Women historians of ancient Greece and Rome

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Plutarch expresses a sentiment common in Graeco-Roman literature, that women should keep their voices private. A virtuous woman should not expose herself to men outside her close family. Plutarch explains that a woman should not say anything in public as this would reveal her feelings, character and temperament to the world; it would be as if she had stripped off her clothes and shown herself to the world naked. Yet despite such prejudice, and the perception it produces that all Greek and Roman literature had to be written by men, we find that from the seventh century BC through to the sixth century AD women did compose works on a wide variety of topics, including travel, philosophy, musical theory, grammar, literary criticism, astronomy, medicine, mathematics, and alchemy. Women were perceived to be holders of mysterious knowledge: experts in magic, medicine, alchemy and sex. The highest praise was awarded to women poets such as Sappho, Anyte, Moero, Nossis and Erinna. However, women in the ancient world have not been recognised as historians, making the first widely acknowledged woman historian the Byzantine Anna Comnena, who completed the Alexiad in 1148.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)77-92
Number of pages16
JournalAncient history : resources for teachers
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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