. Caesar seized the Egyptian capital and imposed himself as arbiter between the rival claims of Ptolemy and Cleopatra.

At this point, Cleopatra famously had herself smuggled back into Alexandria – many stories describe her being rolled up in a carpet and carried to Julius Caesar’s bedroom by her servants. However she arrived, the twenty one year old queen quickly managed to charm the Roman ruler and the two became lovers.

Nine months later, Cleopatra gave birth to her first child, a boy she named Caesarion (little Caesar) and Julius Caesar sent his army after Ptolemy. Ptolemy XIII drowned in the Nile and Cleopatra was married to her other brother, Ptolemy XIV with whom she became co-ruler.

Cleopatra VII presenting her son Caesarion at the Temple of Dendera

Cleopatra VII presenting her son Caesarion at the Temple of Dendera

The young queen travelled to Rome to visit Caesar with their son in the summer of 46 BCE. There she was invited to stay in one of Caesar’s luxury country houses, causing scandal as he was already married to Calpurnia Pisonis. The dictator had a golden statue of Cleopatra as Isis built and displayed in the Forum Julium, but he refused to acknowledge Caesarion as his heir, preferring instead his grandnephew Octavian.

Cleopatra was forced to return to Egypt with her family when Julius Caesar was assassinated in March 44 and Rome erupted in civil war. Soon after, Ptolemy XIV died – some say poisoned – and Cleopatra made Caesarion her co-regent and successor.

Three years later, Marc Antony arrived in Egypt.

Antony and Cleopatra by Lawrence Alma-Tadema

Antony and Cleopatra by Lawrence Alma-Tadema

Marc Antony had come to ask Cleopatra for Egypt’s allegiance as he prepared to fight the Parthians. She promised this and more as the two greatest political figures of their time came together and fell in love.

The queen had the Roman solider enthralled – she took him on an exotic pleasure cruise down the Nile, held lavish banquets and showed off her immense wealth.

In time, Cleopatra gave birth to Marc Antony’s twins – Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene. In return, Antony had Cleopatra’s younger sister and last remaining rival Arsinoë killed.

Four years passed before Antony returned to Alexandria. He had clearly missed Cleopatra because this time he stayed for good. Though he was still married to Octavian’s sister Octavia, he married Cleopatra in an Egyptian ceremony and they had a third child – Ptolemy Philadelphus.

Cleopatra VII and Marc Antony on their coins

Cleopatra VII and Marc Antony on their coins

When Antony conquered Armenia in 34 BCE, Cleopatra and Caesarion were crowned co-rulers of both Egypt and Cyrprus, and the other children were made rulers of Armenia, Media, Parthia, Curenaica, Libya, Phoenicia, Syria and Cicilia. Cleopatra became ‘Queen of Kings’ and Caesarion was declared a god king.

The people of Rome were not pleased. It looked as through Cleopatra and Antony were planning war, and Octavian decided to strike first. The battle of Actium took place in 31 BCE between the Roman and Egyptian naval forces. Egypt fell when Marc Antony’s armies defected and joined Octavian.

The details of what happened next are not clear, and differ depend on who is telling the story. We do know that both Marc Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide rather than face their defeat. Marc Antony probably fell on his sword, while Cleopatra famously allowed herself to be bitten by an asp (cobra).

The Death of Cleopatra by Reginald Arthur

The Death of Cleopatra by Reginald Arthur


Caesarion was proclaimed pharaoh by the Egyptians, but quickly killed by Octavian. The victorious Emperor returned to Rome triumphant with the three remaining children of Cleopatra and Marc Antony in chains.

Cleopatra’s death marked not only the end of the Ptolemaic dynasty, but the end of all Egyptian pharaohs. After her reign, Egypt became a province of the Roman Empire.

Cleopatra’s daughter, Cleopatra Selene, lived a long life and married Juba of Namidia, bringing a large dowry provided by Augustus. She and Juba went on to rule Mauretania. Their first son was named Ptolemy.

In fiction:

To this day, Cleopatra remains a popular figure in Western culture…

Sarah Bernhardt as Cleopatra, 1891

Sarah Bernhardt as Cleopatra, 1891

Lillie Langtry as Cleopatta 1891

Lillie Langtry as Cleopatra 1891

Gertrude Elliot Forbes-Robertson as Cleopatra, 1906

Gertrude Elliot Forbes-Robertson as Cleopatra, 1906

Theda Bara as Cleopatra 1912

Theda Bara as Cleopatra 1912

Helen Gardner as Cleopatra 1912

Helen Gardner as Cleopatra 1912

Russian dancer Mme Lubowska as Cleopatra, 1915

Russian dancer Mme Lubowska as Cleopatra, 1915

Claudette Colbert as Cleopatra 1934

Claudette Colbert as Cleopatra 1934

Vivienne Leigh as Cleopatra in 'Caesar and Cleopatra' 1945

Vivienne Leigh as Cleopatra in ‘Caesar and Cleopatra’ 1945

Sophia Loren as Cleopatra 1953

Sophia Loren as Cleopatra 1953

Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra, 1963

Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra, 1963

A full list of depictions of Cleopatra VII on film can be found here.


Chronicle of the Queens of Egypt: From Early Dynastic Times to the Death of Cleopatra –Joyce Tyldesley

The Reign of Cleopatra Stanley Mayer Burstein

Cleopatra: A Life Stacy Schiff

Image credits:

Click here for the image credits for this post.

Anaxandra – fl. 220s BCE – Greece

Ancient Greece


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.


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


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.


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


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.


Arsinoe of Egypt and Macedon: A Royal LifeElizabeth Donnelly Carney

On Wikipedia:

Arsinoë II

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

Ancient Greece


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.


Translation and notes by Marilyn B. Skinner

On Wikipedia:

Leontion – fl.300 BCE – Athens, Greece

Ancient Greece


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.


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:


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”


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.



Encyclopedia of Women in the Ancient WorldJoyce Salisbury

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

On Wikipedia:


Euryleonis – fl. c. 370 BCE – Sparta, Greece

Ancient Greece

Twenty-four years after Cynisca’s victory as the first female crown-bearer at the Olympic Games, Euryleonis became the second.


Also from Sparta, Euryleonis was triumphant in the two-horse chariot races at the ancient games in 368 BCE. Other than this, we know little about her life. She may have been a royal woman – she was certainly wealthy. It is likely that she bred and trained her own horses, as Cynisca had before her.

We do know that Euryuleonis was celebrated in her own time. Pausanias writes that a bronze statue of the athlete was erected at Sparta after her victory. It was one of the first statues of athletic or military victors in Sparta.


A-Z of Ancient Greek and Roman WomenMarjorie and Benjamin Lightman 

Spartan WomenSarah B. Pomeroy 

On Wikipedia: