5 Women Writers of the Ancient World

By March 26, 2020Culture, Literature, News

The reclamation of female voices in ancient literature begins with readers.

Only a few women writers of the ancient world are generally known, with more largely ignored or lost to time. The work that has survived is also rare because women were not afforded the same educational advantages of some men. Despite this, many women pushed through oppressive restrictions and found a way to express themselves through writing.

The following list is only the select few women writers of the ancient world whose words were preserved and honoured, and while we read them may we remember those who were ignored or lost.

Enheduanna

Enheduanna, daughter of King Sargon of Akkad, was a high priestess between around 2350 and 2250 BCE, and is the earliest author and poet in the world that history knows by name.

At least 50 hymns survive that are attributed to Enheduanna, including three hymns to the moon god, Nanna, and three to Sumerian goddess Ianna, as well as other temples and deities. Cuneiform tablets discovered with the hymns were discovered to be about 500 years after Enheduanna had lived, confirming her longevity.

Princess, Priestess, Poet: The Sumerian Temple Hymns of Enheduanna

Sappho of Lesbos

Sappho was a poet of ancient Greece around 610-580 BCE.  She was known for her ten books of verse but by the Middle Ages, all copies were lost. The only work we know of Sappho today is through other writers quoting her work. One complete poem from Sappho survives, along with a fragment of another, only 16 lines long.

Stung with Love: Poems and Fragments of Sappho

Korinna

Korrina, or Corinna, was alive during the 5th century BCE. She is known for beating Theban poet Pindar at a poetry competition five times, who was such a sore loser he was reported to have called Korinna a sow. It is not until first century BCE for a mention of her work, but there is a statue of her dated around the fourth century BCE and a third-century fragment of her writing exists.

Greek Lyric: Bacchylides, Corinna and Others

Nossis of Locri

Nossis lived in Locri, Southern Italy about 300 BCE. She was a Hellenistic Greek poet from Epizephyrian Locris who is said to be either a follower or rival to Sappho.

She is said to write love poetry, but only twelve of her epigrams survive.

Nossis of Locri Epigram

Hypatia

Hellenistic Neoplatonist philosopher, astronomer, and mathematician, Hypatia was living in Alexandria around 355 CE til 415 BCE. She was killed by a mob instigated by a Christian bishop and all her writings housed within the library were destroyed by Arab conquerors.

Later in her life she became a science writer, a mathematician, as well as an inventor and teacher.

Hypatia of Alexandria: Mathematician and Martyr

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