Ancient Philosophy

Women Philosophers in Ancient Greece and Rome

Why aren’t there any women philosophers from ancient Greece and Rome who became well known?

The history of Western philosophy has been dominated by men for several reasons: 1) until the twentieth century, few women were systematically educated in ways that enabled the practice of philosophy; 2) women’s family and social roles did not afford them the leisure to practice philosophy; and 3) male philosophers have traditionally seen the field as restricted to men and have sometimes gone to lengths to exclude women. Nevertheless, in every philosophical period some women have been associated with philosophy as practiced by men, and others have been philosophers in their own right. It cannot be known how much of the work of women philosophers has been ignored, forgotten, or never received the attention it deserved because, until the twentieth century, little work by women philosophers was preserved or even mentioned as part of the tradition.

The ancient period in Greece and Rome was a foundation for this general, maledominated trend. Upper-class women were sequestered in special quarters in their homes and not educated for public life. Poor women were heavily burdened by motherhood, domestic drudgery, and agricultural work. Women with some leisure might sew, spin, weave, or listen to men converse, but always in their homes, whereas most philosophical interaction occurred in public places. Overall, women in ancient times rarely had the rights accorded to men. Nevertheless, the names and philosophical work of a small number of women philosophers in antiquity have survived.


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