Telesilla

   

Category: Patriots, Poets
Era: Ancient
Region: Europe

Telesilla of Argos (early 5th century BCE) was well known for her poetry and her bravery.[1] Several accounts tell the story of the Oracle counselling Telesilla to study the Muses to improve her health. The effect was that the power of her verse inspired the women of Argos to join her to repel the siege of Pamphiliacum, after Cleomenēs of Sparta had defeated the Argive men.[2]  The story may well have originated from something Telesilla said in her verse (in antiquity the biography of writers was largely drawn from their own work).[3]  Pausanias tells us that Telesilla rallied slaves, the young, old men and then young women and drove off the Spartans who had earlier massacred the Argive fighting men.[4]

It seems likely that the story was invented later, perhaps to explain a religious festival in which men and women swapped clothes.[5]  It is more likely that she wrote about the battle and thus became associated with it.  A statue of her holding a helmet with her books at her feet was made in the first century CE and erected in the sanctuary of Aphrodite  at Argos.[6]

A few fragments of her work are known.  The only fragment of which there is more than one word testifies to the fame of the metrical innovation of her lyric poetry known as the Telesillean metre.[7] [Penelope Whitworth]

 

[1] The Concise Oxford Companion to Classical Literature (Oxford University Press, 1993, 2003).

[2] Mary Hays, “Telesilia,” Female Biography; or Memoirs of Illustrious and Celebrated Women of all Ages and Countries (6 volumes) (London: R. Phillips, 1803), vol. 6, 424.

[3] Ian Plant, “Telesilia,” Mary Hays, Female Biography; or, Memoirs of Illustrious and Celebrated Women, of All Ages and Countries (1803). Chawton House Library Series: Women’s Memoirs, ed. Gina Luria Walker, Memoirs of Women Writers Part II (Pickering & Chatto: London, 2013), vol. 10, 426, editorial notes, 648-49, on 648.

[4] Pausanias (2.20.7–8).

[5] Plutarch, On the Bravery of Women, 4.245c-d.

[6] Plant, “Telesilia,” vol. 10, 426, editorial notes, 648-49, on 649.

[7] I. M. Plant, ed. Women Writers of Ancient Greece and Rome (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2004), 33.

 

Bibliography

Atchity, Kenneth John and Rosemary McKenna. The Classical Greek Reader. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Biographium faemineum. The female worthies; or, Memoirs of the most illustrious ladies, of all ages and nations, who have been eminently distinguished for their magnanimity, learning, genius, virtue, piety, and other excellent endowments … Containing (exclusive of foreigners) the lives of above fourscore British ladies … Collected from history, and the most approved biographers, and brought down to the present time …  Imprint London, Printed for S. Crowder, and J. Payne [etc.] 1766.

Hays, Mary. “Telesilia.” Female Biography; or Memoirs of Illustrious and Celebrated Women of all Ages and Countries (6 volumes). London: R. Phillips, 1803, vol. 6, 424.

Pausanias (2.20.7–8).

Plant, Ian. “Telesilia.” Mary Hays, Female Biography; or, Memoirs of Illustrious and Celebrated Women, of All Ages and Countries 1803. Chawton House Library Series: Women’s Memoirs, ed. Gina Luria Walker, Memoirs of Women Writers Part II. Pickering & Chatto: London, 2013, vol. 10, 426, editorial notes, 648-49.

–Women Writers of Ancient Greece and Rome. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2004.

Plutarch, On the Bravery of Women, 4.245c-d

The Concise Oxford Companion to Classical Literature. Oxford University Press, 1993, 2003.

Resources:

Brooklyn Museum
Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art: The Dinner Party: Heritage Floor: Telesilla
http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/eascfa/dinner_party/heritage_floor/telesilla.php

 

 

Page citation:
Whitworth, Penelope. “Telesilla.” Project Continua (2014): [date accessed], http://www.projectcontinua.org/biographies/index/t_index/telesilla/.

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