Monthly Archives: October 2013

Where are all the (Pythagorean) women gone ?

Sandrine Berges has posted an excellent critique of some recent trends in scholarship on Pythagorean philosophy which do not account for the presence of women among the Pythagorean communities. This is an important issue in the history of philosophy, since the Pythagoreans are likely to have been the first philosophical community to include women (Plato’s Academy included them as well). What she says about the texts ascribed to Perictione, Theano, and Myia also applies to the other texts collected under the umbrella of the ‘Hellenistic Pythagorean’ corpus (a term that I now prefer to Pseudopythagorica). I hope people will heed Sandrine’s call and get to work!

Feminist History of Philosophy

     Until recently my doing ancient philosophy meant writing about Plato and Aristotle with a side helping of the Stoics. Then I decided to look into ancient women philosophers and discovered, among others, Perictione I, the author of a short text called « On the Harmony of Women ». Looking around on the internet for something to read to bolster my so far meager research on Perictione, I was delighted to come accross two brand new titles on Pythagorean women writers : Annette Bourland’s Huizanga’s Moral Education for Women in the Pastoral and Pythagorean Letters , and Sarah Pomeroy’s Pythagorean women : their History and Writings.This adds to a non-negligeable existing literature on the topic, counting the first four chapters of volume I of Waithe’s History of Women Philosophers , and Plant’s anthology Women Writers of Ancient Greece and Rome.


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New look?

Readers will immediately see that I’ve changed the look of workofmemory just a bit.  The headline photograph now features an object that I find of particular fascination: an inscribed gold tablet found in a stone box in the southeastern corner of the main hall of the Apadana in Persepolis, along with a silver foundation plaque, with the same text written in Old Persian, Elamite, and Babylonian (late 6th Century BCE).  The text (DPh) translates:

Darius the Great King, King of Kings, King of Countries, son of Hystaspes, an Achaemenian.

Saith Darius the King: This is the kingdom which I hold, from the Scythians who are beyond Sogdiana, thence unto Ethiopia; from Sind, thence unto Sardis – which Ahuramazda the greatest of the gods bestowed upon me.  Me may Ahuramazda protect, and my royal house.

(Translation by Kent 1953: 137)

The references to Ahuramazda here and elsewhere suggest some relationship between Zoroastrianism and the court of Darius.  The question I have concerning this document is: why inscribed gold (and silver)?  We know of tiny gold tablets in the Orphic traditions inscribed in Greek with various eschatological visions from about a century later (discussed in a previous post), as well as small gold leaves, of Achaemenid provenance, inscribed with the images of Zoroastrian magi found in the so-called Oxus treasure, in modern day Tajikistan.  Is there any relationship between these traditions?  Moreover, did the magi preserve important texts in gold, or use them as votives?

Oxus Magus

Inscribed Gold Tablet with Persian Magus, Oxus Treasure, now in the British Museum

The Derveni Krater, found in the same tomb as the Orphic Derveni Papyrus, juxtaposed with some Orphic Gold Tablets

The Derveni Krater, found in the same tomb as the Orphic Derveni Papyrus, juxtaposed with some Orphic Gold Tablets

Later traditions from the 8th Century CE tell stories of Alexander the Great scattering or destroying the Avestan texts – the texts of the Zoroastrians – after he conquered Persepolis; and in one version, that of at-Ta’labi, the gold texts were melted down by Alexander to be used as coin to pay his armies (on which, see Van Bladel 2009: 33-35).  Perhaps that is meant to explain why such textual riches as the Persian empire held were ultimately lost to humanity.   We’re only left with suggestive fragments.

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Pythagorean Week in Berlin (Oct. 19-24) + Sharknado

It is a busy time for scholars working on Pythagoreanism.  A major contribution to Pythagorean studies is taking place in Berlin October 19-24, dubbed Pythagorean Week by the organizers.  Pythagorean Week involves two international conferences, the first conference on Pythagorean Harmonics at ECLA of Bard (Oct. 19-20), and the second conference on Pythagorean Knowledge at the Freie University (Oct. 22-24), punctuated by a ‘Book Celebration’ to be held at the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin (October 21, 6:00pm, Room 320) to honor several books that have been published on Pythagoreanism in the past year, including my own Plato and Pythagoreanism (Oxford University Press).  


Happily, my only responsibilities include commenting on papers given in the first conference at ELCA of Bard by Leonid Zhmud and Michael Weinman and introducing a new collected volume On Pythagoreanism, edited by Gabriele Cornelli, Richard McKirahan, and Costas Macris, at the ‘Book Celebration’.  I can’t quite say yet whether Pythagorean Week will be on par with Shark Week, or whether it will have its own version of Sharknado – but all that depends on how far we’re willing to take Empedocles’ cosmic zoogony…

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