Aesara is known only from a one-page fragment of her philosophical work titled On Human Nature preserved by Stobaeus. Lucania, where she came from, was an ancient district of southern Italy and part of Magna Graecia where many Pythagorean communities existed. It has been conjectured that her name is a variation on the name Aresa, who, according to one minor tradition, was a daughter of Pythagoras and Theano. A male writer from Lucania called Aresas is also mentioned by Iamblichus in his Life of Pythagoras.
On Human Nature is written in the Doric prose characteristic of the 3rd century BC or earlier, although that doesn't preclude the possibility that it was written later in an archaic style. It has been argued that the fragment is a Neopythagorean forgery dating from the Roman era, although this at least implies that there was an earlier Pythagorean called Aesara of Lucania worth imitating. It has also been suggested that the fragment is pseudonymous and comes from a textbook produced by one of the dissenting successor schools to Archytas of Tarentum in Italy in the 4th or 3rd century BC. In the absence of any strong evidence supporting either hypothesis, there is no reason to suppose that the fragment was not written by a woman philosopher called Aesara in the 4th or 3rd centuries BC.
Human nature seems to me to provide a standard of law and justice both for the home and for the city.
Aesara divides the soul into three parts: the mind which performs judgement and thought, the spirit which contains courage and strength, and desire which provides love and friendliness:
Being threefold, it is organized in accordance with triple functions: that which effects judgment and thoughtfulness is [the mind], that which effects strength and ability is [high spirit], and that which effects love and kindliness is desire.
These things, being divine, are the rational, mathematical, and functional principles at work in the soul. Aesara's theory of natural law concerns three applications of morality, concerning the individual, the family, and social institutions.
The Pythagoreans were notable as a sect for including women in their ranks. This did not necessarily equate to modern ideas of equality; they believed that women were responsible for creating harmony and justice in the home, in the same way that men had the same responsibility towards the state. Seen in this context, Aesara's theory of natural law is fundamental to justice and harmony in society as a whole.
- Stobaeus, i. 49. 27
- Plant 2004, pp. 81–82
- Iamblichus, Life of Pythagoras, 266
- Waithe 1987, p. 72; Plant 2004, pp. 81–82
- Waithe 1987, p. 68
- Waithe 1987, pp. 61–62
- Waithe 1987, pp. 63–65
- Waithe 1987, pp. 72–73; Plant 2004, pp. 81–82
- Waithe 1987, p. 19
- Waithe 1987, p. 22; Plant 2004, pp. 81–82
- Waithe 1987, p. 25
- Plant, Ian (2004), Women Writers of Ancient Greece and Rome: An Anthology, Equinox, ISBN 1-904768-02-4
- Waithe, Mary Ellen (1987), A History of Women Philosophers: Volume I: Ancient Women Philosophers, 600 BC - 500 AD, Springer, ISBN 90-247-3368-5