In Her Own Words: Ancient Women Authors

In the penultimate episode of Season 1, our podcast hosts talk with historian and classicist Dr. Kate Cooper about those rare surviving moments when ancient women wrote for themselves. 

The famous Greek poet Sappho, who wrote of love and loss. Faltonia Betitia Proba, the elite Roman woman who adapted Virgil to tell Christian history. The pilgrim Egeria who described her tour of the Holy Lands to her circle of female friends back home. And of course we revisit Perpetua, the martyr from Carthage whom we met in Episode 0.

“The idea of letters by women is perceived to be anomalous and problematic, and there’s a kind of regularization that happens. I think that gives us a little bit of insight as to why we have so little material that’s come down to us under the names of women.” 

Kate Cooper


Dr. Kate Cooper is Professor of History at Royal Holloway, University of London. She received her PhD from Princeton University in 1993, after degrees from Wesleyan University and Harvard University. Her work is wide-ranging. She has written on late antique Christianity, women and the ancient Roman household, religious conflict and violence, and martyrdom.

Her books include Band of Angels: The Forgotten World of Early Christian Women (2013), The Virgin and the Bride: Idealized Womanhood in Late Antiquity (1996), The Fall of the Roman Household (2007), and her forthcoming Queens of a Fallen World: The Lost Women of Augustine’s Confessions (April 2023). She often provides expert commentary for the BBC, CNN, and National Geographic.


[Podcast theme song plays over the intro, an upbeat, Mediterranean detective vibe]

Rebekah Haigh: Welcome to Women Who Went Before, a gynocentric quest into the ancient world! I’m Rebekah Haigh

Emily Chesley: …and I’m Emily Chesley…

Rebekah: … scholars, friends, and fellow text-raiders!

Emily: In our penultimate episode of Season 1, “In Her Own Words: Ancient Women Authors,” we talk with  historian and classicist Kate Cooper about gatekeeping, the privilege of individualism, and those surviving moments when women wrote for themselves. 

[Theme music bounces to a pause] 

Rebekah: First we want to celebrate that these texts exist. As historians look for the missing pieces of the past, the voices of the 51% are critical to our puzzle. And ever-so-often we find them: in fragments, letters, quotations, and even graffiti. Their survival seems almost miraculous!

Emily: One of those voices is Sappho, perhaps western antiquity’s most famous woman author. She was a Greek lyric poet, and while much of her poetry has since been lost, it was once extolled and immortalized alongside The (other) Greek poet Homer.[1] She wrote piercingly of love and loss, weddings and abandonment, daily rituals and nature. In one poem about heartbreak, she mourns her lover:

She left me weeping

Copiously, and said this to me:

‘Alas, how terribly we suffer, 

Sappho: truly unwillingly I leave you.’

And I responded to her thus:

‘Farewell, and remember 

Me, since you know that we cared for you:

And if not–but I want

To recall to your memory…

How many pleasant and good things we enjoyed:

For many garlands of violets

And of rose and also of crocuses 

You placed about your head next to me 

(F 94.2-14, trans. Acosta-Hughes and Prauscello)[2]

Rebekah: Literacy was not the norm in the ancient world, for men but especially for women. While literacy probably varied across the Mediterranean, at any given time only a fraction of society was able to read and write.[3] The Greek and Roman educational systems had three levels: learning to read, and then write, studying the classics like Homer and Hesiod.[4] A select few went on to learn the great art of political oration.  But since education was not free, only 5-10% of the population was literate. Literacy levels for women are thought to have been lower than men, but it’s important to remember that most men were illiterate as well. The issue may have been one of class and occupation more than gender.[5]

Emily: At the same time, to focus only on the fact that women’s writings exist would be to diminish their unique artistry and talent. These texts are not only special because women composed them; they are also literary masterpieces and valuable chronicles of history in their own right. 

Rebekah: Several hundred years after Sappho, we meet the Latin poet Faltonia Betitia Proba. She was married to a prefect of Rome and composed an elaborate Virgilian cento.[6] It’s a complex genre that takes lines from Virgil (who famously wrote the Aeneid) and puts them in a new order to say something completely different. Proba used Virgil’s epics to tell the story of the Old Testament and Jesus in a massive, 694-line poem.[7] In her cento, Proba paints a remarkable, evocative picture of creation—how God created light and darkness out of sheer nothingness. 

Emily: Hear her words, translated by Elizabeth Clark and Diane Hatch:

            “In the beginning, heaven and earth and flowing

            Sea, moon’s glowing sphere, sun’s honest toil

            The Father himself established, and you, O cosmos’

            Clearest lamps which lead the year as it

            Wheels round from heaven. For neither used to be

            The fire of stars, nor did heaven’s clear climate exist,

            But night jet-dark, conveyed by chariot

            Possessed the sky, and Chaos plunged down,

            Down in sheer descent to gloom, as vast

            A drop as the height to sky’s ethereal Olympus.” (Probae Cento 56–63, trans. Clark and Hatch) [8]

In Proba’s hands, the biblical story of creation springs alive with mystery and magic. 

Rebekah: It’s been argued that her theological poem also served up a political statement.  On June 17, 362 CE, the pagan Emperor Julian had issued a major threat to Christian teachers.[9] He decreed that one could not teach the Homeric epics unless one believed them–specifically, believed in the gods. The gods were major players in these stories, as anyone who’s read the Percy Jackson books will well know! Written in the 350s or 360s, Proba’s cento may have countered the emperor’s new law against Christians like her. Implicitly, she suggests that Christians could use (and therefore teach) Virgil without referencing the gods.[10] She was a literary woman advocating for literary training.

Emily: In a famous 1938 essay titled, “Are Women Human?” the British novelist and scholar Dorothy Sayers argued that it is diminishing and unfair to expect “a woman’s perspective” on something. As if that were a uniform and univocal thing that exists. Men have the privilege of being individuals, she said, with different opinions, desires, talents, and goals from other men. So too should women be accorded the same privilege. Because they are human, she says, they are equally as unique as everyone else: “a woman is just as much an ordinary human being as a man, with the same individual preferences, and with just as much right to the tastes and preferences of an individual. What is repugnant to every human being is to be reckoned always as a member of a class and not as an individual person.”[11]

Rebekah: One does not equal all.  Just as you don’t ask your one Black colleague to speak on behalf of all Black people. And you don’t assume that your friend who’s Catholic can answer all of your questions about Catholicism. As with these, so too with women. One woman does not speak for all women. 

Emily: And one woman-authored text does not look like all women-authored texts. Works written by ancient women need to be studied as individual and specific texts, not solely as representatives of a class of “women-authored texts.” The poetry of Proba and Sappho, the prison diary of Perpetua which we’ve encountered before, and the travel narrative of the pilgrim Egeria that we’ll soon meet, are all different genres and so are interpreted in distinct ways. Just as we would analyze texts written by male authors to respect their specificity (whether that be content or genre or literary references), so to do we approach texts written by women as specific and individual works. They reflect particular places and times, from Roman North Africa to Christian Palestine.

Rebekah: Introducing us to these diverse women authors is Dr. Kate Cooper, Professor of History at Royal Holloway, University of London. She received her PhD from Princeton University in 1993, after degrees from Wesleyan University and Harvard University. Her work is wide-ranging. She has written on late antique Christianity, women and the ancient Roman household, religious conflict and violence, and martyrdom. Her books include Band of Angels: The Forgotten World of Early Christian WomenThe Virgin and the BrideThe Fall of the Roman Householdand her forthcoming Queens of a Fallen World: The Lost Women of Augustine’s Confessions. You can often find her commenting on the BBC, CNN, and National Geographic. We’re excited to welcome her to the podcast!

[theme song interludes]

Emily: We talked in the intro about Proba the Roman poet and the famous Sappho. So we know that there were very educated and literate women in the late antique world. So to start, what sorts of women were writing in this time period? What do we know about these women who are writing?

Dr. Kate Cooper:  In a way that the access of women to literacy is changing in the period that we’re looking at today. So if you think of late antiquity as, very roughly–some people say 3rd to 5th centuries, some people say 2nd to 8th—anyway, that time around the last years of the Roman Empire in the western Mediterranean— If you think about women in literacy in late antiquity, what’s happening is a sea change because of Christianity. 

In the non-Christian world, on the whole, access to literacy is very heavily canted towards elite women. And some elite women are super educated. You have women who are philosophers working at the highest level. Women who are poets working at a really high level as well. But that’s the elite phenomenon. 

What’s different with Christianity is that you start to get women from a walk of life that is not necessarily that poetry-writing, philosophy-writing cadre, but rather women who are involved in faith communities often at a fairly culturally modest level, but who have gotten involved with the stories of the faith.  

And I think the thing of Christian storytelling and its reach into people’s lives is just extraordinary. And we really have not done enough yet to make sense of how mind boggling it was for people to encounter a world that says, “Here’s a story world that has a story that’s been ongoing essentially since the beginning of time. That has involved women, for better or worse, pretty much since the beginning of time, whether it’s the same time as Adam or afterwards. You know you have humanity and there’s you know bang, there are men and women, you know having problems with each other [laughs]. And women have got distinctive issues and distinctive concerns and distinctive problems. And welcome! You’re invited to get involved.” 

And this is the thing that Christian writers, Christian preachers do which is revolutionary. They’re saying to people, “There’s an ongoing story. And you’re invited to join the story as a fellow protagonist and to shape the story. This story is going to continue until the end of time, and nobody knows exactly how it’s going to land. We think the end of time is coming soon.” You know, in that regard, there’s a little bit of confusion, I think. “But you know, we think the end of time is coming soon. In the meantime, get involved, and help shape the story of humanity and the story of humanity’s response to the call of God.” 

So women have the opportunity to get involved in a surprisingly high profile way in this process of interactive story-building that the Christians are doing. 

Many of us are aware of the arguments that Liz Clark made about the 4th century being the century in which women in some sense are sidelined. That as the institutionalization of the church happens in the 4th century, you start to get a clergy that is increasingly male, official, you know. Rather than the kind of, you know, husband and wife teams circulating in this much more informal way in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, in the 4th century you start to get a clergy that are ratified officials in the Roman government. On the one hand it creates a masculinization and an institutionalization. Cark argued that in the 4th century, as a result, you see women getting moved over to become patrons rather than protagonists of the Christian story. And she’s got that marvelous article, “Patrons, Not Priests” from the early 90s.[12] At one level, she’s absolutely right. 

One of the things that Clark didn’t focus on in that particular article was the issue of how asceticism creates single-sex communities where women are encouraged to dwell on the heroic virtue of other women. That’s a component that I think we’ll be coming back to. 

And then another thing though, that I think is important is that the ongoing storytelling component of Christianity– In some ways I think to say that women become patrons and that they are therefore sidelined, in a sense I think it’s a little bit assuming a kind of docile woman who just hands her money over to the men without having an opinion. [Rebekah laughs] And I don’t really think there’s a lot of evidence for that. 

I think there’s much more evidence for women, female patrons, having ideas and having commitments and having involvements, and in a sense, playing to women. Is about on the one hand, playing to female patrons. On the other hand, it’s about playing to female followings. And one of the things I was fascinated by in this book I’ve just been working on about the women in Augustine’s Confessions is, you know, on the one hand you’ve got Justina the Empress who’s, you know, a pretty powerful person. 

On the other hand, you’ve got Augustine’s mother Monica, who is, you know, she’s a kind of nobody from a modest provincial town who’s come to Milan. And yet she is the source for Augustine’s story about Ambrose and the Empress Justina. He says, “Well I know this because my mother was there.” And not only that, but Augustine is one of the critical sources for that story getting handed down across the centuries. So essentially Monica, who’s a nobody, because—forgive me, St. Monica—Monica is getting her voice into the system that is going to become the story of record about this encounter between an empress and an important bishop of the imperial city. 

So this is a kind of confusion about class level because of the way Christian communities mix. In that case, it’s about a bishop who on the one hand does have some female patrons that he’s got to please, but on the other hand he has female followers who maybe individually he doesn’t see as breathtakingly important. But if it’s like, “Can I get the women of the congregation riled up about something?” That’s something he really does care about. 

So in that sense, I think there are different kinds of involvement that women have in this period and different ways that their voices become important. All of which is kind of to say that literacy itself is changing. And people listening to stories orally—for example listening to stories in a congregation and preaching—actually that kind of listening can become interactive and get fed back into the historical record in a way that maybe wasn’t true a couple of centuries earlier you know, except in very unusual and unique circumstances.

Rebekah: So speaking of Christian storytelling and the 4th century, sometime around 383 to 386 CE a woman named Egeria wrote an account of her tour of the Holy Lands to send to her community of women back home. Again, a community of listeners who are participating in this act of storytelling. So first, can you tell our listeners about Egeria? What does her writing and her community of women readers tell us about women’s literacy and antiquity? And where might these women have gotten their educations? And how common was it for women to write?

Kate: Egeria is a fascinating case for 4th-century literacy of women because she’s almost hyper aware of the issue of women’s access to involvement with the world of Christian storytelling. And on the one hand, she seems to be the daughter of a prosperous merchant family, possibly from either southern France or from Iberia, who makes a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. And who’s writing back to her “sisters” as she calls them. We don’t know whether these sisters are her biological sisters, whether they’re just Christian friends whom she calls sisters as a mark of respect. It’s possible but not at all necessary that they could be nuns. It’s really not sure who these women are. 

But she’s writing for women about her travel in the Holy Land. And essentially going around the Holy Land from place to place visiting, sometimes visiting a monastic community, other times visiting a Bishop or the keeper of a shrine. Always places that she has seen a connection to the Christian story. So essentially she’s doing a kind of, you know, biblical tour. 

And what’s super interesting is that she’ll go to a place; she’ll sit with her group; and they’ll read the story out loud, the chapter of the Bible or the other early Christian writing that the story connects to. So there’s this sense of recycling the stories and making them acquire a layer of emotional involvement by the fact that they’re there on the site.

The most interesting case is when Egeria gets to the shrine of St. Thecla in Seleucia. And Thecla is technically not really a biblical heroine in that the early Christian narrative that tells the story of Thecla is a  text that seems to date from the 2ndcentury: the Acts of Paul and Thecla, which tell the story about how she heard the Apostle Paul preaching and decided to give up her engagement to the son of a important local family and instead cut off her hair and follow Paul as a sort of gender-bending, potentially transvestite saint. 

And Thecla was an incredibly important saint in the early Christian period. Partly because Paul was believed to have told her to go and preach the word of God. And so early Christian women saw in Thecla— And we have really good evidence for this because Tertullian in the 2nd century was actually pretty cross about it. [Rebekah and Emily laugh] You know he says, “Women think that they can even baptize because of what Paul said to Thecla, and I don’t like that!”  You know, but in in fact they did think that. And even after women had sort of been sidelined out of ordained ministry in the 4th century they still were very excited about Thecla as a kind of protagonist who showed the importance and the centrality of women in the early Apostolic communities. 

So when Egeria gets to the shrine of St. Thecla—which was on the south coast of what’s now Turkey, Asia Minor, near-ish to Tarsus where Paul had come from—she finds that there’s a community there of monks and nuns. And of number of really important people went there for spiritual retreats, including some men. Like Gregory Nazianzus, for example, around the same time, goes and does a spiritual retreat at the shrine of St. Thecla. So when Egeria gets there on the one hand she’s super excited because they go to a ceremony where the community reads the Acts of Paul and Thecla out loud,  and they commune with her spiritually in the place where she was believed to have died. She’s also, she reports with great excitement that she runs into a friend whom she had met previously in the Holy Land. 

At one level, what you’re seeing is these women who are either, as in Egeria’s case, probably financially elite– in the sense that she you know she seems to have the ability to finance quite a long trip in style with a group. On the other hand, you know you have people who are part of the ascetic movement and may not have huge resources themselves, but they do have access to the networks that will allow them to travel in this way. So people are traveling around, and making connections, and building the sense of a kind of network of sharing stories. And I think it’s really wonderful the way Egeria is so kind of self-aware about how exciting it is to be involved with these stories.

You know and some people have been a little bit snooty about Egeria. The Latin is not the most elegant Latin you will ever read. Some writers have actually found that really interesting, because it’s a more conversational Latin, and so you can learn some interesting things about how the spoken language is changing. But in a way the kind of gushy, girly kind of low register that she’s speaking in – actually it’s really remarkable. It’s really precious that we have something like that. There’s no reason on earth that a historian would want only super stylized language. Can you imagine if we had to deal with a history of the 21st century being written only but from the works of poets laureate?

Rebekah: Right. [chuckles]

Kate: You’re so grateful to her for getting organized to write this text. And then the people we really love are the people who preserved it. There’s only one surviving manuscript from antiquity of the travel itinerary of Egeria. 

And we don’t even know for sure whether her name is Egeria. There’s the possibility that it was Sylvia. So we’re a little bit unsure of her name, but we love her. And we love the people who kept the manuscript and then preserved it you know across the centuries, which is always hard with ancient texts.

Rebekah: Do we know if there were any shifts or changes over time? Is there a shift in the way that women participate and with their telling stories? Or can we just not tell because it’s only happenstance that we have this one manuscript from perhaps Egeria preserved?

Kate: You know, in a way, one of the things that’s so hard about these texts involving women is they do often get transmitted in small numbers. Or then you have texts like the Acts of Paul and Thecla, which gets transmitted in great numbers, but it kind of feeds into this sort of hagiographical traditions so that there are lots of different versions and it’s very hard to figure out what is the earliest version. What’s the status of the earliest version? And looks as if that very early narrative–which people tend to settle on the late 2nd century for that text–but it seems even though it’s not a super elegant high Greek, there’s definitely influence from the ancient novel. 

So there’s some kind of maybe popular Christian legends that are being told in a way that is understood to be pious entertainment. You know and so then you then get all of these problems about where do you draw the line between pastoral literature and literature that is what we would now call Christian historical fiction, which is a hugely popular in the ancient world. 

Rebekah: [laughing] Still hugely popular!

Kate: And it always has been! I mean, you know and in a way I think the official story of the history of the church has a little bit failed to take into account how important these somewhat more popular storytelling forms have been in terms of getting the faithful, you know really involved and excited about the faith. 

So getting back to your question about how did things change… A text that I think is really, really important that comes in, is the prison diary of Perpetua.  Which is, very roughly speaking, in the same time zone as the Acts of Paul and Thecla. It’s a little bit clearer in that we have a reference to the Emperor Geta, which makes it be datable to the first decade of the 3rd century, the early 200s. That’s a text where again we have all sorts of interesting questions about how it was produced (which I’d love to come back to), but just for a moment on the side of storytelling. 

It’s a text where Perpetua has clearly been asked by a member of her spiritual community to speak about her experiences. And she’s very involved in a spiritual world in which you have dreams, and the dreams reveal—potentially they reveal the future, they reveal the will of God. Her dead brother comes to her in a dream, you know. So it’s a world of connecting the here and now to the future and to the cosmic plane via the unconscious. And it’s really a very different kind of literature from the kind of literature that you might get in any kind of what we would think of as secular literature. 

But it’s also in a way, it’s quite distinctive within the genres of Christian literature. In the sense that, for the most part, when we get women in this kind of prophetic literature we tend on the whole to have preservation of prophetic literature that talks about women. So for example, you know the female figures in the book of Revelation, which we would not see as a feminist text. 

Rebekah: [laughing] By no means!

Emily: [also laughing] Jezebel!

Kate: In the case of Perpetua, though, you’re kind of hearing from the female prophet in the first person. And one of the things that’s interesting about that text is her concern about the status of her own speech and whether what she says– She knows it’s true, but will it be believed? She’s constantly wrestling with her father to say, “I’m a Christian. Do you see this pot over here? It can’t be called anything other than its actual name. So too I can’t go into the procurator and say, oh, I wasn’t really a Christian. I’ve just, I just. It’s been a misunderstanding. I have to say I’m a Christian. I have to confess my faith because this is ontological. This is real.” Clearly when she has that scene with her father, she’s clearly practicing; because she then in a later scene goes back and pretty much has the same dialogue structure when she actually is taken in before the procurator and asked, “Are you a Christian? Do you confirm that you’re a Christian?” Knowing that this is a crime that’s gonna  make her be punished, probably capitally. So there’s this really interesting tension in the text where she’s so concerned. 

And then later she has a vision where she sees herself fighting against the devil, who [is] in the form of an Egyptian wrestler. You know eventually she knows that she’s going to win.  She’s getting that message about the future being revealed to her because of her prophetic status.

One of the things I think is really interesting about this text is, to me there’s a kind of huge brouhaha about quote-unquote, whether Perpetua wrote the text. The short answer is the jury’s out. It’s possible that it is a you know, a very complex historical novel written by a very arty person. Or it’s possible that it is what it claims to be. 

There are two bits that claim to be found material. There are seven chapters that claim to be the prison diary dictated by Perpetua. There is an introduction to the text that says conscriptum manu sua (Passio II.3). You know, “Written by her own hand.” But that’s not in the text itself.And we’ll come back to the editor of, who writes Chapter 2. 

But Chapters 3 to 10 are this prison diary that have many of the hallmarks of dictation by a person who isn’t a, not a professional writer and not a professional dictator of prose as it were. 

And then there’s a second bit of found material. Chapters 11 to 13 are of the so-called visions of Saturus, which are visionary material from another member of the group. This ten-chapter sequence of these two bits of Perpetua’s visions and experiences and then Saturus’ visions, they are kind of sandwiched within two layers. 

The first layer is Chapters 2 and 14-21, what tend to be called the editor’s introduction and the arena narrative. Which is an editor saying, “Oh here’s this marvelous prison diary that Perpetua wrote with her own hand” – already a sign that this person probably is later because they don’t know that people don’t usually write with their hands in this period. You know, sounds like a you know, a medieval monk thinking how would people write in antiquity? When they don’t write that way. So that’s the later editor. 

And then the later arena narrative, which has all sorts of claims about being an eyewitness narrative of her actual death. Interestingly, those eyewitness claims have some of the characteristics that are characteristic of medieval hagiographical fiction. So again, you know for my money the arena narrative’s claim that it’s an eyewitness account kind of shows that it isn’t an eyewitness account. If you see what I mean. So that’s the first layer of editorial baggage. 

And then the second layer, which appears in only one manuscript, is: there’s a prologue and an address that has some very beautiful and poetic language drawing on biblical themes that sort of talk about how these prophecies of the early church are still happening in our own time. And in a sense, I think nobody thinks that the prologue is written by Perpetua, obviously. But what people have I think taken way too seriously are the claims of the editor, who from my analysis could be really early medieval rather than a 2nd-century writer. 

And the other thing that’s really important about this issue of the bricolage is that there has been very little narratological study about how that component of the lopsided sandwich of seven chapters of Perpetua and three chapters of Saturus, and then the editor’s introduction and narrative of the death, and then the extra sections in the very beginning and the very end—how does that fit if this is a false writing by a man pretending to be female? Which was the old idea that you know, a woman couldn’t have written this so obviously it had to be a man pretending to be her. 

Okay well, let’s go look at Apuleius, who is a very roughly contemporary, also African writer in Latin, who writes a bricolage of multiple sections. And let’s look at the narratological focalization. Does that attempt to create the prison diary as this so-called authentic voice of Perpetua, does that make sense coming from the kind of writer who would write this kind of bricolage? And the short answer is, maybe if he’s on drugs! It really is confusing to think of somebody who would be that dishonest while claiming to represent an authentic prophetic voice, I mean if the jury’s not out, it’s possible. 

But it seems a lot simpler to take the idea that the text is what it seems to be. The Perpetua chapters, which is a dictation by somebody who’s being held getting ready to have their moment before the procurator. And then secondly is, you know, is waiting for actually going into the arena to face her fate.

Emily: Absolutely. So you’ve perfectly segued us into Perpetua, and I want to get back to the question of authorship. 

But I wonder if very briefly we could talk about her as a person. We’ve sort of talked about her writings, kind of introduced that, introduced that she was a Christian martyr from Carthage around the turn of the 3rd century and wrote this ostensibly a diary about her arrest, trial, and imprisonment as a result of her Christian faith. And this document that we have is probably one of the most famous “woman-authored texts” from our period. But before the text, what do we know about Perpetua as a person?

Kate: So the question of what Perpetua was like, what was her social location, is a really interesting one. And this is one where I have to say, I am a fierce minority. Because the so-called editor who writes chapter 2 talks about her being honeste nata and matronaliter nupta (Passio II.1). Meaning that she is of high birth and has the marital status of a proper Roman matron. 

I really believe very strongly—and I argued this in an article I did a few years ago in Gender & History[13]—that the reason the writer says these two things about her is because any Roman person can see from the things she says in her prison diary that she is a concubine who has had a child out of wedlock. And the way we know that is because she sees her father and her birth family as taking authority over her child when she dies. And if she had been married, whether her husband was dead or living, it would be the husband’s family. So she’s clearly not married. 

And there’s no reason a Christian woman in the 2nd century or early 3rd century would expect to be married before having sex because women of low status knew that if they wanted to A, have children, or B, have some man take care of them, if they didn’t come from the part of society that had either potentially the legal right to marry (which she may not have had), or alternatively simply didn’t have enough money for a dowry, it’s entirely possible that her best option was going to be to be an informal concubine to some man who wasn’t in a position to marry and produce legal heirs. 

And the difference between marriage and non-marriage in that period literally it’s about, does the father take responsibility for the children or not? If he doesn’t, you’re not married. If he does, you’re married. They don’t even have a marriage ceremony in this period. What they have is the husband either says, “I declare that I will take responsibility for these children” or he doesn’t. So in that sense, the fact that the father is nowhere in the picture, by definition she can’t be married. 

Which is fine. Why should she be married in the 2nd, early 3rd centuries? Christian women often aren’t married and still have children. 

But it does mean that she can’t be high status. Because technically the one person who can’t become a concubine is a high status woman, because high status women are able to get married. And everybody knows it’s better to be married and have your children with a man who’s gonna take full responsibility for their maintenance. So of course, if she was a concubine it means she either was legally barred from marriage because of not having citizen status, or she was financially barred from marriage because of not having the right social standing and the right dowry options in order to attract a husband who would marry her legally. 

So she’s a person of low and/or non-citizen status. I don’t see the specific profile of a rich, non-citizen woman here. It looks more to me like a poor woman who becomes a concubine, for, you know, fundamentally economic reasons.

Emily: Very briefly, let’s return to the question of authorship of Perpeta’s text because I’m recalling another of your articles where you think about the male gaze of this titillating ending of the editor versus the style of writing in the prison diary itself.[14] Thinking also about Perpetua’s masculine imagery in the “I” part of the narrative and sort of this emphasis on feminine modesty in the edited portion.[15] So the reason I bring this up,is to ask what difference does it make whether Perpetua did or did not write this prison diary?

Kate: It’s a great question. And I think the contrast that you’ve drawn there between the sort of gender-bending quality of the “I” narrative and the sensibility of the editor who’s constantly trying to kind of reinscribe you know a more traditional femininity, both with talking about how she’s honorably married in the prologue but then at the end talking about how she, how there’s a kind of female modesty. It’s not that the editor doesn’t think that she’s powerful. But there’s a desire to kind of somehow channel that power into traditional social forms. 

Whereas the voice of the “I” narrative, we would call a more radical voice. She’s much more interested in, you know in challenging power structures. And it’s not that she’s not a modest person. But in a sense, she is involved with a different plane of reality where those issues are falling away from her perception.  

I don’t think it’s impossible for a male writer to imagine a heroine who had reached that level of being in a sense beyond her sex. I think it’s certainly a point of view that a creative male writer could have imagined. I don’t think it’s beyond the imagination of a male writer. On the other hand, to me it raises more problems than it solves to try to imagine a male writer kind of concocting this group of texts and bringing them together in the way that they’ve been brought.

And what’s also really interesting and weird is that in a way I think the fact that the prison diary of Perpetua and the visions of Saturus—they seem to be fragments that have been, that the church has preserved as a precious relic of the experience of the Christian community. So in that sense, if the writer is trying to create artificially that kind of narrative, in a way it does tell us something really interesting about what the early Christian communities valued.

Rebekah: Listeners who have been with us through this whole season know all too well the rarity and preciousness of those surviving texts written by women. They’ve heard, sometimes in painful detail, how men wrote women out of stories and stereotyped them, or sensationalized them like the editor of Perpetua, in ways that are still all too familiar today. Have scholars noticed a difference in how women portray themselves versus how ancient men portrayed women? And can we detect any nuances of framing, content, or perspective that give these texts a different focus?

Kate: As you probably know I’ve been really interested in this issue of sort of gendered literary motifs since I wrote The Virgin and The Bride years ago. I still stand by the original insight of that book, which was that more often than you want to imagine, when we’re dealing with texts that describe women we really need to be aware that we’re dealing with texts that are stylized for reasons that are not about authenticity. But they’re about hitting the stops of a certain literary imagination, often for reasons that have to do with competition between men over various issues of moral authority.

Having said that, in my “later years” I have become really interested in something that I always thought was possible. But my sense of how ready I am to engage in this work has changed. And that is taking into consideration all of those issues about how a representation of a woman could be distorted because of literary motifs and because of certain gender tropes and discursive commitments. And where and when and how can we see those flashes of an actual female voice or an actual insight into what a woman might have thought.

One of the things that that’s led me to do for example, is: as I’ve become older I’ve become more persuaded that the distinctive characteristics in the Perpetua narrative—the distinctive tensions between the editorial layer and the two, the prison diary of Perpetua and the visions of Saturus—I really think that narratologically you can see those as different voices that have different commitments. Which allows me to say, “Oh, that means Perpetua might really be female! Okay, let’s go with this. Let’s see what it tells us.” So I love that.

But there are also some other places that to me are a little bit more unexpected. One letter that I wanted to mention is the cento of Proba, which I know you’ve talked a little bit about. Because that’s a text where you know she’s turning the Bible into this Virgilian form. And she’s kind of saying “Okay if Virgil had written the Bible, what would it look like?” 

But the story that she comes out with has all of these elements of husband-and-wife relationships, parent-child relationships, mothers trying to take care of their children in a way that is dialed up from, for example, the Gospel of Luke. Which everybody says, “The Gospel of Luke, it’s the one of the Gospels that has most interest in women.” And I’ve actually been really interested in the possibility that female storytellers could have played a role in that tradition kind of getting the form that eventually became the Gospel of Luke.  But even the Gospel of Luke is nowhere compared to Proba!

And you know, Proba’s cento is, I mean it’s hard to follow sometimes, but you keep seeing these women coming in worrying about their children. So for example, the story of the Nativity, it’s all about Mary; it’s passionate devotion to her child. And, you know, and then she’s heroically trying to protect baby Jesus from King Herod during the massacre of the innocents. And you know, and all of these things that kind of fly by in the traditional version. But she’s just looking for places where women and girls are gonna kind of find a point of connection in those stories and just giving it a little bit more space every time. So I think you can see that there are some women who are aware of the question of female readers and the interests of female readers.

Something I just adore about Proba as a figure in that regard is also the fact that she, you know she’s writing exactly at this moment where what Liz Clark talked about of women being in the sense sort of sidelined out of certain kinds of Christian leadership. And she’s part of the group of women who are patrons not priests, as Clark talks about. You know, but Proba’s saying, “Look, we’ve gotta keep the women interested. We’ve gotta get the girls interested in these stories.” I don’t think she’s the only one to do it, but I do think it’s surprising how few voices we have where we can see that. 

What I don’t know is: is the fact that we have so few of those moments, is it because they weren’t written at the time? Or is it, as I suspect, because most people estimate that 1% of ancient literature has come down to us? 

And, you know, you think the bits that were focused on women or the things that were focused on married women and their interests raising children—those are exactly the kinds of things that monasteries, particularly male monasteries whose whole focus is on finding readings that are gonna help teenaged boys not think about their mother– So the last thing they’re gonna be copying is stuff about, you know, how much women love their children. You know it’s a no-brainer. Don’t do it! If you’re running a library in a monastery keep that stuff away from the boys. They don’t need that! So in that sense, of course we don’t have it. 

But I don’t think we don’t have it because it wasn’t written.

Emily:  Yeah. So the historical locations, as you’ve pointed out so well just now, restricted and limited the texts that were preserved because people copied the things that were useful to them. 

But women’s voices survive in another genre of texts: in letters, which maybe we can chat about for a little bit. Claudia Severa was the wife of a high-ranking Roman military officer stationed in Britain, or Vindolanda as it was called back then in the 1st century. And a number of her letters to friends have survived. And most of the contents were written by a scribe, but she signs them in her own hand.[16]

But we also have a number of letters from men addressed to women. You mentioned Augustine, his Letter 262 to Ecdicia,[17] Jerome’s letters to Paula and Eustochium, Pelagius’s letter to Celanthia.[18] The letters that the men received from the women have been lost, but presumably they once existed, right. There was a correspondence. So what can we reconstruct about the women’s letters and lives from the responses that we have from these famous male church leaders?

Kate: This issue of women as addressees rather than writers of these letters is super important and super interesting. There’s one case that you probably know of where one of the letters in Jerome’s collection it’s transmitted as a letter from Paula and Eustochium about their time in the Holy Land. But it tends to be in editions as the letter of Jerome described, on behalf of Paula and Eustochium, describing their experience in the Holy Land. And that’s one where you really I think can ask really interesting questions about, why do we need to imagine that it was by Jerome versus by the people who it claims to be by? But you can see the process going on there. 

The idea of letters by women is perceived to be anomalous and problematic, and there’s a kind of regularization that happens. I think that gives us a little bit of insight as to why we have so little material that’s come down to us under the names of women. Famously, there’s that early feminist saying, “Anonymous was a woman.” And it’s possible that that is actually true. Women kind of make themselves anonymous and then later, in order to kind of get the thing into the system, those anonymous texts start to become “Oh, this must be Jerome. It looks good, so it must be Jerome,” or whatever. 

The thing about trying to reconstruct women’s experience from the letters to women is also really interesting. Sometimes it’s really hard. And if you take Jerome, I think something that’s really interesting is how interested in women’s experience he seems to be. There’s that peculiar, weird Jerome spin that he puts on things. And sometimes you’re just thinking, “Oh my word, this man is crazy.” But on the other hand, you can see that he’s genuinely interested in women. Even when he’s mean about women he’s clearly watching women and observing what motivates them.

I also think some of the letters that we have that are written to women that talk about the pastoral problems that women encounter. I’m obsessed with an anonymous letter from the 6th century called the Letter to Gregoria, which is a Pseudo-Chrysostom. And that is, you know, it’s dealing with a woman in an unhappy marriage. And she’s trying to figure out whether the fact that she’s married is going to ruin her for the spiritual glory that she sees ascetic women getting. Actually, some of the things in that letter really show a kind of genuine moral reasoning about what a woman who—you know she’s an elite woman, an aristocratic slaveholding woman. Yes, you can worry about her. But on the other hand she’s also potentially an antagonist to other people in the Christian community as you know, the powerful female landowner. So there’re all of these dynamics that are fascinating, and interestingly, are not always flattering to women. 

I think women as a category, it’s a treacherous category. Because women in the Roman period do not all have the same concerns and they don’t all have the same interests or the same needs. The only thing they have in common is having to do with men.

Rebekah: Well let’s talk a little bit more about women’s listeners, which is kind of a thread through a lot of your responses. You’ve written about how narratives of women’s temperance, chastity, and sexual self-restraint may have been used to buttress the reputations of noble men as temperate and self-controlled.[19] Should we always assume that literary texts that address women or women’s issues—I’m thinking of Tertullian’s On the Veiling of Women—were actually written with a female audience in mind? Or perhaps these sorts of texts are actually directed towards a male audience. Or can we even tell?

Kate: It’s a great question. I mean the short answer is, we can’t always tell, but anytime something has come down to us, by definition it was addressed to men. At least partly. It may be that you et something like Tertullian writing to his wife or Ambrose writing to his sister or Jerome writing to Eustochium, where they know that other people are going to be reading it. But there is still a female reader who is real. You know I’m not saying these women aren’t real. 

Boy, Marcella now there’s a woman I would love to understand. Ambrose’s sister. Given how much sort of crazy misogynist invective Ambrose gets into, he’s clearly really close with his sister. So what’s she doing? Saying “Oh, little brother, you just go. You just bash at ‘em. That’s fine.” You know it’s. [Emily and Rebekah laugh] We’ll never know because we only have his idealized version of her always thinking everything he does is just golden. And you know that may of course not be what she thought at all.

But I think [sighs]. I don’t know, with The Virgin and the Bride, people are still reading that book and saying, “Oh Kate Cooper doesn’t think that like, female women exist.” Because I was so concerned about how rhetorical motifs and narratives about women could be used in various other ways. And I was never trying to say that women didn’t exist, but I just felt like we have to go through the step of considering what are the rhetorical uses that the patterning and the way these women are described and discussed might be being put to. 

Because so often when you see a woman being criticized or idolized or whatever it is, there’s a construct being either created for the first time or, much more often, new electricity is being kind of fed into the construct, that is then going ripple. And on the one hand it’s gonna probably make the frame that guides what real historical women kind of have to bear in mind in order to position themselves as viable historical actors. But on the other hand, it is sometimes the case that actually the woman is being talked to for completely different reasons. 

Rebekah: Who’s a woman that you are most tantalized by and who you wish we could know more about?

Kate: I have to say there is some heavy competition in this category. Probably the one I really want to have better sources on and for whom I would love to have just one little letter of her writing to somebody else, would be the Empress Justina who got into so much trouble in the 380s. She clearly just stood in the wrong place at the wrong time, and so the sources that were trying to explain her actions from a sympathetic point of view kind of got washed away. And the ones that were trying to give invective against her in one way or another got greater and greater play. 

But there is another woman that I just want to mention, who I’m absolutely fascinated by. And the chance of us ever knowing anything about her is less than zero. And that is a person I call Tacita, who is the ten-year-old-girl who for a few months in 386 was engaged to the thirty-something future Augustine of Hippo. And you know this thing of a ten-year old being engaged to a 30-, 32-, 33-year old is pretty normal in the ancient world. Kind of scary. But, we don’t know anything about her except that Augustine–when he mentions that he broke the engagement–he says, “I found her pleasing.” He wants the reader to know that he didn’t break the engagement cause there was anything wrong with her. He just, you know, he had things going on and he just didn’t go through with it. I’m so fascinated by this child who was just one little pawn in all of the Games of Thrones that were going on in Milan in 380s. And you know that are going on everywhere, historically.

But one of the things that’s super interesting. It’s somebody who definitely could not have been Augustine’s fiancée because she’s a couple years too young, but also in Milan in the same period—was the future Empress Eudoxia, who’s gonna get in terrible trouble with John Chrysostom around the turn of the millennia [century] in the early 400s. And in her case we know a little bit more because her father is a famous general, and then he becomes consul. And then he dies, and so she gets sent to live with some female friends of the family in Constantinople, which is where she is when she then gets picked to marry the Emperor Arcadius in her teens.

And there’s just this Little Girl History of 10-year-olds and 12-year-olds. You know for the 4th century we maybe, I don’t know, we maybe have fifteen or twenty of these female teenagers. Some of them, like Blaesilla and Eustochium, we hear quite a lot about in the letters of Jerome. But then there are these other ones like Tacita where there’s just this one line of— Tacita, by the way, it’s not her real name.  Out of respect he doesn’t tell her, tell us her name. But I call her Tacita, “the silent one.” 

Emily: Throughout your career you’ve advanced the study of women in Late Antiquity in very important ways. And I think, put women at the center of the story. Which is so rare, unfortunately. It seems that most commonly, whether in books, documentaries, even in university classrooms sometimes, women are included as a bit of an afterthought if they are. Editors and producers make sure to include Augustine and Constantine. Maybe if there’s some time left at the end, there’s a polite nod to the others—the women and enslaved people and children. 

But in brief, how can we push back against this implicit idea that women are secondary? And we ask you because you’ve been so good at putting them at the center.

Kate: First of all, buy books about women. [Rebekah chuckles] Literally. That is the single best thing you can do. Because I keep getting told by publishers–but this is only in the last three or four years–“Oh, we’re looking for something strong on women.” And that wasn’t true ten years ago. Even Band of Angels, a book that came out in 2013, we were trying to convince people that people would buy that book, and they did buy that book.

Get on Goodreads. Everything you’ve read about ancient women or indeed women of any period, give those four- and five-stars reviews to the book. Even if you don’t have time to write a whole review. But I really think things like Amazon reviews, Goodreads review, tweeting an interesting review that you’ve read about a book, tweeting a photograph of a book that you’ve read that you’ve loved: those kinds of tiny actions, actually they get scrutinized much more than a normal reader would imagine by the people who are making decisions in the world of publishing and media. 

With Queens of a Fallen World, this book on Augustine’s women that I’ve just finished writing, I’m literally thinking, “Why are we not doing a TV series and making this into Game of Thrones?” 

Emily: [delighted] Yes, please! 

Rebekah: Write the script, Kate! [laughing]

Kate: You know, anybody who wants to get in touch with me with their screen treatment of Queens of a Fallen World, please let me know! Because I really think that’s, you know that’s where we ought to be going. And I do think there’s so much fiction about ancient and medieval women as these sort of marvelous crafty, dangerous heroines. 

And what’s really, really interesting is teaching [in] a British history department, I can tell you that the highest prizes in my department really keep going to women who got interested in being a history major at university because they saw some film about Queen Elizabeth, or they read a historical novel, or they saw a television series. And that kind of living engagement around history—there’s absolutely every reason why women should be at the center of those stories. So you know, let’s get going with that!

[podcast music interludes to the conclusion]

Rebekah: When people think about the birth of Western Literary Traditions, in capital letters, the quote-unquote “classics,” they typically think of Homer and Plato. Writers who shaped millennia of reflection and literary imagination. Sappho’s poetry was preserved and transmitted as part of this prestigious literary tradition. But most women were not immortalized in the halls of the literary greats. Perhaps because men were gatekeeping those literary halls. As men were wont to do. 

Emily: Beyond the women-authored works that have survived, we know of others that once existed. One such writer, Pamphila, was quite prolific. She was a wealthy woman originally from Egypt who lived during the time of Nero, and her work is said to have included 33 books of Historical Commentaries. Eleven fragments survive – but only as paraphrased by later authors.[20]

Or there’s Olympias of Thebes. She was an expert in medicinal treatments, perhaps a midwife given her knowledge of women’s health. While we lack fragments or even paraphrases of her work, Pliny cites her as a source in his Natural Histories (1.20-28). Pliny also says that a Timaris wrote “elegant” poetry, but her work is entirely lost (Natural Histories 37.178).

Rebekah: Women communicated their ideas, their thoughts, their hopes, and their dreams in all sorts of ways in writing. Sometimes in letters and art. Sometimes scrawled in graffiti. On a wall in Pompeii, a woman publicly accuses, “Atimetus got me pregnant” (CIL IV 10231).[21] As Virginia L. Campbell has pointed out, this Italian tagger may have sought to warn other women and blame her offender.[22] This is not to say that there were multitudes of women secretly (or publicly) putting their poetry and ideas into writing on street walls. But certainly, far more women than the small fragments that have been passed on to us today.  

Emily: Even if the echo of their voices has faded away over the last two millennia, we know their voices once rang out.  

[podcast theme music starts and plays over credits]

Emily: If you enjoyed our show, please rate and review us on Apple PodcastsSpotifyAudible, or wherever you get your podcasts. Check out our website or find us on Twitter @womenbefore

This podcast is written, produced, and edited by us, Emily Chesley and Rebekah Haigh. This episode was fact-checked by Jillian Marcantonio. Our music is composed and produced by Moses Sun. The podcast is sponsored by the Center for Culture, Society and Religion, the Program in Judaic Studies, and the Stanley J. Seeger Center for Hellenic Studies all at Princeton University

Rebekah: Thanks for listening to Women Who Went Before. And don’t forget: women were there!

[music bounces to its conclusion]

[1] David A. Campbell, Greek Lyric, I: Sappho and Alcaeus (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990), 2–61. See also I. M. Plant, Women Writers of Ancient Greece and Rome: An Anthology (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2004), 10–28. For a brief biography of Sappho and analysis of her texts’ reception see Jim Powell, The Poetry of Sappho: An Expanded Edition, Featuring Newly Discovered Poems (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 43–47. On Sappho’s reception in Roman literature see Thea S. Thorsen and Stephen Harrison, eds., Roman Receptions of Sappho (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019).       

[2] Translated by Benjamin Acosta-Hughes and Lucia Prauscello, in Sappho’s Gift: The Poet and Her Community, by Franco Ferrari (Ann Arbor: Michigan Classical Press, 2010), pp. 136-137.

[3] William Harris estimates 5–10% in the Classical period. See Ancient Literacy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989).

[4] Rafaella Cribiore, “education and schools, Greek,” Oxford Dictionary of Late Antiquity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018); Roger Rees, “education and schools, Latin,” Oxford Dictionary of Late Antiquity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018). See also, Averil Cameron, “Education and Literary Culture,” The Cambridge Ancient History, vol. 13, eds. Averil Cameron and Peter Garnsey (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 677.

[5] See, Erja Salmenkivi, “Some Remarks on Literate Women from Roman Egypt,” in Women and Knowledge in Early Christianity, Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae, vol. 144, eds. Ulla Tervahauta, Ivan Miroshnikov, Outi Lehtipuu, Ismo Dunderberg (Boston: Brill, 2017), 62.

[6] Roger Green, “Which Proba Wote the Cento?” The Classical Quarterly 58, no. 1 (2008): 264–76. Compare with a different identification of Proba in, T. D. Barnes, “An Urban Prefect and His Wife,” Classical Quarterly 56, no. 1 (2006): 249–256.

[7] Scott McGill, “Virgil, Christianity, and the Cento Probae,” in Texts and Culture in Late Antiquity, ed. J. H. D. Scourfield (Swansea: Classical Press of Wales, 2007), 173. For a compete treatment of Proba’s Cento, see Sigrid Schottenius Cullhed, Proba the Prophet: The Christian Virgilian Cento of Faltonia Betitia Proba, Mnemosyne Supplements 378 (Brill: Leiden, 2015).

[8] Proba, Cento, trans. Elizabeth A. Clark and Diane F. Hatch, in The Golden Bough, The Oaken Cross: The Virgilian Cento of Faltonia Betitia Proba (Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1981), 21.

[9] Rafaella Cribiore, “education and schools, Greek,” Oxford Dictionary of Late Antiquity (Oxford: 2018).

[10] R. P. H. Green, “Proba’s Cento: Its Date, Purpose, and Reception,” The Classical Quarterly 45, no. 2 (1995): 554-559.

[11] Dorothy L. Sayers, “Are Women Human? Address Given to a Woman’s Society, 1938” reprinted in Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture 8, no. 4 (2005), 167.

[12] Elizabeth A. Clark, “Patrons, Not Priests: Gender and Power in Late Ancient Christianity,” Gender & History 2, no. 3 (1990): 253–273. 

[13] Kate Cooper, “A Father, a Daughter and a Procurator: Authority and Resistance in the Prison Memoir of Perpetua of Carthage,” Gender & History 23, no.3 (2011): 685–702.

[14] Kate Cooper, “The Voice of the Victim: Gender, Representation and Early Christian Martyrdom,” Bulletin John Rylands Library 80, no. 3 (1998): 154-158.

[15] “[T]he anonymous editor…claims to be an eyewitness to her brave conduct when she was thrown to the beasts, although there is every reason to suspect that a later writer put together the account on the basis of legend or oral tradition. The author of this narrative takes pains to emphasise Perpetua’s feminine modesty as well as her bravery: it is almost as if he or she has read Perpetua’s own account and been somewhat alarmed by her vision of herself as a naked male wrestler in a wrestling match. This stands in sharp contrast to the vivid, bold and unapologetic voice of the martyr herself.” (Cooper, “A Father, A Daughter,” 700).

[16] Kristina Milnor, Graffiti and the Literary Landscape in Roman Pompeii (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 201.

[17] Kate Cooper, “Insinuations of Womanly Influence: An Aspect of the Christianization of the Roman Aristocracy,” The Journal of Roman Studies, 1992, Vol. 82 (1992), 158–159.

[18] Cooper, “Insinuations of Womanly Influence,” 175–179.

[19] Cooper, “Insinuations of Womanly Influence,” 152–153.

[20] “Pamphila,” in I. M. Plant, ed., Women Writers of Antiquity: An Anthology (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2004), 127–129.

[21]Virginia L. Campbell, “For Women, By Women,”  Pompeii Connections, 29 July 2016. 

[22] Campbell, “For Women, By Women.” 

  • T. D. Barnes. “An Urban Prefect and His Wife.” Classical Quarterly 56, no. 1 (2006): 249–256.
  • Sigrid Schottenius Cullhed. Proba the Prophet: The Christian Virgilian Cento of Faltonia Betitia Proba. Mnemosyne Supplements 378. Brill: Leiden, 2015.
  • Averil Cameron. “Education and Literary Culture.” Pp. 665–707 in The Cambridge Ancient History. Volume 13: The Late Empire, AD 337–425. Edited by Averil Cameron and Peter Garnsey. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.
  • David A. Campbell, ed. and trans. Greek Lyric, I: Sappho and Alcaeus. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990.
  • Virginia L. Campbell. “For Women, By Women.”  Pompeii Connections. 29 July 2016.
  • Elizabeth A. Clark. “Patrons, Not Priests: Gender and Power in Late Ancient Christianity.” Gender & History 2, no. 3 (1990): 253–273.
  • Kate Cooper, “A Father, a Daughter and a Procurator: Authority and Resistance in the Prison Memoir of Perpetua of Carthage,” Gender & History 23, no.3 (2011): 685–702.
  • ———. “Insinuations of Womanly Influence: An Aspect of the Christianization of the Roman Aristocracy.” The Journal of Roman Studies. 1992, Vol. 82 (1992): 150–164.
  • ———. “The Voice of the Victim: Gender, Representation and Early Christian Martyrdom.” Bulletin John Rylands Library 80, no. 3 (1998): 147–157.
  • Rafaella Cribiore. S.v.,“education and schools, Greek.” Oxford Dictionary of Late Antiquity. Edited by Oliver Nicholson. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018.
  • Franco Ferrari. Sappho’s Gift: The Poet and Her Community. Translated by Benjamin Acosta-Hughes and Lucia Prauscello. Ann Arbor: Michigan Classical Press, 2010.
  • R. P. H. Green. “Proba’s Cento: Its Date, Purpose, and Reception.” The Classical Quarterly 45, no. 2 (1995): 551–563.
  • ———. “Which Proba Wote the Cento?” The Classical Quarterly 58, no. 1 (2008): 264–76. 
  • William Harris. Ancient Literacy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989.
  • Scott McGill. “Virgil, Christianity, and the Cento Probae.” Pp. 173–193 in Texts and Culture in Late Antiquity. Edited by J. H. D. Scourfield. Swansea: Classical Press of Wales, 2007.
  • Kristina Milnor. Graffiti and the Literary Landscape in Roman Pompeii, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.
  • I. M. Plant, ed., Women Writers of Antiquity: An Anthology. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2004.
  • Jim Powell, ed. The Poetry of Sappho: An Expanded Edition, Featuring Newly Discovered Poems. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.
  • Proba. The Golden Bough, The Oaken Cross: The Virgilian Cento of Faltonia Betitia Proba. Edited and Translated by Elizabeth A. Clark and Diane F. Hatch. Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1981. 
  • Roger Rees. S.v., “education and schools, Latin.” Oxford Dictionary of Late Antiquity. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018.
  • Erja Salmenkivi. “Some Remarks on Literate Women from Roman Egypt.” Pp. 62–72 in Women and Knowledge in Early Christianity. Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae. Volume 144. Edited by Ulla Tervahauta, Ivan Miroshnikov, Outi Lehtipuu, and Ismo Dunderberg. Boston: Brill, 2017.
  • Dorothy L. Sayers. “Are Women Human? Address Given to a Woman’s Society, 1938.” Reprinted in Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture 8, no. 4 (2005): 165–178.
  • Thea S. Thorsen and Stephen Harrison, eds.. Roman Receptions of Sappho. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019.