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Title: Women in early Pythagoreanism
Author: Pellò, Caterina
ISNI:       0000 0004 7230 8231
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2018
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The sixth-century-BCE Pythagorean communities included both male and female members. This thesis focuses on the Pythagorean women and aims to explore what reasons lie behind the prominence of women in Pythagoreanism and what roles women played in early Pythagorean societies and thought. In the first chapter, I analyse the social conditions of women in Southern Italy, where the first Pythagorean communities were founded. In the second chapter, I compare Pythagorean societies with ancient Greek political clubs and religious sects. Compared to mainland Greece, South Italian women enjoyed higher legal and socio-political status. Similarly, religious groups included female initiates, assigning them authoritative roles. Consequently, the fact that the Pythagoreans founded their communities in Croton and further afield, and that in some respects these communities resembled ancient sects helps to explain why they opened their doors to the female gender to begin with. The third chapter discusses Pythagoras’ teachings to and about women. Pythagorean doctrines did not exclusively affect the followers’ way of thinking and public activities, but also their private way of living. Thus, they also regulated key aspects of the female everyday life, such as marriage and motherhood. I argue that the Pythagorean women entered the communities as wives, mothers and daughters. Nonetheless, some of them were able to gain authority over their fellow Pythagoreans and engage in intellectual activities, thus overcoming the female traditional domestic roles. The fourth chapter argues that another contributing factor to the status of the Pythagorean women is the doctrine of metempsychosis. This belief led the Pythagoreans to adopt similar behaviours towards other ensouled beings. Therefore, since men and women were believed to have the same souls, they were treated with the same respect and received the same education. Finally, the fifth chapter explores how the Pythagorean views on women are taken up and developed in Plato’s Republic. I argue that, although the Pythagoreans never went as far as to have philosopher-queens and abolish private families, they took the first step towards Plato’s ‘gender equality’ theory. Overall, that of women in Pythagoreanism is the first documented case of female engagement with ancient philosophy: Pythagorean men and women lived together according to the same lifestyle, were educated on the same doctrines and played equally integral roles in the intellectual community.
Supervisor: Betegh, Gábor ; Hatzimichali, Myrto Sponsor: University of Cambridge
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Ancient philosophy ; Presocratics ; Pythagoreanism ; Women in philosophy ; Pythagorean women