Aedesia – 5th Century – Alexandria, Egypt

Ancient Greece, Greece


Aedesia was a Greek Neoplatonist philosopher who lived in Egypt during the 5th century.

She was related to Syrianus, the head of the Neoplatonist school in Athens (alongside Asclepigenia), and apparently spent much of her life around scholars and great thinkers. She was even briefly engaged to one of his students, Proclus.

Aedesia married Hermias, also a student of Syranius, and had two sons with him, Ammonius and Heliodorus. When Hermias died she received a small state allowance which enabled her to devote herself to educating her children.

When her sons were old enough to study philosophy, Aedesia took them to Athens where she reconnected with Proclus. She was very popular among the philosophers of Athens who praised her virtue and dedication to educating her children.

Aedesia reportedly lived well into old age, though there is very little information on how she spent the rest of her life.


On Wikipedia:


Asclepigenia – fl.430 – Athens, Greece



Asclepigenia was the daughter of a philosopher called Plutarch, who headed the Neoplatonist school in Athens. He educated his daughter (and her brother, Hierius) in philosophy and mysticism. In time, (much like Hypatia in Alexandria) she too became a teacher.

Asclepigenia and her father followed a syncretic system which united traditional Platonic and Aristotelian philosophies with pagan ritual and magic.

When Plutarch died in 430, he passed the school onto his daughter. She taught metaphysics, cosmology and theology, all of which attempted to understand and predict the will of fate (or the gods) and influence the outcomes.

Asclepigenia is known to us largely because she taught the philosopher Proclus, and almost all of the information we have on her comes from The Life of Proclus by Marinus.


Ancient Women Philosophers: 600 B.C.-500 A. D.M.E. Waithe

On Wikipedia:


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:


Julia Domna – 170 – 217 – Rome

Ancient Rome


Julia Domna (sometimes Julia Domma) had a very privileged start in life. Born into the wealthiest family in Syria, her father was a high-priest and her great-uncle had been a leading Roman Centurion – who left her his estate.

800px-Julia_Domna_Glyptothek_Munich_354Educated in politics and philosophy, Domna’s star continued to rise as she married the roman Septimius Severus in her late teens. By all accounts it was an extremely happy pairing, and Severus openly listened to his clever wife’s opinions and advice.

Domna had two sons, Caracall and Geta, and the family’s fortunes increased when Severus became emperor of Rome in 193. However, this position would come at a price as Severus faced civil war with a number of rivals.

As Severus marched out on military campaigns to the Eastern reaches of the empire, Julia Domna travelled at his side. This bought her a lot of respect among the common people and soldiers, and she was given the title Mater Castrorum – mother of the camp.

Back in Rome, Julia Domna flourished in the role of empress. She pursued her passion for philosophy and encouraged philosophers to share their knowledge. She commissioned Philostratus to write his Life of Apollonius, which is still considered the major source of information on Apollonius.

In 208 Severus and Julia left Rome again for Britain, where three years later Severus died in York. The emperor’s sons, Caracalla and Geta were left to rule jointly, with Julia as their mediator. Unfortunately, the two brothers did not get on, and within a year Caracalla had ordered his soldiers to murder Geta.

Julia was horrified by her son’s actions and their relationship never recovered. She continued to play the role of dutiful mother and was with Caracalla in Parthia when he was assassinated in 217.

Having lost her husband and both sons and suffering from breast cancer, Julia Domna chose to commit suicide. She was carried back to Rome and given an empress’s burial.


Julia Domna: Syrian Empress – Barbara Levick

Matrona Docta: Educated Women in the Roman Élite from Cornelia to Julia DomnaEmily Ann Hemelrijk

On Wikipedia:

Image credits:

Julia Domna Glyptothek By Unknown – User:Bibi Saint-Pol, own work, 2007-02-08, Public Domain

The Severan Tondo By Fred the Oyster – Staatliche Museum zu Berlin, Public Domain

Coin featuring Julia Domna By Rasiel Suarez, CC BY-SA 3.0

Coins, Aureus with Septimius Severus, Julia Domna, Caracalla and Geta By cgb –,brm_251139,a.html, CC BY-SA 3.0



Pompeia Plotina – d.121/122 – Rome

Ancient Rome


Pompeia Plotina Claudia Phoebe Piso – or just Pompeia Plotina for short – was an influential and intellectual Roman Empress.

Raised in Escacena del Campo in the romanised Hispania province, Plotina was the daughter of Lucius Pompeius Plotia, a politician. In around 91 she married Trajan, a soldier who had recently been elected a roman Consul.


The couple never had any children of their own, but were adoptive parents to the future emperor Hadrian and his sister, who had become orphaned at a young age. Trajan became emperor in 98, and in 100 he gave his wife the title of Augusta (Empress), which she did not accept until five years later.

Plotina was well read, and took a deep interest in philosophy – particularlyBust_of_Pompeia_Plotina,_from_the_Baths_of_Nepture_at_Ostia,_110-120_AD,_Palazzo_Massimo_alle_Terme,_Rome_(12453374733) the Epicurean school, which promoted modesty and moderation as well as gaining knowledge of the world. The empress and her husband became known for their simplicity, their philanthropy and their kindness.

Rather than concerning herself with increasing her power as so many empresses before her, Plotina used her influence to help others. She worked for fairer taxation, better access to education and poverty relief. She became beloved by Roman society and Trajan became known as one of the ‘five good emperors’.

When Plotina died, she was deified (made a goddess) and Hadrian built a temple in her honour at Nîmes, in Provence.


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

The Women of Pliny’s Letters – Jo-Ann Shelton

Women in Ancient Rome: A Sourcebook – Bonnie MacLachlan

On Wikipedia:

Image credits:

Plotina – sestertius – RIC 0740” by Classical Numismatic Group, Inc.

Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Bust of Pompeia Plotina, from the Baths of Nepture at Ostia, 110-120 AD, Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, Rome (12453374733)” by Carole Raddato from FRANKFURT, Germany – Bust of Pompeia Plotina, from the Baths of Nepture at Ostia, 110-120 AD, Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, Rome.

Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons



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:


Themista of Lampsacus – 3rd Century BCE

Ancient Greece


Themista and her husband Leonteus were students of the philosopher Epicurus, whose school was held in a garden in Athens and allowed women to attend.

Epicureans believed that pleasure is the greatest good and that the way to attain pleasure is to live a modest life and gain knowledge of the world and oneself. The goal was to reach a tranquil state in which you would be free from fear and physical pain – which would be the highest form of happiness.

It is clear that Themista had a voice at Epicurus’ school and that her ideas were treated as equal to the men she studied alongside. Roman orator Cicero later criticised Epicurus for praising Themista in ‘countless volumes’ rather than ‘more worthy’ men.

Themista and Leonteus obviously held their teacher in equally high esteem, as they named their son Epicurus.


Hypatia’s Heritage: A History of Women in Science from Antiquity through the Nineteenth Century – Margaret Alic

The Invention and Gendering of Epicurus Pamela Gordon

Philosophers of the Ancient World: An A to Z GuideTrevor Cunrow

On Wikipedia:

Aesara – 3rd Century BCE – Luciana, Greece

Ancient Greece

Aesara is almost unique among the classical women Greek philosophers in that some of her work survives today.


Another Pythagorean* woman, Aesara was from the ancient district of Luciana, now part of the Italian coast. There she authored On Human Nature, an early treatise arguing that only by studying human nature can we understand natural law and morality.

‘Human nature seems to me to provide a standard of law and justice both for the home and for the city.’

Aesara’s theory divided the soul into three parts:

  • Mind: judgment and thought
  • Spirit: courage and strength
  • Desire: love and kindness

These three parts affected the three Pythagorean applications of morality; the individual, the family and social institutions.

There are some arguments that On Human Nature is actually a much later Roman forgery. There is no strong evidence to support this theory, but even if this was the case, it suggests that there was an Aesara of Luciana whose work was well known and worth imitating.

*Other Pythagorean women mentioned in this project so far are: Theano and Timycha.


Women Writers of Ancient Greece and Rome: An AnthologyIan Michael Plant

On Wikipedia:

Aspasia – c.470 BCE – 400 BCE – Athens, Greece

Ancient Greece

“…what great art or power this woman had, that she managed as she pleased the foremost men of the state, and afforded the philosophers occasion to discuss her in exalted terms and at great length.”


Aspasia has long been a subject of controversy when looking at life and politics in 5th Century Athens. Her fame as a female philosopher and intellect can only be matched by the notoriety of her chosen profession.

We know that Aspasia was not Athenian by birth, although she is most associated with this Greek city-state. Her origins lie in Miletus, an island which now forms part of Turkey.

Almost nothing is known of her early years, but it is likely that her family was wealthy enough to afford the education for which she is so well renowned. Traditionally, education was segregated by the sexes – boys would study philosophy, rhetoric and physical fitness, whilst girls focused on more domestic tasks with the aspiration to manage a family home. Interestingly, Aspasia is fluent in both curricula.

The reasons for Aspasia’s migration to Athens are unknown, but it is most likely that her family was sold into slavery after the Ionian Revolt.Nevertheless, we do know that she arrived in Athens alone, and sought to set herself up as an independent woman.

In 5th century Athens, however, this was no easy task. Add to this a lack of Athenian citizenship, and there are very few options open to you. Aspasia decided to become a hetaera, and it is from here that the notoriety begins.

It is important not to confuse this term with prostitution – the most accurate translation would be “companion”. Hetaerae were highly educated in the arts, and would attend male social gatherings (symposia) and discussions. Aspasia’s combination of beauty, wit and intellect was seductive and she quickly expanded her client base. She was able to buy a house in Athens, and from there she could train other young women to be hetaerae. It was around this time, also, that Aspasia met Pericles.

Socrates seeking Alcibiades in the house of Aspasia, 1861 by Jean-Léon Gérôme

Socrates seeking Alcibiades in the house of Aspasia, 1861 by Jean-Léon Gérôme

Aspasia became the mistress of prominent statesman Pericles in the early 440sBC, and she devoted the next chapter of her life to this relationship. Pericles was so taken with his new mistress that he divorced his wife in 445 BCE, and moved in with Aspasia.

They had a child in 440 BCE – Pericles the Younger. Being the unassailable mistress of the most powerful man in Athens certainly had its privileges, and Aspasia was now entertaining some of the greatest minds of the time – according to Xenophon, Socrates learnt rhetoric from Aspasia! Regular attendees to Pericles’ symposia included Socrates, Phidias and Anaxagoras, so Aspasia became well connected.

An example of these privileges could be argued in the legitimizing of her son. Despite never being married, Pericles the Younger was formally recognised as Pericles’ heir, and given Athenian citizenship. This was despite Pericles himself passing laws in Athens which forbade this.

Marble herm in the Vatican Museums inscribed with Aspasia's name at the base. Discovered in 1777, this marble herm is a Roman copy of a 5th-century BC original and may represent Aspasia's funerary stele.

Marble herm in the Vatican Museums inscribed with Aspasia’s name at the base. Discovered in 1777, this marble herm is a Roman copy of a 5th-century BC original and may represent Aspasia’s funerary stele.

Another indicator of influence would be in her portraits. Aspasia is one of only two women who had ever had their portraits publicly displayed in Athens. Even rarer, the portrait was sculpted by Phidias himself, the master sculptor of the 5th century. Aspasia is often pictured with Socrates, and the inference is that they are the male and female epitome of philosophical thinking.

As with all high-profile power couples, not everyone was a fan. Aspasia had many enemies who criticized her influence over Pericles, and even accused her of writing Pericles’ speeches. Being so close to the political sphere – an exclusively male space – was intolerable to many, and her critics sought to bring her down.

Aspasia was brought to trial on charges of impiety, but was eventually acquitted. It is rumoured that Pericles became so overwrought during Aspasia’s trial that he wept openly in court. Despite these setbacks, Aspasia was resolute in maintaining her relationship (and arguable influence) with Pericles, and this flourished until his death.

After Pericles, Aspasia became the mistress of Lysicles, a cattle farmer. As their relationship developed, Lysicles became an orator and quickly rose to prominence in Athenian politics, due in part to Aspasia’s tutelage and connections. She had a child with him, but remained at the forefront of Athenian politics until her death. She also maintained her school for hetaerae, and Plutarch records her teachings:

“they have imprisoned women in a world of superfluous interests and tasks because they fear the power women would have if female sexuality became augmented by a developed intellect and spirit.”

This entry was a guest post by G. Harvey.


Gardner, P.; A female figure in the early style of Phidias (1918)

Glockhammer, H.; The apprenticeship of a hetaera; gender and socialisation in Wieland’s ‘Geschichte des Agathon’ (1988)

Lefkowitz, M. and Fant, M.; Women’s life in Greece and Rome: a source book translation (1982)

Vermeule III, C.; Socrates and Aspasia: new portraits of Late Antiquity (1958)

On Wikipedia:

In Fiction:

  • Philothea by Lydia Maria Child is a classical romance set in the days of Aspasia and Pericles.
  • Pericles and Aspasia by Walter Savage Landor
  • Aspasia by German author Robert Hamerling is about the manners and morals of the Age of Pericles.
  • Giacomo Leopardi published a group of five poems known as The Circle of Aspasia. The poems were inspired by the author’s unrequited love for a woman named Fanny Targioni Tozzetti, who he calls Aspasia.
  • The Athenian Women is a play by George Cram Cook which portrays Aspasia leading a strike for peace.
  • The Immortal Marriage by Gertrude Atherton tells the story of Pericles and Aspasia and illustrates the period of the Samian War, the Peloponnesian War and the Plague of Athens.
  • Glory and the Lightning by Taylor Caldwell  is another novel that portrays the historical relationship of Aspasia and Pericles.
  • Italian writer Daniela Mazzon wrote the biographical essay “Aspasia maestra e amante di Pericle” and in 2012 she produced the drama in ancient style “Desiderata Aspasia. Rapsodia mediterannea”.

Arete – fl.5th or 4th Century BCE – Attica, Greece

Ancient Greece

“The splendour of Greece and possessed the beauty of Helen, the virtue of Thirma, the pen of Aristippus, the soul of Socrates, and the tongue of Homer.”


Arete of Cyrene succeeded her father Aristippus as the head of the Cyrenaic school of philosophers. The sources report that she taught philosophy for thirty-five years to well over a hundred students and that she wrote forty books. Unfortunately, none has survived.

Aristippus had been taught by Socrates, and passed his knowledge on to his daughter. In turn, Arete taught her own son, Aristippus the Younger, who was known by the nickname ‘mother-taught’. The Cyrenaics believed in sensual hedonism. They taught that the only intrinsic good is physical pleasure and enjoyable sensations.

Arete was well known during her lifetime, and stands out in history as being one of the few women to teach publicly and to publish work.


A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and MythologyWilliam Smith

Society for the Study of Women Philosophers: Arete of CyreneKate Lindemann

On Wikipedia: