GORGO QUEEN OF SPARTA - 150 x 220Many ancient female royals are rarely talked about for a variety of reasons. Athenians of these periods did not think women should be seen – much less heard – in public. One female monarch that we do hear enough about is Gorgo of Sparta, daughter and only known child of Cleomenes I, King of Sparta. She was born in the early 500’s BC and was known to be a woman whose opinion leaders trusted. The first time she is recorded speaking her mind, allegedly at the age of eight or nine, she was already interfering in the affairs of state. Later as a queen, one famous incident occurred, in which a blank wax tablet was sent to Sparta from the exiled king Demaratus. Gorgo was the only one who suggested in scraping the wax off, under which was written a hidden warning message regarding Xerxes plan to attack. They send word to Athens who was then able to prepare for battle. Perhaps the fact that Gorgo of Sparta was genuinely and exceptionally bright explains why as a child and wife, she was consulted and her opinions respected.
HYDNA OF SCIONE - 135 x 205Hydna of Scione was well-known in Greece for her swimming skills, having been trained by her father, a professional swim instructor. She was known for her ability to swim long distances and dive deep into the ocean. In 480 BCE the Persians invaded Greece and after defeating Athens, planned to destroy the rest of the Greek force in the naval battle at Salamis. Persian King Xerxes moored his ships off the coast of Mount Pelion, to await for a storm to pass. In the darkness of night, Hydna and her father swam approximately ten miles through rough waters up to the ships and dove beneath the Persian ships, cutting their moorings with knives and dragging the submerged anchors away. This caused the enemy ships to drift in the stormy water, run aground and damage their other vessels as they crashed into each other. The damage was considerable and a few vessels even sank. This allowed the Greek navy more time to prepare and led to a victory for Greek forces at Salamis. Statues of both daughter and father were erected at Delphi for their heroism.
ARETE OF CYRENE - 160 X 220Arete of Cyrene (4th century BCE) was the daughter of the hedonist philosopher Aristippus (c. 435-356 BCE) and grew up influenced by his teachings. Arete took over the school upon Aristippus’ death, and like her father, she is said to have held to the philosophy of “I possess, I am not possessed”, by which she meant that one could have as many worldly goods as one wished as long as one’s life was not controlled by those possessions. One should, therefore, pursue pleasure and enjoy the things of this world without allowing those things to control one’s life and freedom of movement. The School of Cyrene was one of the first to advance a systematic view on the role of pleasure and pain in human life. The Cyrenaics argued that discipline, knowledge, and virtuous actions are more likely to result in pleasure. Whereas negative emotions, such as anger and fear, multiplied pain. Arete of Cyrene is said to have written over 40 books, none of which survive in the present day. She also appears to have been a single mother who raised Aristippus-the-Younger in the hedonistic philosophy. She was so highly esteemed by her countrymen that they inscribed on her tomb an epitaph which declared that she was the splendour of Greece and possessed the beauty of Helen, the virtue of Thirma, the pen of Aristippus, the soul of Socrates and the tongue of Homer.
TELESILLA OF ARGOS - 170 x 190 cmTelesilla of Argos was an ancient Greek poet (5th century BCE). She was a distinguished woman who was especially renowned for her poetry and for her leadership of Argos through a political and military crisis.When Clemens, King of Sparta, invaded the land of the Argives in 510 BC, he defeated and killed all the hoplites (citizen-soldiers) of Argos in the Battle of Sepeia, and massacred the survivors. Thus when Cleomens led his troops to Argos there were no warriors left to defend it. Telesilla took down the ornamental arms from temples in the city, raided the armory for whatever was left, and equipped a force of the city’s women with arms and armor. She organized the city for defense and marched out to meet the Spartans, inflicting heavy losses. Clemens was faced with a dilemma; if he defeated Telesilla, he would have no honor in slaughtering women, while if they defeated him, Sparta would have been beaten by an army of women. So he prudently withdrew his army and Argos was saved.
AGNODICE OF ATHENS - 120 x 170Agnodice (4th century BCE) was the first female doctor in ancient Athens. She challenged the male-dominated profession and changed the laws regarding women practicing medicine. Previously, women had been allowed to practice medicine, especially as midwifes, until they were accused of helping female patients procure abortions. This resulted in a ban for any woman to practice medicine. Penalty for doing so was death. In order to practice, Agnodice disguised herself as a man, cut her hair, and travelled to Egypt to study medicine, where women were held in high regard as doctors. She returned to Athens disguised as a male doctor and became so popular among female patients that she attracted envy from male practitioners, who accused her of seducing female patients. When put on trial, she defended herself against the charge by revealing she was a woman. The accusers then threatened to execute her for breaking the law, as she was a woman. Fortunately she was backed by her female patients who shamed the court into acquitting her as it transpired that the male practioners where acting out of pure envy. Her trial resulted in the changing of the law and women were allowed to practice medicine again.
ARISTOI - 125 x 150 cmThe Aristoi was the label given to the noblemen in ancient Greek society, and in particular ancient Athens. The term literally means “best”, with the denotation of best in terms of birth, rank, and nobility, but usually possessing the connotation of also being the morally best. The term in fact derives similarly with ‘arete’: “The root of the word is the same as aristos, the word which shows superlative ability and superiority, and “aristos” was constantly used in the plural to denote the nobility.
THEMIS - 126 x 160 cmThemis is an ancient Greek Titaness. She is described as “the Lady of good counsel”, and is the personification of divine order, fairness, law, natural law, and custom. Her symbols are the Scales of Justice, tools used to remain balanced and pragmatic. Themismeans “divine law” rather than human ordinance, literally “that which is put in place”, from the Greek verb títhēmi, meaning “to put”.The personification of abstract concepts is characteristic of the Greeks. The ability of the goddess Themis to foresee the future enabled her to become one of the Oracles of Delphi, which in turn led to her establishment as the goddess of divine justice. Some classical representations of Themis showed her holding a sword, believed to represent her ability to cut fact from fiction; to her there was no middle ground.
NEREID - 120 x 165 cm In Greek mythology, the Nereids are sea nymphs (female spirits of sea waters), the 50 daughters of Nereus and Doris. They often accompany Poseidon, the god of the sea, and can be friendly and helpful to sailors, like the Argonauts in their search for the Golden Fleece. They symbolise everything that is beautiful and kind about the sea. Likewise, one of the moons of the planet Neptune, is named after the Nereids.
DEMOS - 120 x 160 cmDemos, pronounced ‘day-moss’, has several meanings, all of them important for Athenian democracy. Demos is the Greek word for ‘village, or, as it is often translated, ‘deme’. The deme was the smallest administrative unit of the Athenian state, like a voting precinct or school district. Another meaning of Demos, to the Athenians, was ‘People’, as in the People of Athens, the body of citizens collectively.
ERGON - 180 x 180Ergon - sense of function, task or work. This Greek word, for something ‘done’ or ‘made’, is used by the philosophers in a twofold sense: either as the activity of a thing or as the product of that activity. Greek philosopher Heraclitus was the first to introduce the term ergon, in the form of ‘en-ergon’, related to heat or fire as the primordial source of activity or “energy” in modern parlance.