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Praxilla of Sicyon (Greek: Πράξιλλα), was a Greek lyric poet of the 5th century BC. She was a contemporary of Telesilla. Antipater of Thessalonica lists her first among his canon of nine "immortal-tongued" women poets[1] She was highly esteemed in her time. Evidence of this is shown in that Lysippus, a famous sculptor, made a bronze statue of her. In addition to this statue a vase was found with the first four words of a poem, she had written, on it. "Further evidence for the reception of her work in the fifth century BC comes from the comic playwright Aristophanes, who parodied lines from her poetry both in the Wasps (1238) and the Thesmophoriazusae (528). Not only did he know her work, but his parody implies that he expected his Athenian audience to recognize it too."[1] Not much of her works survive, only eight fragments of her work. Her talents were varied, she wrote drinking songs (scolia), hymns and dithyrambs (choral odes performed at festivals of Dionysus). She composed a hymn to Adonis from which one fragment survives, in which Adonis, in response to a question from the shades in the underworld ("What was the most beautiful thing you left behind?"), answers:

κάλλιστον μὲν ἐγὼ λείπω φάος ἠελίοιο,
δεύτερον ἄστρα φαεινὰ σεληναίης τε πρόσωπον
ἠδὲ καὶ ὡραίους σικύους καὶ μῆλα καὶ ὄγχνας·


Finest of all the things I have left is the light of the sun,
Next to that the brilliant stars and the face of the moon,
Cucumbers in their season, too, and apples and pears.

—(747 PMG) —Trans. Bernard Knox

This fragment survives because Zenobius quoted it to explain the proverbial expression "sillier than Praxilla's Adonis" (because the inclusion of cucumbers alongside the sun and moon could seem incongruous). Testimonia and fragments in David A. Campbell, Greek Lyric, vol. 4, pp. 374–381 (Loeb Classical Library, 1992). "An apparent pun in line three between cucumber (in Greek sicyos) and the name of Praxilla's own city suggest we can read more than one level of meaning into Adonis' lines." She invented a dactylic metre that became known as Praxilleion. Because drinking songs were a popular form of entertainment, Praxilla's works were enjoyed into the 2nd century BC.[1] "That Praxilla wrote poetry of this type, intended to be sung at parties from which respectable women would be excluded, has led to the speculation that she may have been a hetaera, or courtesan, as women of this class did attend such parties." As the years progressed Praxilla's works were not all received as well. "Tatian (Against the Greeks 33) states that she said nothing useful in her poetry, but his criticism is of little value to us, as the moral Christian standpoint he adopts causes him to criticise all Greek works of art."[1] A general evaluation of Praxilla is difficult given the amount of surviving works.

Modern Allusions[edit]

  • US-American expatriate painter Edwin Parker "Cy" Twombly (1928-2011) quotes the surviving fragment of Praxilla's oeuvre in his 1960 painting, Untitled (at Sea).


  1. ^ a b c d Plant, I.M. Women Writers of Ancient Greece and Rome. Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 2004. Print.


  • Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "article name needed". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 
  • Snyder, Jane McIntosh. The Woman and the Lyre: Women Writers in Classical Greece and Rome. Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press, 1989. Print.

External links[edit]

  • Project Continua: Biography of Praxilla Project Continua is a web-based multimedia resource dedicated to the creation and preservation of women’s intellectual history from the earliest surviving evidence into the 21st Century.