Who Was Themista?

The original Themista was one of the most prominent followers of the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus. She was also one of the first women to write a book of philosophy, now lost, which she entitled The Vanity of Glory. She was called the female Solon, and Epicurus dedicated a number of his works to her. 

I have long been fascinated with Epicurean philosophy (as well as with its successor, Stoicism). Both these philosophical systems give us some of the most practical and rational ways of being in the world that have ever been imagined. I must admit that there are certain Epicurean concepts which I don't care for, particularly the insistence that human consciousness ends at death; his pronouncements on this subject are nothing more than unfounded speculation. But Epicurus did give the world a new vision of what our life can be while we walk on this earth, a vision which is beautifully summarized by Norman Wentworth DeWitt in his St. Paul and Epicurus (1954):

In harmony with both portraiture and personality is the plan of life he recommended, a simple, unambitious way of living, far from the ignoble quest of wealth, power, and fame, characterized by courtesy combined with absolute veracity, good will to mankind, considerateness, loyalty to friends, benevolence, gratitude for past blessings, hope for the future, and in time of trouble patience.

Anyone who follows these simple precepts will enjoy a happy and successful life, come what may.

Which is surely the kind of life that the original Themista must have lived. Her book was quite influential in antiquity. It is known that several hundred years after her death Cicero quoted from her book in a speech before the Roman senate. Her influence persisted into the Christian era--J.A. Zahm in his Great Inspirers (1917) quotes St. Jerome as follows:

Shall I speak now of the illustrious women among the heathen? Does not Plato have Aspasia speak in his dialogues? Does not Sappho hold the lyre at the same time as Alcaeus and Pindar? Did not Themista philosophize with the sages of Greece?

If I had a choice between philosophizing with the sages of Greece, and what passes for living in our postmodern American culture (retail therapy, antidepressants, reality TV, trophy houses, attention whoring, immediate gratification isn't fast enough, etc., etc.)...  well, give me a sage any day.  Maybe someday I'll actually find one.

Don't fear god,
Don't worry about death;
What is good is easy to get,
What is terrible is easy to endure.
--The Epicurean Tetrapharmakos