Beyond the Boundaries of Fantasia: An ancient imagining of the future of leadership

Step One: Assessing Plutarch's claims about female leadership (00:30)

Listening for Leadership

Possible group activity

Plutarch's Virtues of Women, Preface, Translated by Frank Cole Babbitt

Regarding the virtues of women, Clea, I do not hold the same opinion as Thucydides. For he declares that the best woman is she about whom there is the least talk among persons outside regarding either censure or commendation, feeling that the name of the good woman, like her person, ought to be shut up indoors and never go out. But to my mind Gorgias appears to display better taste in advising that not the form but the fame of a woman should be known to many. Best of all seems the Roman custom, which publicly renders to women, as to men, a fitting commemoration after the end of their life. So when Leontis, that most excellent woman, died, I forthwith had then a long conversation with you, which was not without some share of consolation drawn from philosophy, and now, as you desired, I have also written out for you the remainder of what I would have said on the topic that man's virtues and woman's virtues are one and the same. This includes a good deal of historical exposition, and it is not composed to give pleasure in its perusal. Yet, if in a convincing argument delectation is to be found also by reason of the very nature of the illustration, then the discussion is not devoid of an agreeableness which helps in the exposition, nor does it hesitate

To join

The Graces with the Muses,

A consorting most fair,

as Euripides says and to pin its faith mostly to the love of beauty inherent to the soul.

If, conceivably, we asserted that painting on the part of men and women is the same, and exhibited paintings, done by women, of the sort that Apelles, or Zeuxis, or Nicomachus has left to us, would anybody reprehend us on the ground that we were aiming at giving gratification and allurement rather than at persuasion? I do not think so.

Or again, if we should declare that the poetic or the prophetic art is not one art when practised by men and another when practised by women, but the same, and if we should put the poems of Sappho side by side with those of Anacreon, or the oracles of the Sibyls with those of Bacis, will anybody have the power justly to impugn the demonstration because these lead on the hearer, joyous and delighted, to have belief in it? No, you could not say that either.

And actually it is not possible to learn better the similarity and the difference between the virtues of men and of women from any other source than by putting lives beside lives and actions beside actions, like great works of art, and considering whether the magnificence of Semiramis has the same character and pattern as that of Sesostris, or the intelligence of Tanaquil the same as that of Servius the king, or the high spirit of Porcia the same as that of Brutus, or that of Pelopidas the same as Timocleia's, when compared with due regard to the most important points of identity and influence. For the fact is that the virtues acquire certain other diversities, their own colouring as it were, due to varying natures, and they take on the likeness of the customs on which they are founded, and of the temperament of persons and their nurture and mode of living. For example, Achilles was brave in one way and Ajax in another; and the wisdom of Odysseus was not like that of Nestor, nor was Cato a just man in exactly the same way as Agesilaus, nor Eirene fond of her husband in the manner of Alcestis, nor Cornelia high-minded in the manner of Olympias. But, with all this, let us not postulate many different kinds of bravery, wisdom, and justice — if only the individual dissimilarities exclude no one of these from receiving its appropriate rating.

Those incidents which are so often recited, and those of which I assume that you, having kept company with books, have assuredly record and knowledge, I will pass over for the present; but with this exception: if any tales worthy of perusal have escaped the attention of those who, before our time, have recorded the commonly published stories. Since, however, many deeds worthy of mention have been done by women both in association with other women and by themselves alone, it may not be a bad idea to set down first a brief account of those commonly known.

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