Posts Tagged ‘antiquity’

Great Women of Antiquity: Artemisia of Halicarnassus

Friday, June 21st, 2013

This month we’re posting about some great women of antiquity.

Today’s post is about Artemisia of Halicarnassus (aka Artemisia I of Caria; c. 480 BCE).


Artemisia of Halicarnassus was the queen of the province of Caria during the days of the Achaemenid (Persian) Empire.

On top of this, she was a brilliant military commander who fought with Xerxes against the Greeks. Artemisia counseled Xerxes to coordinate a joint land-sea offensive, but he refused and instead decided to attack the Greek fleet in what would become the Battle of Salamis.

Artemisia commanded five ships in the battle and used her skill and intelligence to evade capture, but the battle proved to be a disaster for Xerxes. Artemisia advised Xerxes to retreat. He listened to her this time.

Herodotus praised Artemisia’s decisiveness and intelligence, and attributed her with the virtue of courage, the only woman so honored in his writings.

Great Women of Antiquity: Sappho

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

This month we’re posting about some great women of antiquity.

Today’s post is about Sappho (c. 610– 570 BCE).


Sappho was one of the great ancient Greek lyricists.

Being a lyricist meant that Sappho wrote pieces to be accompanied with a lyre. She was an innovator in both content and style and was one of the first poets to write from the first person perspective, rather than from the vantage point of the gods. She wrote love poetry, much of which was directed towards women. Sappho has therefore become a lesbian icon. It doesn’t hurt that she came from the island of Lesbos, which is where the term “lesbian” comes from.

Most of the facts about Sappho’s life are lost to history. By the Middle Ages almost all of her poetry was lost. We only have one complete poem (the Hymn to Aphrodite), and various fragments from three others, one of which is a recent discovery.

Sappho was widely celebrated in her own time. Plato elevated her from great poet to muse. Solon of Athens asked to be taught one of her songs “because I want to learn it and die.” She is one of the nine lyric poets esteemed by the ancient Greeks as worthy of study.

Sappho’s work survived through the Roman era. It has often been supposed that when times and social mores changed, her poems were deliberately destroyed by the Christians. However, most of the work of the other nine lyric poets has also been lost, so it is likely that it may just have fallen out of fashion and not have been preserved well enough to make it to the modern day. In any case, her reputation and influence has survived, even if most of her work has not.

Great Women of Antiquity: Merit Ptah

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

This month we’re posting about some great women of antiquity.

Today’s post is about Merit Ptah (c. 2700 BCE).


Merit Ptah is the first woman scientist and physician on record. Her picture can be seen on a tomb near the step pyramid of Djoser. That’s pretty much all that is known about her. But considering how many millions of ancient Egyptians there are whose names and likenesses have been lost to history, that’s actually quite an achievement.

The International Astronomical Union named an impact crater on Venus after her.


Great Women of Antiquity: Mary the Jewess

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

This month we’re posting about some great women of antiquity.

Today’s post is about Mary the Jewess, who lived somewhere between the first and third centuries CE.


Many of the women we’re posting about this month were “the first woman who did this” or “the first woman who became a whatever.” We love Mary the Jewess because she was a first – period.

Mary the Jewess is the first known alchemist. She invented the tribokos (a three-armed pot used to purify substances through distillation – still used today), the kerotakis (an air-tight device used to heat substances and collect the vapors), and the water-bath, which was named bain-marie in her honor (it’s a kind of double boiler).

Mary was highly respected in the ancient world. She was called the “Daughter of Plato” and “Mary the Prophetess.”

Mary the Jewess’ influence extends to the modern world. Besides originating several practices still used in chemistry, she was an inspiration to Carl Jung. Jung used her axiom “join the male and the female, and you will find what is sought,” as a metaphor for the union of opposites, and her quote “one becomes two, two becomes three, and out of the third comes the one as the fourth,” to describe the process of wholeness and individuation.


Great Women of Antiquity: Hypatia of Alexandria

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

This month, we’re posting about some great women of antiquity.

Today’s post is about Hypatia of Alexandria (c. 350 CE – c. 415 CE).

Not an actual photograph of Hypatia

Not an actual photograph of Hypatia

Hypatia was a Greek Neoplatonist philosopher in Roman Egypt. She is noteworthy for three reasons: she was the head of the Platonist school in Alexandria (a role generally unheard of for a woman at that time), she was the first woman documented to be a mathematician, and the first woman documented to be an astronomer.

Hypatia’s father was a mathematician and philosopher, and it is likely that she studied under his guidance.

Hypatia is considered to be the last great Alexandrian philosopher and mathematician. Unfortunately none of her written work has survived to modern times, but a partial list can be created through numerous mentions by ancient and medieval authors who had access to her work.

Hypatia was tragically murdered by a mob of early Christians who associated science with paganism. Her fate explains why even today some women pretend not to be very good at math.

Hypatia lives on though, at least in name. A crater and a system of rilles on the moon are named after her.


Great Women of Antiquity

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013

Let’s face it: when we think of the great minds of Western antiquity, we think of the famous male philosophers, poets, scientists, and leaders. With some notable exceptions there are very few women who come to mind when we think of the movers and shakers of the ancient world.

Of course women were also busy thinking and discovering and making things. They just weren’t in a position to be heard and were not encouraged to practice science and philosophy.

That said, many women were instrumental in the development of science, art, and politics in the ancient world. This month, we’ll be posting about some of them. (Feel free to suggest others in the comments section.)

This being ancient history, many stories have been lost, and the details we have of many of the ones that survived are suspect. But it’s important to remember that the great men of Western antiquity were not alone in their achievements.