Everyone is familiar with the names of great ancient Greek philosophers. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, the fame of these philosophers transcends time and space. But what about the less known Greek female philosophers? Some women managed to become great teachers of philosophy themselves, sometimes even surpassing the fame of their teacher.
10 Ancient Greek Female Philosophers You Should Know
Hypatia was a Neoplatonic philosopher and mathematician born in 370 A.D in Alexandria of Egypt. Her father, Theon, himself a philosopher, initiated Hypatia into the mysteries of philosophy. In Athens, she established her fame as a great mathematician. When he returned to Alexandria, she taught mathematics and philosophy at the university of the city.
Her interests revolved around Diophantus ‘Arithmetica’, Plato, and Aristotle. She was also the writer of many treatises, many of whom have been destroyed. Her murder by Christian fanatics in 415 B.C has established her name among the greatest freethinkers and scientists of all time.
Themistoclea was a 6th-century seer of Pythia of Apollo at the temple of Delphi. She may have been the teacher of Pythagoras, the great philosopher-mathematician from Samos, who has been called the ‘father of philosopher’. It has been also claimed that Pythagoras may have derived his ethical doctrines from her. Themistoclea’s philosophy is considered a blend of empiricism, reason, and the supernatural. Her wide knowledge included astronomy, medicine, music, mathematics, animal husbandry, and philosophy,
Arete of Cyrene
Arete was a Greek philosopher who lived in Cyrene in the late 5th century B.C. She was taught philosophy by her father, Aristippus, who himself had been a student of Socrates. Arete succeeded her father at the leadership of the school after his death.
She is said to have publicly taught natural and moral philosophy in Attica for thirty-five years, and to be the author of forty books. Her countrymen held her in high esteem, inscribing on her tomb an epitaph that declared that she was the splendor 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.
“I dream of a world where there are neither masters nor slave.” Arete of Cyrene
Diotima of Mantinea
Diotima of Mantinea was a Greek priestess and philosopher who lived around 440 B.C. She is known only through the works of Plato, especially through his dialogue ‘The Symposium’, where she is depicted as taking part in a discussion with Socrates about the nature of Eros. We don’t know much about her life. However, her ideas are possibly the origin of the concept of Platonic love, and affection that is not based on bodily pleasure. For her, the most truthful way for any human to love is to embrace a love that is transcendent, and which can reach the divine sphere.
Leontion was a Greek Epicurean philosopher who lived around 300 B.C. A pupil of Epicurus, she was praised by Diogenes Laertius for her well-written arguments against certain philosophical views. Cicero remarked her courage and dare for directing one of her treatises against Theophrastus, Aristotle’s most famous pupil and successor as the head of the Peripatetic school. Other than this, little is known about her, nor do any of her works survive.
Theano of Crotone lived in the 6th century B.C., and she has been called the pupil, daughter, or wife of the philosopher Pythagoras. The principle of the Golden Mean is considered Theano’s most important idea. The Golden Mean is an irrational number, equivalent to 1.6180, and it is observed in many relationships in nature. Greeks, as well as Egyptians, used to design buildings and monuments based on this mean. It has been also suggested that Theano could be the name given to perhaps two Pythagorean philosophers.
Perioctione lived in the 5th century and was the mother of the philosopher Plato. A descendant of Solon, she is considered to be the author of two works that have survived in fragments, On the Harmony of Women and On Wisdom. The first one deals with the duties of a woman to her husband, her marriage, and to her parents, while the other offers a philosophical definition of wisdom.
Her work is deeply Platonic. She equated virtue with wisdom and temperance, claiming that a woman who can control her appetites and emotions will be of great benefit to herself, her family, and her city.
Sosipatra of Ephesus was a Neoplatonic philosopher and mystic who lived in the first half of the 4th century C.E. She was educated in ancient Chaldean wisdom by two men who visited her family while she was young. Sosipatra was very beautiful and was said to have possessed extraordinary psychic and clairvoyant abilities. She mainly taught in Pergamon, where she established herself as one of the most famous philosophers of her time.
Arignote was the daughter of Pythagoras and Theano. She followed the philosophical path of her parents and dedicated herself to the study of mathematics, in order to unlock the mysteries of the universe, particularly relating to physics and astronomy. She is recognized to have authored several Pythagorean works, one of them being the Sacred Discourses, where she deals with the eternal essence of number and its role in the cosmos.
Aesara of Lucania was a Pythagorean philosopher, who lived in the 4th century B.C. She is known as the author of a work titled ‘On Human Nature’, in which she argues that by studying our own human nature, we can understand the philosophical foundations of natural law and morality. Her work was much esteemed and her intellectual accomplishments were highly exalted in Roman poetry and Greek lectures.