History : Jul-Aug 2019
H. LEWANDOWSKI/RMN-GRAND PALAIS DEPRIVED OF A VOICE WOMEN PHILOSOPHERS Despite the informal nature of education for girls, there are references in classical sources to women philosophers. One of the most famous is mentioned in Plato’s Symposium: Diotima, who was lauded by Socrates. She teaches them the philosophical underpinnings of love, in which the wise seek to exchange physical love for more spiritual forms of desire, culminating in the divine. This concept of love greatly influenced medieval and Renaissance thought. Diotima’s words, however, are known only through the reports of male philosophers. Another female philosopher was Axiothea, who, according to the third-century a.d. author Diogenes Laërtius, was so inspired by Plato’s Republic that she went to study under him at the Academy, where she had to dress as a man. However, as with other female philosophers in the classical period, no firsthand view of her philosophical ideas has survived. THE READER Although only a tiny elite became philosophers, some Greek women were literate. The fifth-century vase (left) shows a woman reading a papyrus that she has taken from a chest.