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Themistoclea (/ˌθɛmɪstəˈklə/; Greek: Θεμιστόκλεια Themistokleia; also Aristoclea (/ˌærɪstəˈklə/; Ἀριστοκλεία Aristokleia), Theoclea (/ˌθəˈklə/; Θεοκλεία Theokleia); fl. 6th century BCE) was, according to surviving sources, Pythagoras’ teacher while a priestess at Delphi.[1] She is also considered one of the first European philosophers, though none of her works seem to have survived since the 6th century.[2]


The Temple of Apollo/Delphi, where Themistoclea lived and taught Pythagoras his ways.

In the biography of Pythagoras in his Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, Diogenes Laërtius (3rd century CE) cites the statement of Aristoxenus (4th century BCE) that Themistoclea taught Pythagoras his moral doctrines:[3]

Aristoxenus says that Pythagoras got most of his moral doctrines from the Delphic priestess Themistoclea.

Porphyry (233–305 CE) calls her Aristoclea (Aristokleia), although there is little doubt that he is referring to the same person.[4] Porphyry repeats the claim that she was the teacher of Pythagoras:[5]

He (Pythagoras) taught much else, which he claimed to have learned from Aristoclea at Delphi.

The 10th-century Suda encyclopedia calls her Theoclea (Theokleia) and states that she was the sister of Pythagoras, but this information probably arises from a corruption and misunderstanding of the passage in Diogenes Laertius.[6]

Themistoclea was a 6th century seer or Pythia of Apollo at the temple at Delphi. In Greek, themis refers to divine order or natural law. She is reputed to have been the teacher of Pythagoras, the great mathematician of Samos who believed that the workings of the material world could be expressed in terms of numbers.

Themistoclea represents an ancient epistemological approach which wedded experience, reason and the supernatural. As the Prophetess of Apollo at Delphi she would have been a source of much ancient wisdom, including knowledge of the natural world, astronomy, medicine, music, mathematics, animal husbandry and philosophy. She would have offered advice pertaining to sowing and harvests, whether to go to war, and who and when to marry.[7]

In Diogenes Laeterius’ work, The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, in the section concerning the "Life Of Pythagoras," Diogenes states that "Aristoxenus asserts that Pythagoras derived the greater part of his ethical doctrines from Themistoclea, the priestess at Delphi.


  1. ^ Mary Ellen Waithe, Ancient women philosophers, 600 B.C.–500 A.D., p. 11
  2. ^ Lindemann, Kate (2014-12-18). "Themistoclea of Delphi fl. 600 BCE Moral Philosophy". Society for the Study of Women Philosophers, Inc. Retrieved 2020-10-23.
  3. ^ Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers
  4. ^ Gilles Ménage, (1984), The history of women philosophers, page 48. University Press of America. "The person who is referred to as Themistoclea in Laertius and Theoclea in Suidas, Porphyry calls Aristoclea."
  5. ^ Porphyry, Life of Pythagoras, 41
  6. ^ See Suda On Line, Pythagoras, π3124, and footnote 25: "This information suffers from a corruption in the text, arising from a misunderstanding of a source. Diogenes Laertius' passage actually reads, as the Suda does, Θεοκλείας ἀδελφῆς, but the whole remark is related to the legend of Pythagoras receiving his doctrine from a priestess in Delphi, whose name is Θεμιστόκλεια. Diogenes himself gives the correct information in a previous passage of the Life: cf. 8 παρὰ τῆς Θεμιστοκλείας τῆς ἐν Δελφοῖς."
  7. ^ Linsley, Alice C. (2014-02-08). "Philosophers' Corner: Themistoclea of Delphi". Philosophers' Corner. Retrieved 2020-11-08.