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This webpage reproduces part of the essay
De Mulierum Virtutibus

by
Plutarch

as published in Vol. III
of the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1931

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Part 2

(Vol. III) Plutarch, Moralia

p475 Bravery of Women
(Part 1 of 2)

242e 11 Regarding the virtues of women, Clea, I do not hold the same opinion as Thucydides.1 For he declares that the best woman is she about whom there is the least talk among persons outside regarding either censure or commendation, feeling that the name of the good woman, like her person, ought to be shut up indoors and never go out.2 fBut to my mind Gorgias appears to display better taste in advising that not the form but the fame of a woman should be known to many. Best of all seems the Roman custom,3 which publicly renders to women, as to men, a fitting commemoration after the end of their life. So when Leontis, that most excellent woman, died, I forthwith had then a long conversation with you, which was not without some share of consolation drawn from philosophy, and now, as you desired, I have also written out for you the remainder of what I would have said on the topic 243that man's virtues and woman's virtues are one and the same. This includes a good deal of historical exposition, and it is not composed to give pleasure in its perusal. Yet, if in a convincing argument delectation is to be found also by reason of p477the very nature of the illustration, then the discussion is not devoid of an agreeableness which helps in the exposition, nor does it hesitate

To join

The Graces with the Muses,

A consorting most fair,

as Euripides says,4 and to pin its faith mostly to the love of beauty inherent to the soul.

If, conceivably, we asserted that painting on the part of men and women is the same, and exhibited paintings, done by women, of the sort that Apelles, or Zeuxis, or Nicomachus has left to us, would anybody reprehend us on the ground bthat we were aiming at giving gratification and allurement rather than at persuasion? I do not think so.

Or again, if we should declare that the poetic or the prophetic art is not one art when practised by men and another when practised by women, but the same, and if we should put the poems of Sappho side by side with those of Anacreon, or the oracles of the Sibyls with those of Bacis, will anybody have the power justly to impugn the demonstration because these lead on the hearer, joyous and delighted,5 to have belief in it? No, you could not say that either.º

And actually it is not possible to learn better the similarity and the difference between the virtues of men and of women from any other source cthan by putting lives beside lives and actions beside actions, like great works of art, and considering whether the magnificence of Semiramis has the same character and pattern as that of Sesostris, or the intelligence of p479Tanaquil the same as that of Servius the king, or the high spirit of Porcia the same as that of Brutus, or that of Pelopidas the same as Timocleia's, when compared with due regard to the most important points of identity and influence. For the fact is that the virtues acquire certain other diversities, their own colouring as it were, due to varying natures, and they take on the likeness of the customs on which they are founded, and of the temperament of persons and their nurture and mode of living.6 For example, Achilles was brave in one way and Ajax in another; dand the wisdom of Odysseus was not like that of Nestor, nor was Cato a just man in exactly the same way as Agesilaus, nor Eirene fond of her husband in the manner of Alcestis, nor Cornelia high-minded in the manner of Olympias. But, with all this, let us not postulate many different kinds of bravery, wisdom, and justice — if only the individual dissimilarities exclude no one of these from receiving its appropriate rating.

Those incidents which are so often recited, and those of which I assume that you, having kept company with books, have assuredly record and knowledge, I will pass over for the present; but with this exception: if any tales worthy of perusal have escaped the attention of those who, before our time, have recorded the commonly published stories. Since, however, many deeds worthy of mention have been done by women both in association with other women and by themselves alone, eit may not be a bad idea to set down first a brief account of those commonly known.a

p481 I. The Trojan Women7

Most of those that escaped from Troy at the time of its capture had to weather a storm, and, because of their inexperience in navigation and ignorance of the sea, were driven upon the shores of Italy, and, in the neighbourhood of the river Tiber, they barely escaped by running in, under compulsion, where there were anchorages and havens. While the men were wandering about the country, in search of information, fit suddenly occurred to the women to reflect that for a happy and successful people any sort of a settled habitation on land is better than all wandering and voyaging, and that the Trojans must create a fatherland, since they were not able to recover that which they had lost. Thereupon, becoming of one mind, they burned the ships, one woman, Roma, taking the lead. Having accomplished this, they went to meet the men who were hurrying to the sea to save the ships, and, fearful of their anger, 244some embraced their husbands and some their relatives, and kissed them coaxingly, and mollified them by this manner of blandishment. This is the origin of the custom, which still persists among the Roman women, of greeting their kinsfolk with a kiss.b

The Trojans, apparently realizing the inevitable necessity, and after having also some experience with the native inhabitants, who received them kindly and humanely, came to be content with what had been done by the women, and took up their abode there with the Latins.

p483 II. The Women of Phocis8

The deed of the women of Phocis has not found any writer of high repute to describe it, byet it is not inferior in point of bravery to anything ever done by women, as is attested by imposing sacred rites which the Phocians perform even to this day in the neighbourhood of Hyampolis, and by ancient decrees. Of these events a detailed account of the achievements9 is given in the Life of Daïphantus,10 and the women's part was as follows.

The Thessalians were engaged in a war without quarter against the Phocians. For the Phocians had slain on one day all the Thessalian governors and despots in their cities. Whereupon the Thessalians massacred two hundred and fifty Phocian hostages;11 then with all their forces they made an invasion through Locris, having previously passed a resolution to spare no grown man, and to make slaves of the children and women. cAccordingly Daïphantus, Bathyllius's son, one of the three governors of Phocis, persuaded the men to meet the Thessalians in battle, and to bring together into some one place the women with their children from all Phocis, and to heap about them a mass of faggots, and to post guards, giving them instructions that, if they learned the men were being vanquished, they should with all haste set fire to the mass and reduce the living bodies to ashes. Nearly all voted approval of the plan, but one man arose in the council and said it was only right that the women approve this also; dotherwise they must reject it, and use no compulsion. When p485report of this speech reached the women, they held a meeting by themselves and passed the same vote, and they exalted Daïphantus for having conceived the best plan for Phocis. It is said that the children also held an assembly on their own account and passed their vote too.

After this had been done, the Phocians engaged the enemy near Cleonae of Hyampolis, and gained the victory. To this vote of the Phocians the Greeks gave the name of "Desperation";12 and the greatest festival of all, ethe Elaphebolia in honour of Artemis, they celebrate in Hyampolis even to this day in commemoration of that victory.

III. The Women of Chios13

The reason which led the Chians to appropriate Leuconia as a settlement was as follows: One of the men who appear to have been prominent in Chios was getting married, and, as the bride was being conducted to his home in a chariot, the king, Hippoclus, a close friend of the bridegroom, being there with the rest amid the drinking and merry-making, jumped up into the chariot, not with intent to do anything insulting, but merely following the common custom and indulging in facetiousness. Whereupon the friends of the bridegroom killed him.

Signs of divine anger were soon disclosed to the Chians, and the god of the oracle fbade them slay the slayers of Hippoclus, but they said that they all had slain Hippoclus. So the god bade them all leave the city, if they were all involved in the crime. And thus the guilty, both those who had taken a hand in the murder and those who had in any way assented to it, p487being not few in number nor without strength, the Chians sent away to settle in Leuconia, which they had earlier wrested from the Coroneans and taken possession of with the co-operation of the Erythraeans.

Later, however, they became involved in war with the Erythraeans,14 the most powerful of the Ionians; and when these marched against Leuconia, they were not able to hold out, 245and agreed to evacuate the town under truce, each man to have one cloak and one inner garment and nothing else. The women, however, called them cowards if they purposed to lay down their arms and go forth naked through the midst of the enemy. But when the men said that they had given their oath, the women bade them not to leave their arms behind, but to say, by way of answer to the enemy, that the spear serves as a cloak, and the shield as a shirt, to a man of spirit. The Chians took this advice, and when they used bold words towards the Erythraeans and displayed their weapons, the Erythraeans were frightened at their boldness, and no one approached nor hindered them, bbut all were well pleased at their departure. So the Chians, having been taught courage by their women, were saved in this way.

A deed which does not in the least fall short of this one in bravery was performed by the women of Chios many years later at the time when Philip,15 son of Demetrius, was besieging their city, and had made a barbarous and insolent proclamation bidding the slaves to desert to him, their reward to be freedom and marriage with their owners, meaning thereby that he was intending to unite them with the wives of their masters. But the women, suddenly possessed of fierce and savage spirit, in company with p489their slaves, cwho were themselves equally indignant and supported the women by their presence, hastened to mount the walls, both bringing stones and missiles, and exhorting and importuning the fighting men until, finally, by their vigorous defence and the wounds inflicted on the enemy by their missiles, they repulsed Philip. And not a single slave deserted to him.

IV. The Women of Argos16

Of all the deeds performed by women for the community none is more famous than the struggle against Cleomenes for Argos, which the women carried out at the instigation of Telesilla the poetess. She, as they say, was the daughter of a famous house but sickly in body, and so she sent to the god to ask about health; dand when an oracle was given her to cultivate the Muses, she followed the god's advice, and by devoting herself to poetry and music she was quickly relieved of her trouble, and was greatly admired by the women for her poetic art.

But when Cleomenes king of the Spartans, having slain many Argives (but not by any means seven thousand, seven hundred and seventy-seven,17 as some fabulous narratives have it) proceeded against the city, an impulsive daring, divinely inspired, came to the younger women to try, for their country's sake, to hold off the enemy. Under the lead of Telesilla they took up arms,18 and, taking their stand by the battlements, manned the walls all round, eso that the enemy were amazed. p491The result was that Cleomenes they repulsed with great loss, and the other king, Demaratus, who managed to get inside, as Socrates says,19 and gained possession of the Pamphyliacum, they drove out. In this way the city was saved. The women who fell in the battle they buried close by the Argive Road, and to the survivors they granted the privilege of erecting a statueº of Ares as a memorial of their surpassing valour. Some say that the battle took place on the seventh day of the month which is now known as the Fourth Month, but anciently was called Hermaeus among the Argives; others say that it was on the first day of that month, on the anniversary of which they celebrate even to this day the 'Festival of Impudence,' at which they clothe the women in men's shirts and cloaks, fand the men in women's robes and veils.

To repair the scarcity of men they did not unite the women with slaves, as Herodotus records,20 but with the best of their neighbouring subjects, whom they made Argive citizens. It was reputed that the women showed disrespect and an intentional indifference to those husbands in their married relations from a feeling that they were underlings. Wherefore the Argives enacted a law,21 the one which says that married women having a beard must occupy the same bed with their husbands!

V. The Persian Women22

246At the time when Cyrus induced the Persians to revolt from king Astyages and the Medes he was defeated in battle. As the Persians were fleeing to the city, with the enemy not far from forcing their way in along with the Persians, the women ran out p493to meet them before the city, and, lifting up their garments, said,23 "Whither are you rushing so fast, you biggest cowards in the whole world? Surely you cannot, in your flight, slink in here whence you came forth." The Persians, mortified at the sight and the words, chiding themselves for cowards, rallied and, engaging the enemy afresh, put them to rout. bAs a result of this it became an established custom that, whenever the king rode into the city, each woman should receive a gold coin; the author of the law was Cyrus.24 But Ochus,25a they say, being a mean man and the most avaricious of the kings, would always make a detour round the city and not pass within, but would deprive the women of their largess. Alexander,25b however, entered the city twice, and gave all the women who were with child a double amount.

VI. The Celtic Women26

Before the Celts crossed over the Alps and settled in that part of Italy which is now their home, ca dire and persistent factional discord broke out among them which went on and on to the point of civil war. The women, however, put themselves between the armed forces, and, taking up the controversies, arbitrated and decided them with such irreproachable fairness that a wondrous friendship of all towards all was brought about between both States and families. As the result of this they continued to consult with the women in regard to war and peace, and to decide through them any disputed matters in their relations with their allies. At all events, in their treaty with Hannibal they wrote the provision that, if the Celts p495complained against the Carthaginians, the governors and generals of the Carthaginians in Spain should be the judges; and if the Carthaginians complained against the Celts, the judges should be the Celtic dwomen.

VII. The Women of Melos27

The Melians, being in need of wide acres, put in charge of the colony to be sent forth Nymphaeus, a young man and unusually handsome. The god bade them sail, and wherever they should lose their transports to settle in that place. It came about, as they put in at Caria and went ashore, that their ships were destroyed by a storm. The Carian inhabitants of Cryassus, whether pitying their sorry plight or fearing their boldness, ebade them live near themselves, and gave them a portion of their land. Later, seeing their great expansion in a short time, they plotted to make away with them, after preparing a sumptuous banquet for the purpose. It happened that a Carian maiden was in love with Nymphaeus, but nobody else was aware of this. Her name was Caphene. As the plan was being put into operation, she could not suffer Nymphaeus to be put to death, and so she disclosed to him the intention of her fellow-citizens. So, when the Cryassians came to invite them, Nymphaeus said that it was not the custom for the Greeks to go to dinner without women. fWhen the Carians heard this, they told them to bring the women too. On this understanding Nymphaeus informed the Melians of what had been done, and told the men to go to the p497place unarmed in conventional attire, but that each of the woman should carry a sword in the fold of her garment and sit beside her husband or male relative. When, about the middle of the meal, the predetermined signal was given to the Carians, and the Greeks realized that the time had come, all the women at the same instant threw open the fold of their garments and the men, seizing their swords, attacked the barbarians and slew them all together. Then, taking possession of the land and razing that city, they built another, to which they gave the name of New Cryassus. 247Caphene married Nymphaeus and received the honour and gratitude merited by her valuable services. It is right and proper to admire both the silence and the courage of the women, and that not a single one of them among so many was led by timidity to turn coward even involuntarily.

VIII. The Etruscan Women28

When the Etruscans had gained possession of Lemnos and Imbros, they carried away forcibly from Brauron Athenian women, and children were born to them. These the Athenians expelled from the islands on the ground that they were in part barbarian, and they put in at Taenarum and made themselves useful to the Spartans in the war with the Helots. For this they received citizenship and the right of intermarriage, bbut were not deemed worthy to hold office or to be members of the Senate, and this gave colour to the idea that some radical design underlay their coming together, and that they purposed to disturb the established institutions. Accordingly the Spartans took them into custody and, shutting them up in prison, placed a strong guard p499over them, seeking to convict them by clear and certain proofs. The wives of the prisoners, coming to the prison, by dint of many prayers and intreaties, were permitted by the guards to pass within just to greet and to speak to their husbands.29 When they had gone inside they bade their husbands to change their clothing quickly, leaving their own for their wives, and then, cputting on their wives' garments, to depart with their faces covered. This done, the women waited there, prepared to face all terrors, but the guards were deceived and allowed the men to pass, supposing, of course, that they were women.

Following this, they seized the strongholds on Mount Taÿgetus, incited the body of Helots to revolt, and gladly received them as an addition to their forces. The Spartans were thrown into a great state of fear and, sending heralds, made peace with them, the conditions being that they should get back their wives, should receive money and ships, and sail away and, having found land and a city elsewhere, dbe considered as colonists and kindred of the Spartans. This the Pelasgians did, taking as their leaders Pollis and Delphus and Crataïdas, all Spartans. A part of them settled in Melos,30 but Pollis and his associates, with the great majority, sailed to Crete, testing the truth of the oracles. For an oracle had been given them that whenever they should lose their goddess and their anchor they should cease from their wanderings and found a city in that place. So, when they had come to anchor off that part of Crete which is called the Chersonese, panic confusion fell upon them by p501night, by which they were so excited that they leaped aboard in utter disorder, eleaving behind on land an ancient statue of Artemis which had been handed down to them from their ancestors, having been originally brought to Lemnos from Brauron, and from Lemnos had been carried about with them in all their journeyings. But when at sea, as the confusion subsided, they missed this, and at the same time Pollis discovered that the fluke was gone from the anchor (for apparently it had been broken off as the anchor dragged in some rocky places, without anybody's noticing its loss), he declared that the god-given predictions were now fulfilled, and gave the signal to return. fHe took possession of the country, prevailed in many battles over those who ranged themselves against him, settled Lyctus, and took other cities under his control. Because of all this people regard them as related to the Athenians by descent on account of their mothers, and as colonists of the Spartans also.31

IX. The Lycian Women

That which is said to have happened in Lycia sounds like a myth, yet it has some supporting testimony in the tales that are told.32 Amisodarus, as they say, whom the Lycians call Isaras, arrived from the Lycian colony in the vicinity of Zeleia, bringing with him pirate ships, in command of which was Chimarrhus, a warlike man, bloodthirsty and brutal. 248He sailed in a vessel which had a lion as its figurehead at the prow, and a serpent at the stern. He did much evil p503to the Lycians, and it was not possible to sail at sea or even to live in the cities near the sea.

This man Bellerophon slew, pursuing him with Pegasus33 as he was trying to escape. Bellerophon also drove out the Amazons, but met with no just treatment; in fact, Iobates was most unjust with him. Because of this, Bellerophon waded into the sea, and prayed to Poseidon that, as a requital against Iobates, the land might become sterile and unprofitable. Thereupon he went back after his prayer, and a wave arose and inundated the land. It was a fearful sight as the sea, following him, rose high in air and covered up the plain. bThe men besought Bellerophon to check it, but when they could not prevail on him, the women, pulling up their garments, came to meet him; and when he, for shame, retreated towards the sea again,34 the wave also, it is said, went back with him.

Some, attempting to explain away the mythical element in this account, assert that he did not get the sea to move by imprecations, but that the most fertile part of the plain lies below the sea-level, and Bellerophon broke through the ridge extending along the shore, which kept the sea out; cthen, as the ocean rushed in violently and covered up the plain, the men accomplished nothing by beseeching him, but the women, flocking about him in a crowd, met with respect, and caused his anger to subside.

Still others assert that the Chimaera, as it was called, was nothing but a mountain facing the sun, and that it caused reflexions of sunlight, fierce and fiery in the summer time, and by these, striking all over p505the plain, the crops were dried up, and that Bellerophon, sensing this, cut away the smoothest part of the precipice which mostly sent back the reflexions. When, however, he met with no gratitude, in anger he turned to avenge himself upon the Lycians, but was prevailed upon by the women.

dBut the reason which Nymphis gives35 in the fourth book of his treatise about Heracleia is least mythical of all; for he says that Bellerophon killed a wild boar which was making havoc of the stock and crops in the land of the Xanthians, but obtained no fitting reward; whereupon he addressed to Poseidon imprecations against the Xanthians, and the whole plain suddenly became glittering with a salt deposit and was completely ruined, since the soil had become saline. This lasted until Bellerophon, out of respect for the women who besought him, prayed to Poseidon to give up his anger. For this reason it was the custom for the Xanthians to bear names derived not from their fathers but from their mothers.36

X. The Women of Salmantica37

eWhen Hannibal, the son of Barca, before38 making his campaign against the Romans, attacked a great city in Spain, Salmantica, at first the besieged were terrified, and agreed to do what was ordered by giving him six thousand pounds and three hundred hostages. But when he raised the siege, they changed their minds and did nothing of what they had agreed to do. p507fSo he returned and ordered his soldiers, with the promise of plunder, to attack the city. At this the barbarians were panic-stricken, and came to terms, agreeing that the free inhabitants should depart clad in one civilian garment, and should leave behind weapons, property, slaves, and their city. The women, thinking that the enemy would search each man as he came out, but would not touch the women, took swords, and, hiding them, hastened out with the men. When all had come out, Hannibal set over them a guard of Masaesylian soldiers in a place near the city, and kept them there under constraint. The rest of the soldiers rushed into the city in disorder and set to plundering. As much booty was being carried off, the Masaesylians could not bear to be merely spectators, 249nor did they keep their mind on their watching, but were much aggrieved and started to move away as if to have their share of the spoils. At this juncture the women, calling upon the men, handed them the swords, and some of the women of themselves attacked their guards. One of them snatched away the spear of Banon the interpreter, and smote the man himself; but he happened to have on his breast-plate. Of the others, the men struck down some, routed the rest, and forced a way out in a body, accompanied by the women. Hannibal, learning of this, sent in pursuit of them, and caught those who could not keep up. The others gained the mountains, and, for the time, escaped. bAfterwards, however, they sent a petition to him, and were restored to their city, and received immunity and humane treatment.

p509 XI. The Women of Miletus39

Once upon a time a dire and strange trouble took possession of the young women in Miletus for some unknown cause. The most popular conjecture was that the air had acquired a distracting and infectious constitution, and that this operated to produced in them an alteration and derangement of mind. At any rate, a yearning for death and an insane impulse toward hanging suddenly fell upon all of them, and many managed to steal away and hang themselves. cArguments and tears of parents and comforting words of friends availed nothing, but they circumvented every device and cunning effort of their watchers in making away with themselves. The malady seemed to be of divine origin and beyond human help, until, on the advice of a man of sense, an ordinance was proposed that the women who hanged themselves should be carried naked through the market-place to their burial. And when this ordinance was passed it not only checked, but stopped completely, the young women from killing themselves. Plainly a high testimony to natural goodness and virtue is the desire to guard against ill repute, and the fact that the women who had no deterrent sense of shame when facing the most terrible of all things in the world, death and pain, dyet could not abide nor bear the thought of disgrace which would come after death.

XII. The Women of Ceos

It was a custom for the maidens of Ceos to go in a company to the public shrines and spend the day p511together, and their suitors watched their sports and dances. At evening they went by turns to each one's home and waited upon one another's parents and brothers even to washing their feet. Very often more than one youth would be in love with one maid, but their love was so orderly and so controlled by custom, that when the girl became engaged to one, the others ceased their attentions at once. The net result of this orderly behaviour on the part of the women was ethat there was no memory of a case of adultery or seduction in that country for the space of seven hundred years.

XIII. The Women of Phocis40

When the despots in Phocis had seized Delphi, and the Thebans were waging war against them in what has been called the Sacred War, the women devotees of Dionysus, to whom they give the name of Thyads, in Bacchic frenzy wandering at night unwittingly arrived at Amphissa. As they were tired out, and sober reason had not yet returned to them, they flung themselves down in the market-place, and were lying asleep, some here, some there. fThe wives of the men of Amphissa, fearing, because their city had become allied with the Phocians, and numerous soldiers of the despots were present there, that the Thyads might be treated with indignity, all ran out into the market-place, and, taking their stand round in silence, did not go up to them while they were sleeping, but when they arose from their slumber, one devoted herself to one of the strangers and another to another, bestowing attentions on them and offering them food. Finally, the p513women of Amphissa, after winning the consent of their husbands, accompanied the strangers, who were safely escorted as far as the frontier.

250XIV. Valeria and Cloelia41

The two things that brought about the expulsion of Tarquinius Superbus, seventh king of Rome from Romulus, were arrogance and the virtue of Lucretia, a woman married to a distinguished man of royal lineage. For she was outraged by one of Tarquin's sons who had been welcomed as a guest in her home. She told her friends and family what had been done to her, and immediately slew herself. Deposed from power, Tarquin waged various wars in his endeavours to regain his sovereignty. bFinally he persuaded Porsena, ruler of the Etruscans, to march against Rome with a great force.42 At the same time with the war famine also attacked43 the Romans, and they, learning that Porsena was not merely a great soldier but a just and fair man as well, wished to make him judge in their case against Tarquin. But Tarquin was stubborn, saying that Porsena, if he did not remain faithful as an ally, would not be a just judge either; and so Porsena renounced him and made it his endeavour that when he went away he should be a friend of the Romans, and should get back such part of the land as they had cut off from the Etruscans, and also the prisoners of war. cTo confirm these p515terms hostages were given to him, ten youths and ten maidens, among whom was Valeria, the daughter of Publicola the consul, whereupon Porsena at once remitted all his preparation for the war, although the agreement was not yet consummated.

The maidens went down to the river as if to bathe, a short distance away from the camp. At the instigation of one of them, Cloelia, they fastened their clothes to their heads, and took the risk of breasting a swift current and deep-whirling eddies, dand by swimming close together they reached the other side by dint of a hard struggle, and with many a chance of failure. There are those who say that Cloelia procured a horse and, mounting it, swam it across slowly, acting as guide for the others, and encouraging and helping them as they were swimming. The argument with which they support this I will mention in a moment.

When the Romans saw them safe and sound, they admired the maidens' bravery and daring, yet did not like their coming back, nor could endure to prove themselves less honourable than one man in keeping faith. Accordingly they commanded the girls to go back again, and sent men with them to see that they got there. Tarquin set an ambush for these when they had crossed the river,44 and came very near getting the maidens in his power. But Valeria, daughter of the consul, Publicola, ewith three servants succeeded in escaping to the camp of Porsena, and the others Porsena's son, Aruns, rescued from the enemy by hastening with all speed to their assistance.

p517 When they were brought to camp, Porsena, with a look at them, bade them say which one of them was the instigator and leader in the plan. The others, for fear regarding Cloelia, said not a word; but Cloelia of her own accord said that it was herself, and Porsena, in admiration of her, ordered a horse to be brought, fittingly caparisoned, and presented it to her, and sent them all back kindly and humanely. fMany make of this an indication that Cloelia rode across the river on a horse. Others, however, say this is not so, but that Porsena, because he admired her strength and daring as above that of a woman, deemed her worthy of a gift fitting for a warrior. At all events, there stood an equestrian statue of a woman45 close beside the Sacred Way, as it is called, and some say that this is the statue of Cloelia, others of Valeria.

XV. Micca and Megisto46

Aristotimus, having succeeded in becoming despot over the people of Elis, was able to prevail through the support of Antigonus47 the king, 251but he used his power for no seemly or moderate purpose. He was himself brutal by nature, and he was led by fear to be subservient to a band of mixed barbarians who kept guard over his person and his sovereignty, and he overlooked many arrogant and cruel deeds done to the citizens by them. An example is what happened to Philodemus. The man had a beautiful daughter named Micca, and this girl one of the p519officers of the despot's mercenaries named Lucius, to show his arrogance, rather than for love of her, undertook to make his paramour, and sent a summons for her. Her parents, seeing the necessity, advised her to go, bbut the girl, being noble and high-minded, begged her father, embracing and beseeching him, that he would rather bear to see her dead than robbed of her maidenhood in such a shameful and lawless way. There was some delay, and Lucius himself, lustful and drunk, started forth in the midst of his drinking in a passion. Finding Micca with her head on her father's knees, he commanded her to follow with him. But, as she was not willing, he tore off her clothes and whipped her naked body, while she bravely bore the painful blows in silence. Her father and mother, effecting nothing by their intreaties and tears, cresorted to calling upon gods and men to witness their frightful and lawless treatment. But the barbarian, utterly crazed by rage and drink, killed the maiden, as she lay with her face in her father's bosom.

The despot, however, was not moved even by things like this, but he made away with many, and forced even more into exile. At any rate, it is said that eight hundred men fled for safety to the Aetolians, asking for rescue of their wives and youngest children from the despot. A little later he himself caused proclamation to be made that the women who wished might go away to their husbands, taking along as much as they wished of their feminine possessions. When he learned dthat they all received the proclamation with gladness (and their number was over six hundred), he issued orders that all p521should proceed in a company on a specified day, as if purposing himself to assure their safety. When the day arrived, the women gathered at the gates with their possessions which they had packed up, and some of their children they carried in their arms, and others they had in wagons, and they were waiting there for one another. Suddenly many of the despot's men bore down upon them, calling out to them, while still a long way off, to wait. And when these came near, they ordered the women to move back, and then turned the teams about and rode them at the women, driving them through their midst mercilessly, eand giving the women no chance either to follow or to stay or to come to the help of their little ones who were being killed, some of whom perished by being thrown from the wagons, others by falling under foot. The mercenaries urged them on like a flock of sheep, with shouts and whips, while the women tripped over one another, until the soldiers had cast them all into prison. This possessions were carried off to Aristotimus.

The people of Elis being highly indignant over this affair, the holy women devoted to Dionysus, whom they call the Sixteen, taking suppliant branches and fillets from those sacred to the god, went to meet Aristotimus close by the market-place. fHis bodyguard made way out of respect, and the priestesses silently halted, first of all reverently holding out their suppliant branches. But when it became clear that they were petitioning in behalf of the women, and trying by intreaty to mollify his anger, he, greatly exasperated with his guards, screamed out that they had permitted the priestesses to come into his presence, and he made them drive these from the p523market-place by pushing or striking one or another, and he fined each woman four hundred pounds.

After these events, Hellanicus started a concerted activity against the despot. He was a man, who owing to his advanced years and the death of two sons, was not thought of by the despot as likely to be active in any way. 252The exiles crossed over from Aetolia and occupied Amymone, a stronghold in Elis, well adapted to serve as a base for warlike operations, and there they received a great addition to their numbers from the citizens who managed to escape from Elis. Aristotimus, alarmed at this, went to see the imprisoned women, and, thinking that he should accomplish his purpose better by fear than by favour, he gave orders to them to write and send letters to their husbands so that the men should leave the country; and if they would not write, he threatened to put them all to death after torturing them and making away with their children first. bAs he stood there a long time and urged them to say whether they would carry out any part of this programme, most of the women made no answer to him, but looked at one another in silence, and showed by nods that all their minds were made up not to be frightened or perturbed at the threat. Megisto, the wife of Timoleon, who, on account of her husband and her own virtues as well, held the position of leader, did not think it meet to rise, nor would she allow the other women to do so; but, keeping her seat, she made answer to him: "If you were a sensible man, you would not be talking to women about husbands, but you would send to them, as to those having authority over us, finding better words to say to them than those by which you tricked us. But if you despair p525of persuading them yourself, cand are attempting to use us to mislead them, do not expect to deceive us again, and I pray that they may never entertain such a base thought that, to spare their wives and little children, they should forsake the cause of their country's freedom. In truth, it is not so bad a thing for them to lose us, whom they have not at present, as it is a good thing to rescue the citizens from your cruelty and overbearing insolence."

As Megisto spoke thus, Aristotimus could not brook her words, and ordered her young child to be brought, as if intending to kill him in her sight. As the servants sought for him mingled among the other children playing and wrestling, his mother, calling him by name, dsaid, "Come here, child, and, before you can realize and think, be delivered from this bitter despotism; since for me it is more grievous to look upon your undeserved slavery than upon your death."

At this, Aristotimus drew his sword upon the mother herself, but as he was rushing at her in a rage, one of his intimate associates, Cylon48 by name, who was thought to be loyal to him, but really hated him, and was in the conspiracyº with Hellanicus and the rest, intervened and turned him from his purpose by intreating him and saying that such action was ignoble and womanish, enot that of a manly ruler who had learned to meet any situation. The result was that Aristotimus, with difficulty regaining his senses, came away.

An ominous thing, however, happened to him. p527It was midday, and he was resting, and his wife was with him. While preparations for dinner were going on, an eagle was seen high in air circling over the house; then, as if with intent and design, it let fall a good-sized stone on that part of the roof under which was the room where Aristotimus happened to be lying. At the same moment there was a great crash above and shouting outside by those who saw the bird. fAristotimus was seized with consternation, and when he learned what had happened, he sent for a seer whom he constantly consulted in the market-place, and, much perturbed, questioned him about the ominous happening. The seer encouraged him to believe that Zeus was rousing him and aiding him, but, on the other hand, told those citizens in whom he trusted that judgement was hovering over the despot's head, and was all but ready to fall on him. Wherefore it seemed best to Hellanicus and his friends not to delay but to make their attack on the next day.

That night Hellanicus in his sleep dreamed that one of his dead sons stood beside him and said, "What has happened to you, father, that you are asleep? 253To‑morrow you must be commander of the city." So he, having gained good courage because of the vision, urged on his associates, while on the other hand, Aristotimus also having learned that Craterus was coming to his aid with a numerous force and was encamped at Olympia, became so extremely bold that without his bodyguard he went forth into the market-place in the company of Cylon. When, therefore, Hellanicus realized the opportunity, he did not give the signal which had been agreed upon between himself and those who were to make the attempt, but with clear p529voice, stretching out both arms at the words, he said, b"Why delay, brave men? Fair is this place on the soil of your own native land to stage your contest!" So then Cylon first, drawing his sword, smote one of the men following with Aristotimus, but, as Thrasybulus and Lampis rushed at him from the opposite side, Aristotimus forestalled the conspirators by taking refuge in the temple of Zeus. There they slew him, and, exposing his corpse in the market-place, they sounded for the citizens the call to freedom. As a matter of fact, they were not much ahead of the women, for these at once ran forth with joyful acclamations and, surrounding the men, adorned them with ribbons and garlands. Then the crowd surged towards the house of the despot, but his wife, bolting the doors of her chamber, hanged herself. cHe had two daughters, still unwedded, most beautiful to look upon, of marriageable age. These they seized and dragged out, having resolved to do away with them, but to torture and insult them first. But Megisto, with the rest of the women, meeting them, cried out that they were committing a frightful crime if they who deemed themselves worthy to be a democratic people were, in this matter, showing recklessness and wanton violence like despots. As many had respect for the high worth of the woman who spoke so boldly amid her tears, they decided to omit the violence, dand permit the daughters to die by their own hand.

When, therefore, they had returned the maidens to the house and ordered their death immediately, the elder, Myro, loosing her girdle and making a noose of it, bade farewell to her sister and urged p531her to take note and do exactly what she saw her do, "so that," she said, "we may not end our lives in any humiliating way, unworthy of ourselves." But when the younger sister wanted the other to concede to her the privilege of dying first, and seized hold of the girdle, the elder said, "I have never denied you anything else that you wanted; and so you may receive this favour also, eand I will patiently endure and bear what is more grievous than death, and that is, dearest, to see you die first." Thereupon she instructed her sister how to put the noose around her neck, and when she saw that she was dead she took her down and covered her. She herself begged Megisto to take care of her and not to suffer her to be laid in any ignominious way when she should be dead. In consequence no one there was so bitter or such a hater of despots as not to shed tears and commiserate the nobility of the maidens.

Of the deeds, countless in number, done by women acting together these may suffice as examples. fBut cases of individual bravery I will put down as they come to me, not in any order, because I think that the record of the present subject does not at all require a chronological arrangement.


The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Thucydides, II.45.

2 Cf. Moralia, 217F, supra.

3 Cf. Plutarch's Life of Camillus, chap. viii (133B), Livy, V.50; Cicero, De oratore, II.11 (44).

4 Hercules Furens, 673. Plutarch probably quoted from memory, as he made one transposition and one substitution. Cf. the critical note.

The Greek text reads:

ταῖς Μούσαις

τὰς Χάριτας συγκαταμιγνὺς

καλλίσταν1 συζυγίαν

and the critical note:

ταῖς Μούσαις τὰς Χάριτας . . . καλλίσταν] τὰς Χάριτας ταῖς Μούσαις . . . ἀδίσταν Euripides MSS.: καλλίστην Plut. MSS.

5 Cf. Horace, Ars Poetica, 426.

6 Cf. Hippocrates, Airs, Waters, and Places, chap. xxiii (Hippocrates in the L. C. L., I, p132); Cicero, Tusculan Disputations, I.33 (80); Porphyry, De Abstinentia, III.8; cf. Diogenes Laertius, VII.127, for the statement of the contrary view.

7 Cf. Moralia, 265B; Plutarch's Life of Romulus, chap. i (17F); Polyaenus, Strategemata, VIII.25.2. The story differs in some details from Virgil's account, as was noted by Dionysius of Halicarnassus in his Roman Antiquities, I.72‑73.

8 Cf. Polyaenus, Strategemata, VIII.65; Pausanias, X.1.3‑11.

9 Cf. Herodotus, VIII.27‑28.

10 One of Plutarch's Lives which has not been preserved. It is No. 38 in the catalogue of Lamprias.

11 Cf. Aeschines, De falsa legatione, 140.

12 "Phocian Desperation," according to Pausanias, X.1.7.

13 Cf. Polyaenus, Strategemata, VIII.66.

14 Cf. Herodotus, I.18; Frontinus, Strategemata, II.5.15.

15 Philip V; the date is probably 201 B.C.

16 Cf. Moralia, 223B; Herodotus, VI.76 ff.; Pausanias, II.20.8.

17 Six thousand according to Herodotus, VII.148. Cf. also VI.77‑82. The date is put about 494 B.C. or possibly earlier.

18 Found in the temples according to Moralia, 223B.

19 Müller, Frag. Histor. Graec. IV. p497.

20 Herodotus, VI.83, does not say quite this. Cf. Aristotle, Politics, V.3.7.

21 Approval by indirection!

22 Cf. Polyaenus, Strategemata, VII.45.2; Justin, Historiae PhilippicaeI.6.

23 Cf. Moralia, 241B, supra.

24 Cf. Xenophon, Cyropaedia, VIII.5.21.

25a 25b Cf. Plutarch's Life of Alexander, chap. lxix (703A).

26 Cf. Polyaenus, Strategemata, VII.50.

27 Cf. Polyaenus, Strategemata, VIII.64.

28 Cf. Moralia, 296B; Polyaenus, Strategemata, VII.49; Herodotus, IV.145‑148 and VI.138 (who says that men were descendants of the Argonauts); Valerius Maximus, IV.6, ext. 3; Conon, Narrationes, 36 and 47.

29 Who, according to other accounts, were to be put to death that night.

30 Cf. Thucydides, V.84.

31 Cf. Aristotle, Politics, II.10.2.

32 Cf. Homer, Il. VI.152 ff. and the scholia on Il. XVI.328; Hyginus, Fabulae, no. 57; Apollodorus, Bibliotheca, II.3. Is Chimarrhus a Chimaera?

33 Bellerophon's winged horse (which may be found represented on the coins of Corinth).

34 Cf. Homer, Il. VI.162.

35 Cf. Müller, Frag. Histor. Graec. III p14 (Frag. 13).

36 Cf. Herodotus, I.173, and the note in A. H. Sayce's edition (London, 1883), where many of the numerous parallels are cited.

37 Cf. Polyaenus, Strategemata, VII.48.

38 Probably about 220 B.C. Cf. Polybius, III.14 and Livy, XXI.5.

39 Cf. Polyaenus, Strategemata, VIII.63. Aulus Gellius, XV.10, translates the story from a lost work of Plutarch's (De anima), in which it was doubtless repeated. Cf. Bernardakis's ed. of the Moralia, VII p21.

40 A story about the women of Phocis has been told already (supra 244A). A better title for this story would be 'The Women of Amphissa.'

41 The story is told (with interruptions) by Plutarch in his Life of Publicola, chaps. xvii-xix (106‑107) as well as by many other writers. Cf., for example, Livy, II.13; Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities, V.32‑34; Seneca, Consolatio ad Marciam, 16.2; Valerius Maximus, III.2.2; Polyaenus, Strategemata, VIII.31.

42 Cf. Livy, II.9.

43 Ibid. 11.

44 His purpose, according to other accounts, was to prevent the return of the hostages, and so to make it appear that the Romans had not kept faith.

45 Cf. Plutarch's Life of Publicola, chap. xix (107C); Livy, II.13, who gives a slightly different explanation of the "virgo insidens equo"; Pliny, Natural History, XXXIV.13 (28‑29).

For the statue, and references to the other variants of the story, see Statua Cloeliae in Platner & Ashby's Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome.

46 Plutarch seems to be our only authority for the details of this narrative, although the atrocities and death of Aristotimus are recorded briefly by Pausanias, V.5.1 (cf. VI.14.11), and by Justin, Historiae Philippicae, XXVI.1. Aristotimus's name is found on coins of Elis (Head, Historia Numorum, p356).

47 Antigonus Gonatas, king of Macedonia, 283‑239 B.C.

48 See the inscription in honour of Cylon found at Delphi, Dittenberger, Sylloge Inscript. Graec.3 no. 423 (no. 920 in the second edition).


Thayer's Notes:

a This seems to me a clear indication that we only have half of Plutarch's essay, and the half, at that, which he would have considered the less important. In its present shape, On the Bravery of Women consists merely of 27 brief historical sketches — presumably the "brief account" "set down first" (243E) — the philosophical or moral discussion, that followed them, being lost.

If a second half has disappeared, I would suspect that we owe the preservation of what we have to an excerptor of little stories: the Middle Ages were particularly fond of such collections. The present collection, as a separate work, would have been much more copied and disseminated than the philosophical part.

b It really seems rather strange to seek the origin of the custom of kissing one's relatives; yet Pliny (XIV.90) records as noteworthy that the elder Cato, some two hundred years before Plutarch, also felt the need to explain it: kiss your wife, if she's been drinking her breath will smell of booze. Taken together, these passages in two different writers suggest that casual familial kissing was a relatively new habit with the Romans, just as it is explicitly stated by Plutarch himself (Cat. min. 12) that social kissing as a gesture of subservience or gratitude was another thing the older Romans didn't do. For my part though, not only do I not believe either of these two curious ancient explanations of course, but neither can I bring myself to credit my own idea that the early Romans didn't kiss — leaving me back where I started, with a puzzle.


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