Aspasia of Miletus (as-PAY-shee-uh of mi-LEE-tuhs) appears to have been well educated in rhetoric before arriving at Athens (c. 445 b.c.e.), where her exceptional intellect and beauty caught the attention of Pericles, a foremost Athenian statesman. After divorcing his wife, Pericles lived openly with Aspasia, and their home became a meeting place for the most famous thinkers and writers of the classical era. Ancient sources refer to Aspasia’s ability to discuss rhetoric, philosophy, and politics. Socrates and Plato were said to comment that Aspasia was one of the most intelligent persons of their day. A strong woman in a patriarchal society, Aspasia drew the barbs of critics who accused her of unduly influencing Pericles and inciting Athenian hostilities against other city-states. Contemporary comedies depicted Aspasia and Pericles in unflattering terms and were probably inspired more by political motives than actual fact. After the death of Pericles (429 b.c.e.), Aspasia continued to exert considerable influence over the intellectual life of Athens.
In a culture in which women were secluded and denied an education, Aspasia was able to make her intellectual abilities known. Her achievements, mentioned by respected Greek and Roman writers, give insight into an otherwise silent Athenian female population.
De Ste. Croix, G. E. M. The Origins of the...
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