Sparta, 5th cent. B.C.? (Plutarch, Sayings of Spartan Women=Moralia 240c-242d , exc. 2nd cent. A.D. G)

Spartan women were renowned for their courage and their determination to enforce a strict code of honour on their menfolk.

Anecdotes about Gorgo, daughter of Cleomenes, king of Sparta (cf. no. 160) and wife of another king, Leonidas 

5. When Gorgo was asked by a woman from Attica, ‘Why are you Spartan women the only ones who rule over their husbands’, she answered, ‘Because only we are the mothers of men’. [29]

6. When her husband Leonidas was about to go off to Thermopylae, in order to encourage him to be worthy of Sparta, she asked what she should do, [30] he said, ‘Marry a good husband and bear good children’.

Anecdotes about other women

8. Another woman was burying her son, when an ordinary old woman came up to her and said: ‘Poor woman, what a misfortune.’ The first woman said, ‘No, what good fortune, by the twin gods, for this is why I bore him, so that he might die for Sparta, and now that is what has come to pass’. 

9. When an Ionian woman prided herself on something she had woven, a Spartan woman boasted of her four beautiful sons, saying ‘such should be the works of a fine woman and upon this is what she should be proud of and boast about’.

16. When another Spartan woman handed her son his shield, she exhorted him, ‘Son, come back either with this or on it’. 

26. When a young woman who had had a secret love affair aborted her baby, she endured bravely and never uttered a sound, so that her father and the other people nearby did not know that she had been in labour. Bearing her suffering with propriety cancelled out her impropriety. 

27. When a Spartan woman was sold as a slave and asked what she knew how to do, she said, ‘to be faithful’. 

28. Another, when taken as a captive and asked the same question, answered ‘to run a household well’. 

29. When someone asked another woman, if she would be good, if he bought her, she said that she would, ‘and also if you do not buy me’. 

30. When another was being sold as a slave, and asked by the auctioneer what she knew how to do, she replied, ‘to be free’. when the man who bought her ordered her to do things that were not appropriate for a free woman, she said, ‘you will regret that you have deprived yourself of such a possession’, and committed suicide.


29. Cf. Aristotle’s complaints about the freedom allowed to Spartan women. 

30. I.e. in the event of his death; he was killed in the battle in 480 B.C.