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
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.
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 worry about death;
What is good is easy to get,
What is terrible is easy to endure.
--The Epicurean Tetrapharmakos