Ultimate Girl Power

The trireme

The foundation of Athens’ power was her formidable navy. While most other Greek city-states could only afford a couple of dozen triremes, the Athenian Navy could deploy more than 200 triremes (!)

We’re lucky enough to have full catalogs of names of warships of the Navy of Ancient Athens. Check out some of my favorite trireme names.

Also… keep in mind  those were warships! Isn’t it a bit odd to give a cute name to an instrument of war? Think about it.

So: which one’s your favorite name?

  • KOUPHOTATE – Light as a feather
  • EPIONE – “Miss Gentle”
  • EUPHRAINOUSA – Joyful
  • PETOMENE – Flying
  • HEDEIA – Sweetie
  • KALLIXENE – Beautiful Stranger
  • TRYPHOUSA – “Miss Fussy”
  • AGLAIA – Splendid
  • PREPOUSA – “Miss Nice”
  • EUCHARIS – Charming
  • EUPLOIA – Plain sailing
  • PROTE – First
  • PHANERA – Clear, obvious
  • SOIZOUSA – Saving
  • PARRHESIA – Speaking freely
  • NIKOSA – Winning
  • KRATOUSA – Conquering
  • HIPPIA – Horsey

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Sparta & women’s empowerment: Queen Gorgo

Throughout human history (sadly up until the 20th century) women have been denied fundamental rights. The right to gain property, the right to vote, reproductive rights, the right to speak, etc, etc.

There are very few exceptions. One of the most famous ones: the ancient city-state of Sparta.

Spartan women received education, they trained in sports, were free to share their opinion (even on military matters), were legally able to own property, and were raised from young girls to become strong women. This liberty and equality that women enjoyed in Sparta, was admired -even envied- by the rest of the Greeks.

According to Plutarch, once an Athenian woman asked the Spartan Queen, Gorgo ,

‘Why are you Spartan women the only ones who can rule men?’

Gorgo replied:

‘Because we are also the only ones who give birth to men!’

 

Gorgo was married to the legendary King Leonidas and she was the daughter of King Cleomenes I. She was allowed by her father to attend important meetings even when Gorgo was just a 9-year old girl.

Gorgo

Imaginary portrayal of Gorgo, Queen of Sparta

There’s a famous incident when one of the most powerful rulers of the Mediterranean, Aristagoras of Miletus, visited Sparta on a diplomatic mission. During this very important meeting, King Cleomenes allowed his daughter Gorgo to sit next to him. Aristagoras, shocked, requested Cleomenes to send Gorgo out of the room before he began talking to him; but Cleomenes told him to say on, and not mind the girl.

So Aristagoras began with a promise of a huge amount of money if the king would grant him his request and when Cleomenes shook his head, Aristagoras continued to raise his offer till it reached five times the original amount! Then Gorgo spoke:

‘Father,’ she said, ‘get up and go, or the stranger will certainly corrupt thee.’ Then Cleomenes, pleased at the warning of his child, withdrew and went into another room. Aristagoras after this, quit Sparta for good.

running girl 5

Found in Sparta: bronze figure of a running girl wearing a short tunic (British Museum)

Ostracism and Aristides

The most honorable man of Athens according to Herodotus: Aristides. His sense of morality, justice, and prudence, made him famous all over the Greek world.  He was reputed to be so fair-minded, that he was known to everyone as Aristides ‘the Just’ (dikaios). He was so scrupulously honest that, in spite of the wealth that passed through his hands, he remained poor.

Now, sometime in the early 5th century BCE, the Athenians began the practice of ostracism, a form of election designed to curb the power of any rising tyrant. Once a year, every spring, citizens wrote the name of whichever man they wished to see exiled on a piece of broken pottery (called in Greek ostrakon), and the leader with the most votes against him was forced to leave Athens for ten years.

As Aristotle explained, ‘The threat ostracism was meant to combat could also come from a man’s great personal prominence, if he became so prominent that he could appear to overshadow all others on the political scene and thus threaten the egalitarian principles of Athenian democracy, in which no one man was supposed to dominate the making of policy’.

But soon the Athenians realized that this procedure was problematic…

Aristides and the peasant. Painting by Ernest Hillemacher

On the balloting day for an ostracism, when the Athenians were voting in their Agora, an illiterate peasant approached Aristides and handed him a potsherd, asking him to scratch on it the name of the man’s choice for ostracism.

“Certainly,” said Aristides. “Which name shall I write?”

“Aristides,” replied the man.

Aristides, without revealing his identity, remarked  “Very well. But tell me, my friend… What harm has Aristides done to you?”

“Oh, nothing,” sputtered the peasant, “I don’t even know the man! I’m just sick and tired of hearing everybody refer to him as ‘The Just.’”

Aristides without hesitating he proceeded to inscribe his own name on the ostrakon, and, without uttering a word, gave it back to that man…

Pottery shards (ostraka) displaying Aristides’ name