Thursday, June 16, 2005

Musonius Rufus and the rights of Roman women

I was reading through the catalogue of classical courses presently on sale at the Teaching Company ( and noticed that their course on the Greco-Roman moralists mentioned a discussion of Roman philosopher Musonius Rufus. I had never studied his work so I was curious about him and was quite astonished to find that he was a supporter of the right of women to be educated in such manly activities as philosophy:

"Women have received from the gods the same ability to reason that men have. We men employ reasoning in our relations with others and so far as possible in everything we do, whether it is good or bad, or noble or shameful. Likewise women have the same senses as men, sight, hearing, smell, and all the rest. Likewise each has the same parts of the body, and neither sex has more than the other. In addition, it is not men alone who possess eagerness and a natural inclination towards virtue, but women also. Women are pleased no less than men by noble and just deeds, and reject the opposite of such actions. Since that is so, why is it appropriate for men to seek out and examine how they might live well, that is, to practise philosophy, but not women? Is it fitting for men to be good, but not women?

Let us consider in detail the qualities that a woman who seeks to be good must possess, for it will be apparent that she could acquire each of these qualities from the practice of philosophy.

In the first place a woman must run her household and pick out what is beneficial for her home and take charge of the household slaves.

In these activities I claim that philosophy is particularly helpful, since each of these activities is an aspect of life, and philosophy is nothing other than the science of living, and the philosopher, as Socrates says, continually contemplates this, 'what good or evil has been done in his house'. [2] Next, a woman must be chaste, and capable of keeping herself free from illegal love affairs, and pure in respect to the other pleasures of indulgence, and not enjoy quarrels, not be extravagant, or preoccupied with her appearance. [3] Such is the behaviour of a chaste woman. There are still other requirements: she must control anger, and not be overcome by grief, and stronger than every kind of emotion. That is what the philosopher's rationale entails, and the person who knows it and practises it seems to me to be perfectly cont"
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