Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2017.05.23 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2017.05.23

Mary R. Lefkowitz, Maureen B. Fant, Women's Life in Greece and Rome: A Source Book in Translation. Fourth edition (first published 1982).   Baltimore:  Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016.  Pp. xxxiv, 457.  ISBN 9781421421131.  $32.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Jennifer Martinez Morales, University of Liverpool (


Hestiaea of Alexandria, a third century BC grammarian and author of a treatise on Homer’s Iliad, is not as famous as Artemisia today. Her contributions to the ancient world began when she argued that the site of the Trojan War was not her present-day Ilium (the geographic location had shifted due to river deposits). 1 Hestiaea and Artemisia differed in status and accomplishments, and are representative examples of the diverse types of women included in the new edition of this vital sourcebook. Moreover, Hestiaea is one of many new significant—and on occasion underrepresented—women who are included in this new edition.

The fourth edition of Lefkowitz and Fant’s iconic sourcebook has been thoroughly updated and revised. The editors have done a great job of making the volume much more user-friendly and accessible. Both scholars and students will find this edition much enhanced and appropriately updated. Gone are the end notes; the reader will now find the notes at the end of each chapter. Gone also is the table listing texts in chronological order, which was found at the end of the previous edition; the relevant texts are now listed after their respective chapters. Responding to reviewers of the third edition, the editors have reorganised the illustrations, added new images, and, most importantly, placed them into relevant chapters. 2 Not only is the book better illustrated than the previous edition, but the placement of the images is keyed to the text at hand. For instance, chapter eight (p. 267-300) shows a woman painter from a Pompeian wall painting, following a discussion by Pliny the Elder on women painters (p. 281-282).

The editors argue that this new edition ‘builds on the third edition’s appendix of updates’ (back cover), and indeed it does. Almost all of the sources and texts that were in the appendix to the third edition are now included in corresponding chapters and sections. Main headings are still the same as in the third edition, with only minor corrections and additions. For example, the section ‘Self-employment’ in chapter eight is now called ‘Self-employment and Entrepreneurship’ (p. 268). Some sources were simply moved around to other sections.

True to its original form and aim, this new edition focuses on historical women, hard-to-find texts, and a diverse range of evidence of different periods. Graffiti is a good example. Faustilla, a first century money-lender, appears in several Pompeian graffiti and one of these is included in this new edition (p. 271). The reader is directed to the other two graffiti in the end notes. Various new inscriptions (e.g. number 54, p. 29), epigraphical material (e.g. number 201, p. 181), and material culture are cited or used as sources in this new edition. Accordingly, it is not just a collection of textual evidence, but of other types of evidence as well, and represents the lives of women in the ancient world in a more multifaceted and engaging way.

No sourcebook on ancient women’s lives can be devoid of Sappho. The reader will be pleased to find in this edition the new poems of Sappho (fragment 6, p. 3, fragment 5, p. 5-6). Given that Sappho and her work continues to stir scholarly debate, it would have been significant to update the introduction of the chapter—which addresses the poetess herself —to include new scholarship. 3 However, the ‘Brothers’ poem is introduced by brief words concerning the context of the fragment. The translations of the fragmentary poems are accurate to the original texts and some informative endnotes are included.

The chapter that received the most consideration is that which addresses the private lives of women in the ancient world. The editors have added new texts to almost every section of chapter seven. Some of the new texts reflect growing trends in scholarship. The sayings of Theano, wife of Pythagoras, included in a new section entitled ‘Letters attributed to women followers of Pythagoras' (p. 203-205) is one perfect example. Complete with a new introduction explaining the context of Theano’s sayings, this new collection of texts is in keeping with recent scholarship. 4 In total, 22 new sayings have been added to this section. Ranging from the third century AD to late antiquity, the sayings are from diverse sources and regions. It is particularly encouraging to see the Syriac sayings of Theano included in this fourth edition of the sourcebook. Traditionally overlooked in favour of the Greek sayings, these make a wonderful new addition for students of philosophy, religion, classics, and history alike.

The family is another topic of increasing interest to the discipline. This edition includes new texts on (for example) wet nurses and babies (p. 239), and parents and children (p. 240). One common theme is that of women who died in childbirth. Three new epitaphs have been included and they all address the unfortunate deaths of women who died in childbirth (number 312, 313, and 314, p. 243-244).

The new texts also include women of different statuses. For instance, the section ‘Female Medical Practitioners’ (p. 338-349) gives the reader a much more rounded perspective of the lives of specific groups of women of different social classes in antiquity. There is a slave midwife (number 475, p. 343), a slave wet nurse (number 481, p. 349), the famous and legendary first female obstetrician, Hagnodice (number 473, p. 342-343), and an ordinary yet talented wife who was a physician and is commemorated by her husband (number 465, p. 339). As already mentioned above, what is exciting about this sourcebook is that we get to see obscure and ordinary—yet still fascinating—mostly historical women, instead of the same array of women we always see in mainstream books.

A new section on ‘Agriculture’ (p. 291) has been added to chapter eight. A more thorough treatment of this section would have been useful. Perhaps, if future editions are on the agenda, this is one of the sections which could benefit from further work.

It is worth mentioning that both Lefkowitz and Fant have done a fantastic job of integrating existing sources with new ones and cross-referencing the two. The epitaph of Domitilla (p. 259) describes how this young girl was abducted by men and took her own life rather than endure shame by violation. The editors remind the reader that this was considered an act of courage in antiquity and therefore mention other texts that reflect this common theme (number 15, p. 9 and number 189, p. 162-164).

No part of this sourcebook remains unrevised. Every chapter and section has been modified to some degree, although some sections feature only new material. For instance, except for the sayings of Theano mentioned above, chapter three (p. 55-72) remains roughly the same as the previous edition. Similarly, chapter five underwent few modifications (p.119-158).

Having used previous editions in the classroom, I am certain that students will find this a great resource. Chapters now begin with a textbox containing general overviews and this will allow undergraduate students (who continue to be the primary target audience of this sourcebook) to navigate the sources more effectively. One small thought: —the back cover of the sourcebook states that a map is now included in this edition, yet I could not find this map. Overall, the editors made a great effort to make the sourcebook more engaging and up-to-date with recent scholarship and emerging trends. I would highly recommend those who have the third edition to promptly acquire this new and updated version of such a significant work.


1.   Unfortunately, none of her work survives to this day; Hestiaea is mentioned by Strabo (13.1.36).
2.   Hobden, F. (2006) Review of Mary R. Lefkowitz and Maureen B. Fant (2005) Women's Life in Greece and Rome. A Source Book in Translation. Third Edition. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press. Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2006.07.22.
3.   See, for example, Obbink, D. (2015) ‘Provenance, Authenticity, and Text of the New Sappho Papyri’. Available at:
4.   Huizenga, A.B. (2013) Moral Education for Women in the Pastoral and Pythagorean Letters: Philosophers of the Household. Boston: Brill. See also, Pomeroy, S. (2013) Pythagorean Women: Their History and Writings. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

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