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Seminar Ancient Philosophy: Ancient Women Philosophers


Admission requirements

This class can be taken in fulfilment of the requirements of both the MA and the Research MA program in Classics and Ancient Civilizations (track Classics), with differential requirements.
Admission requirements for other students:

A BA degree in Classics obtained from a university in the Netherlands, or a comparable qualification obtained from a university outside the Netherlands. Moreover, students with an international degree have to contact the coordinator of studies to check admissibility.

A BA degree in Philosophy obtained from a university in the Netherlands, or a comparable qualification obtained from a university outside the Netherlands. Reading knowledge of ancient Greek (e.g. school exam Greek; BA-course ‘Grieks voor iedereen’) is an advantage, but it is not necessary.

If you are interested in taking this course, but are not sure whether you fulfill the entry requirements, please, contact the instructor.


Although women are rarely mentioned in ancient philosophy courses, we do know that they studied and taught philosophy. Lastheneia of Arcis and Axiothea of Phlius were Plato’s students; Menexene, Argia, Theognis, Artemisia and Pantaclea were sisters and dialecticians, daughters of the celebrated dialectician Diodorus Cronus; Theano the Pythagorean was renown for her wisdom (several popular anecdotes depict her witty quips); Hipparchia co-led the Cynic school together with her husband Crates; Aspasia of Miletus had a philosophical connection to Socrates; in late antiquity, Hypatia of Alexandria was leading one of two major philosophical schools in Alexandria, while Sosipatra was a celebrated theurgy teacher in Athens. These and many other women philosophers formed a significant part of how philosophy was studied, taught and practised.
In recent years, the omission of women philosophers has become the centre of scholarly attention, with many important publications using a variety of methods to recover women’s voices in philosophy. We will analyse and evaluate these approaches, as well as compare them to the methods used for reconstructing the thought of other figures that left no writings or fragmentary works. This course focuses both on (i) the material that contains evidence of women philosophers and their thought, and (ii) the methods that have been and could be used for reconstructing the thought of these philosophers successfully.
The course will cover the texts that contain important representations of women philosophers (e.g. Diotima in Plato’s Symposium; Methodius of Olympus’ Symposium) and the texts that are attributed to women philosophers (e.g. Phintys’ On Woman’s Harmony), alongside some of the most important methodologies, ranging from feminist approaches (e.g. A. Cavarero and S. Anderlini-D'Onofrio) to highly nuanced contextualising studies (e.g. Dorota Dutsch). The discussions in class will be dedicated not only to familiarizing with these approaches but also evaluating them critically. These discussions will help to create a ‘toolkit’ which students can use for reconstructing the thought of women philosophers and other figures whose works survive through fragments or testimonia.

Course objectives

Knowledge, skills and insight:

  • Advanced knowledge of the major sources of the evidence for (i) the thought of Greek and Roman women philosophers; (ii) the representations of women engaging in philosophical activities.

  • Knowledge of the key secondary literature in the area.

  • The ability to engage with relevant scholarship critically and productively.

  • A good understanding of the different methodologies, their advantages and shortcomings.

  • An ability to apply appropriate research methods and paradigm analyses to the material covered in the course.

  • Formulating a complex research question, collecting relevant material, analyzing results, constructing arguments, formulating conclusions.

  • The final essay: the paper must offer a clear and well-structured presentation of original research. The student must demonstrate a good grasp of central issues in recent scholarship, and assess recent scholarly contributions critically and constructively.

  • Oral presentation: a clear and well-structured discussion of case-study of a chosen woman philosopher, presenting a distinct original argument, making effective use of a handout (and/or slides). The presentation should demonstrate a good understanding of both primary sources as well as engagement with recent pertinent scholarship.

  • Participation: this course aims at active participation and preparation: the student demonstrates involvement in the topic by asking well-informed and constructive questions and making contributions to the collective progress, on the basis of independent preparation.

The requirements for MA and ResMA Classics students are differentiated. The paper of an MA student will present text, translation and commentary of an assigned passage. The paper of a ResMA student will take the form of a scholarly article that presents the innovative and well-argued interpretation of a relevant aspect of Plotinus’s philosophy.

Philosophy students may study the assigned texts in translation. They will, after consultation with the instructor, write a paper on a relevant topic of their own choice.

This research seminar contributes to the achievement of learning outcomes 4a and 4c (to give and write a clear and well-argued oral and written presentation on a research topic in accordance with academic standards) of the study programme Classics and Ancient Civilizations.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction


Assessment method


Presentation (30%)
Essay (60%)
Participation (10%)


The final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average.


The resit covers the following exam components: revised version of the final paper (60%).
The grade for the other exam component (presentation) remains in place.
Class participation, attendance, and the oral presentation is a mandatory requirement for taking the resit.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

A reading list of primary and secondary sources, with titles to be found in the Leiden University library, will be made available before the start of the course. A selection of relevant books will be made available on a special bookshelf at the University Library.
They will include (not exhaustively) the following:
Cavarero, A. and Anderlini-D'Onofrio, S. (1995) In spite of Plato: A Feminist Rewriting of Ancient Philosophy. Cambridge: Polity Press.
D'Angour, A. (2019) Socrates in Love: the Making of a Philosopher. London: Bloomsbury.
Dutsch, D. (2020) Pythagorean Women Philosophers: Between Belief and Suspicion. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
LaValle Norman, D. (2019) The Aesthetics of Hope in Late Greek Imperial Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Pomeroy, S.B. (2013) Pythagorean Women their History and Writings. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Saxonhouse, A. (2018) ‘Xanthippe: Shrew or Muse.’ Hypatia 33 (4):610-625.
Watts, E.J. (2017) Hypatia: The Life and Legend of an Ancient Philosopher. New York: Oxford University Press.


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.
General information about course and exam enrolment is available on the website

Registration À la carte education, Contract teaching and Exchange

Information for those interested in taking this course in context of À la carte education (without taking examinations), eg. about costs, registration and conditions.

Information for those interested in taking this course in context of Contract teaching (with taking examinations), eg. about costs, registration and conditions.

For the registration of exchange students contact Humanities International Office.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: [Naam Onderwijsadministratie](link naar contactgegevens OA)