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Aspasia: The Lost "Legend"

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Saved by Jeanne Bohannon
on September 23, 2009 at 4:54:18 pm



Aspasia of Melitus, Real or Metaphorical: Does it Matter? Can we ever know?

Born/Died:  469 B.C.E – 400 B.C.E. OR Unknown, depending on which source is consulted

Primary accounts of her biography come to use through the plays of Aristophanes, the historical record of Xenophon, and the dialogues of Plato.   Aside from these accounts, scholars can offer only suppositions and educated guesses relating to her historical presence.

Characteristics: wise, worldly, philosophical (as opposed to rhetorical), foil to Socrates, physically appealing, strong willed,

Historical Notes: Pericles’ lover consort, wife (again depending on which source is used), resident of Athens in her adult years, first feminist philosopher (primary sources place her on the same intellectual level as Socrates, Pericles, and other male Athenians)

Metaphorical Notes: She appears in Socratic writing of 4th century B.C. E. as an historical figure as well as a  mythical construction, almost a muse. Modern scholars such as Susan Jarratt, Judith Butler, and Richard Rorty postulate that these metaphorical references served to marginalize and even elide Aspasia’s contributions to the fields of rhetoric and history itself.  It is important to remember, however that secondary  sources are just that – secondary.  They can only suppose and postulate, based on their meta-textual analysis of primary sources.

Significance to Rhetoric


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