According to the traditional story, when Cleomenes, king of Sparta, invaded the land of the Argives in 510 BC, and defeated and killed the men of Argos in battle, Telesilla, dressed in men's clothes, put herself at the head of the women (and slaves) and repelled an attack upon the city of Argos. To commemorate this exploit, a statue of the poet, in the act of putting on a helmet, with books lying at her feet, was set up in the temple of Aphrodite at Argos. The festival Hybristica or Endymatia, in which men and women exchanged clothes, also celebrated the heroism of her female compatriots.
Herodotus (vi. 76) does not refer to the intervention of Telesilla, but mentions an oracle which predicted that the female should conquer the male, whence the tradition itself may have been derived. Further, the statue seen by Pausanias may not have been intended for Telesilla; it would equally represent Aphrodite, in her character as wife of Ares and a warlike goddess (the books, however, seem out of place). The Hybristica, again, was most probably a religious festival connected with the worship of some androgynous divinity.