Leontion, The Audacious


“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.” 



Whenever I think of Epicurus, I think of a sumptuous banquet held in a bucolic environment with soft music set against the lingering light of a late summer afternoon. This is not precisely what Epicurean philosophy was all about, however.  While Epicurus was thought of as hedonistic because of his emphasis on the pursuit of pleasure, it would be a mistake to think he condoned an immoral or decadent lifestyle.  Rather, his philosophy featured wisdom as the greatest virtue, enabling the student to learn which pleasure to seek and which to avoid.   More remarkable, Epicurus allowed women and slaves to attend his school.

Leontion was of pupil of Epicurus. We only know about her through the writings of others who considered her to be noteworthy.   There has been some debate on her background.  She may have been a hetaera, or courtesan, which accounts for her independent lifestyle, denied to most women in the Ancient Greek male-dominated society.  She was also the companion of Metrodorus of Lampsacus, one the four major proponents of Epicureanism. According to the writings of Diogenes Laertius, Epicurus praised Leontion for her finely written arguments against other unnamed philosophical perspectives.

Centuries later, Pliny recorded that Aristides of Thebes painted her in his work entitled, “Leontion thinking of Epicurus.”  Even Cicero is said to have published her arguments. Why was she remembered so vividly?   Leontion did the unthinkable.  She criticized the celebrated and unassailable philosopher, Theophrastus, the pupil of Plato and the chief assistant of Aristotle.   She was audacious, confident and able to match the great philosopher in a debate.

Leontion must have caused quite a fracas, for historians were still marveling at her impudence long after her passing.

“Leontium, that mere courtesan, who had the effrontery to write a riposte to Theophrastus – mind you, she wrote elegantly in good Attic, but still, this was the licence which prevailed in the Garden of Epicurus”