Saturday, March 15, 2014

Aspasia of Miletus - Greek Philosopher

Marble herm in the Vatican Museums
inscribed with Aspasia's name at the base
Aspasia was a female Greek philosopher of the 5th century BC. Little is known about her life, but she appears in the writings of Plato, Aristophanes, of Miletus Xenophon and other greek philosophers. It is said that Aspasia's teaching should have influenced Socrates, the most important of all Greek philosophers.

Aspasia was born in the Greek city of Miletus and it is assumed that her family was quite wealthy due to the excellent education the young woman received. It is not certain, how or why Aspasia came to Athens, but many historical scientists assume that she might have ran a brothel. Still, she differed from most Athenian women due to her incredible intelligence and her independence. Since Aspasia was a foreigner, she was free of the legal restraints that traditionally confined married women to their homes and allowed to participate in the city's public life. Aspasia became a well known person in the streets of Athens, especially for her ability to make conversations and according to Plutarch, Aspasia's and Pericles' house became a center for intellectuals in Athens. It is assumed that even Socrates spent much time discussing in their home.

However, not everyone pleased her relationship with Pericles and her political influence in Athens. It is widely believed that Aspasia became mostly unpopular in the years after the Samian War, because she was claimed to have been responsible for the heavy casualities before the defeat of Samos. Later on, Aspasia was accused of corrupting the women of Athens in order to satisfy Pericles' perversions. According to Plutarch, she was put on trial for impiety and was acquitted. However, the truth of these stories is not completely proven on this day. But the troubles for Aspasia never seemed to end. Aristophanes is supposed to have blamed her for the Peloponnesian War and she was labeled the 'New Omphale', Deianira', 'Hera' and 'Helen'.

In 429 BC, Pericled passed away, suffering from the Plague of Athens. The exact date of Aspasias death is unclear, but many historians believe that she passed away around 401BC - 400BC. They thereby assume, that Aspasia died before the execution of Socrates.

At yovisto, you may be interested in a video lecture [in German] on Aspasia and Diotima as part of a lecture series featuring women in philosophy. 

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