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Pythagorean Women

Their History and Writings

Sarah B. Pomeroy

Publication Year: 2013

In Pythagorean Women, classical scholar Sarah B. Pomeroy discusses the groundbreaking principles that Pythagoras established for family life in Archaic Greece, such as constituting a single standard of sexual conduct for women and men. Among the Pythagoreans, women played an important role and participated actively in the philosophical life. While Pythagoras encouraged women to be submissive to men, his reasoning was based on the desire to preserve harmony in the home. Pythagorean Women provides English translations of all the earliest extant examples of literary Greek prose by Neopythagorean women, shedding light on their attitudes about marriage, the home, music, and the cosmos. Pomeroy's boy—which sets the Pythagorean and Neopythagorean women vividly in their historical, ecological, and intellectual contexts—is illustrated with original photographs of sites and artifacts known to these women.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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pp. 1-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

Pythagorean Women covers a wide range of subjects, including literature, archaeology, and political, social, and intellectual history. I am pleased to acknowledge the assistance of those who helped me in various ways to piece together this vast mosaic. ...

Note on Abbreviations

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pp. xi-xii


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pp. xiii-xiv

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pp. xv-xxii

Pythagoras was the first Greek philosopher to include women among his disciples. He was also the earliest to listen sympathetically to the pleas of married women and to impose sexual monogyny on their husbands. Some two hundred years after the death of Pythagoras, Neopythagorean women became the first women in the Greek world to write prose texts that are extant. ...

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1. Who Were the Pythagorean Women?

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pp. 1-18

Iamblichus (VP 267) lists 235 Pythagoreans whose names are known. Following the catalog of 218 men, he names 17 women, whom he describes as “the most famous Pythagorean women.” The men are classified only according to their city of origin. The women are also listed by their city of origin, and the first 8 women and the last are identified as a wife, sister, or daughter of a male Pythagorean,1 ...

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2. Wives, Mothers, Sisters, Daughters

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pp. 19-40

More than any other early thinker, Pythagoras paid attention to improving family relationships. In contrast to Solon, whose family legislation largely reflected traditional practices,1 Pythagoras proposed new ways of creating harmony within the nuclear family. His program for daily life included advice to husbands about the proper treatment of their wives; ...

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3. Who Were the Neopythagorean Women Authors?

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pp. 41-53

The largest number of women philosophers in the Hellenistic period were Neopythagoreans; some of them were authors of letters and treatises.1 These writings constitute the only extant body of Greek prose literature by women in the pre-Christian era. ...

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4. Introduction to the Prose Writings of Neopythagorean Women

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pp. 54-65

The Neopythagorean letters and treatises discussed in this book are the earliest extant examples of literary Greek prose by women. Some poetry by women, including Sappho, is earlier. Poetry precedes prose among male writers as well. In the corpus of Greek literature, women’s voices are extremely rare. ...

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5. The Letters and Treatises of Neopythagorean Women in the East

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pp. 66-98

The Greek version of the texts in chapters 5 and 6 is cited as published in Thesleff, Texts, followed by page and line numbers. References to Hercher are to the monumental R. Hercher, Epistolographi Graeci.1 The letters of Melissa, Myia, and Theano II have also been published in Alfons Städele, Die Briefe des Pythagoras und der Pythagoreer.2 ...

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6. The Letters and Treatises of Neopythagorean Women in the West

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pp. 99-116

Stobaeus, the only source, identifies the author as Aesara, a Pythagorean of Lucania. According to some biographical traditions, Pythagoras had a daughter named Aisara; hence this name would be a likely one for a Neopythagorean woman. Thesleff places the author in the third century BC and identifies the dialect as Doric. ...

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7. The Neopythagorean Women as Philosophers

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pp. 117-138

The extant works of Neopythagorean women comprise both treatises and letters of advice. How should one characterize these disparate works? There is good reason to conclude that many of the letters, as well as treatises, count as philosophy. In this chapter I analyze a number of these writings as philosophical works, ...


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pp. 139-166


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pp. 167-172

E-ISBN-13: 9781421409573
E-ISBN-10: 1421409577
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421409566
Print-ISBN-10: 1421409569

Page Count: 200
Illustrations: 9 halftones, 3 line drawings
Publication Year: 2013