Arete of Cyrene

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Arete of Cyrene (/əˈrt/; Greek: Ἀρήτη; fl. 5th–4th century BC) was a Cyrenaic philosopher, and the daughter of Aristippus of Cyrene.[1] She was remarkable in that while many women studied philosophy in her time, she was one of the few for whom it was a career.[2]


Arete learned philosophy from her father, Aristippus, who had himself learned philosophy from Socrates. Arete, in turn, taught philosophy to her son - Aristippus the Younger - hence her son was nicknamed "Mother-taught" (Greek: μητροδίδακτος).[3] Arete is sometimes described as the successor of her father as head of the Cyrenaic school, but it may have been her son who formally founded the school.

Among the spurious Socratic epistles (dating perhaps from the 1st century) there is a fictitious letter from Aristippus addressed to Arete.[4] In this letter, Arete is represented as living a fairly prosperous life in Cyrene, a North African city in the Greek diaspora that is now in northeastern Libya.

There were five Greek cities in the area, and Cyrene was the oldest and most important of them all. Arete's city was named after the Greek myth. Cyrene was a nymph, the daughter of Hypsesus, who was king of the Lapiths, and Chlidanope, a Naiad. Apparently, Apollo found Cyrene wrestling alone with a lion and fell in love with her; he carried her off to Mt. Pelion in that part of Libya (Thessaly) where in later times he founded a city and named it after her and made her its queen. In actuality, the city of Cyrene was founded in approximately 631 BC by a group of people from the island of Thera, located in the Aegean Sea. Their leader was Battus, and he became the first king, founding the dynasty of the Battiads, whose members ruled until around 440 B.C. Under the Battiad dynasty's rule, the city flourished economically and expanded, establishing the cities of Apollonia (Marsa Susah), Barce (al-Marj) and Euhesperides, or Berenice (Banghazi). Cyrene eventually became one of the vast intellectual centers of the classical world, and included some of the best of all academic pursuits, including a medical school and such scholars as the geographer Eratosthenes, the philosopher Aristippus, founder of the Cyrenaics, and, of course, his daughter Arete.

Cyrene's principal export was the medicinal herb silphium, which was shown on most of its coins, and was a great contributor to its economy until it was harvested to extinction. Although there are other forms of it, and other plants named the same, the plant that Arete would have known has been wiped from the planet. The plant was extremely valuable in ancient times because of its many uses.[5]

Aristippus tells her that "you still have two gardens, enough for a luxurious life; the property in Berenice, even if it alone were left, would not fail to supply you with a very high standard of living."[6] Aristippus suggests to her that, after his death, she should "go to Athens, after you have given Aristippus [the Younger] the best possible education."[6] He suggests that she should live with Xanthippe and Myrto, that she should regard Lamprocles as if he were her own child, and that she should adopt "the daughter of Eubois whom you used to treat as though she were free."[6] Above all he urges her "to care for little Aristippus so that he may be worthy of us and of philosophy; that is the real inheritance I leave him, for in the other aspects of his life he will have the officials in Cyrene as his enemies.[6]

John Augustine Zahm (writing under the pseudonym of Mozans), claimed that the 14th century scholar Giovanni Boccaccio had access to some "early Greek writers," which allowed Boccaccio to give special praise to Arete "for the breadth and variety of her attainments":[7]

She is said to have publicly taught natural and moral philosophy in the schools and academies of Attica for thirty-five years, to have written forty books, and to have counted among her pupils one hundred and ten philosophers. 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.[7]

As many other ancient philosophers, none of her work survives to the present day.[1]


  1. ^ a b Ogilvie, Marilyn Bailey (1986). Women in science : antiquity through the nineteenth century : a biographical dictionary with annotated bibliography (3. print. ed.). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-15031-X. 
  2. ^ "Arete of Cyrene - Dictionary definition of Arete of Cyrene | FREE online dictionary". Retrieved 2016-10-11. 
  3. ^ Diogenes Laërtius, ii. 72, 83, 86; Eusebius, Preparatio Evangelica, xiv. 18. Cf. Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, iv. 122; Strabo, xvii. 3. 22; Aelian, Nat. Anim. iii. 40; Theodoret, Therapeutike, xi. 1; Themistius, Orationes, xxi. 244
  4. ^ The fictitious Socratic letters cannot automatically be use as an historical source, but the anonymous author of these letters is "interested in historical detail," and he appears to have access to "a handbook on Greek philosophy which is similar in content to that of Diogenes Laertius but more extensive in content." Abraham J. Malherbe, (1977), The Cynic Epistles: A Study Edition, page 28. SBL
  5. ^ Encyclopedia of World Biography (2nd ed.). Detroit: Gale. 2006. pp. 18–20. 
  6. ^ a b c d Socratic epistle 27 in Abraham J. Malherbe, (1977), The Cynic Epistles: A Study Edition, pages 282-5. SBL
  7. ^ a b H. J. Mozans, (1913), Woman in Science, pages 197-9. New York. This passage, however, does not seem to be present in any surviving work by Boccaccio, and the obvious candidate – Boccaccio's De mulieribus claris (On Famous Women) – contains no mention of Arete. Zahm's source for this information is Johann Christoph Wolf's 1739 Mulierum Graecarum. Wolf cites Book II of De Laudibus Mulierum (In Praise of Women) by "Bocatius". However, there is no work by Boccaccio entitled De Laudibus Mulierum, but there is an obscure 1487 book with this title by one Bartolommeo Goggio.

External links[edit]