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Ancient Women Writers

Women Writers of the Ancient World: Sumeria, Rome, Greece, Alexandria

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We know of only a few women who wrote in the ancient world, when education was limited to only a few people and most of them men. This list includes most of the women whose work survives or is well-known; there were also some lesser-known women writers who are mentioned by writers in their time but whose work doesn't survive. And there were probably other women writers whose work was simply ignored or forgotten, whose names we do not know.

Enheduanna

Sumer, about 2300 BCE - estimated at 2350 or 2250 BCE

Daughter of King Sargon, Enheduanna was a high priestess. She wrote three hymns to the goddess Inanna which survive. Enheduanna is the earliest author and poet in the world that history knows by name.

Sappho of Lesbos

Image of Sappho and Alcaeus, from about 450 BCE
From a public domain image. Modifications © 2006 Jone Johnson Lewis
Greece; wrote about 610-580 BCE

Sappho, a poet of ancient Greece, is known through her work: ten books of verse published by the third and second centuries B.C.E. By the Middle Ages, all copies were lost. Today what we know of the poetry of Sappho is only through quotations in the writings of others. Only one poem from Sappho survives in complete form, and the longest fragment of Sappho poetry is only 16 lines long.

Sulpicia I

Rome, probably wrote about 19 BCE

An ancient Roman poet, generally but not universally recognized as a woman, Sulpicia wrote six elegiac poems, all addressed to a lover. Eleven poems were credited to her but the other five are likely written by a male poet. Her patron, also patron to Ovid and others, was her maternal uncle, Marcus Valerius Messalla (64 BCE - 8 CE).

Theophila

Spain under Rome, unknown

Her poetry is referred to by the poet Martial who compares her to Sappho, but none of her work survives.

Sulpicia II

Rome, died before 98 CE

Wife of Calenus, she's noted for mentions by other writers, including Martial, but only two lines of her poetry survive. It's even questioned whether these were authentic or created in late antiquity or even medieval times.

Claudia Severa

Rome, wrote about 100 CE

Wife of a Roman commander based in England (Vindolanda), Claudia Severa is known through a letter found in the 1970s. Part of the letter, written on a wooden tablet, seems to be written by a scribe and part in her own hand.

Hypatia

Alexandria; 355 or 370 - 415/416 CE

Hypatia herself was killed by a mob incited by a Christian bishop; the library containing her writings was destroyed by Arab conquerors. But she was, in late antiquity, a writer on science and mathematics, as well as an inventor and teacher.

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