Theano (philosopher)

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Theano of Crotone[1] (/θiˈæn/; Greek: Θεανώ; fl. 6th-century BC) is the name given to perhaps two Pythagorean philosophers. She has been called the pupil, daughter or wife of Pythagoras, although others made her the wife of Brontinus. Her place of birth and the identity of her father are just as uncertain, leading some authors to suggest that there was more than one person whose details have become merged (these are sometimes referred to as Theano I and Theano II).[2] A few fragments and letters ascribed to her have survived which are of uncertain authorship.


Little is known about the life of Theano, and the ancient sources are confused. According to one tradition, she came from Crete and was the daughter of Pythonax,[3][4] but others said she came from Crotone and was the daughter of Brontinus.[4][5][6] She was said by many to have been the wife of Pythagoras,[3][4][5][6] although another tradition made her the wife of Brontinus.[4][5][7] Iamblichus, in an attempt to resolve the confusion, refers to Deino as the wife of Brontinus.[8]

The children variously ascribed to Pythagoras and Theano included three daughters, Damo, Myia, and Arignote, and a son, Telauges.[3][4][5][6] Suda writes that her children with Pythagoras were Telauges, Mnesarkhos, Myia and Arignote.[9]


The writings attributed to Theano were: Pythagorean Apophthegms, Female Advice, On Virtue, On Piety, On Pythagoras, Philosophical Commentaries, and Letters.[10] None of these writings have survived except a few fragments and letters of uncertain authorship. Attempts have been made to assign some of these fragments and letters to the original Theano (Theano I) and some to a later Theano (Theano II),[11] but it is likely that they are all pseudonymous fictions of later writers,[10][12] which attempt to apply Pythagorean philosophy to a woman's life.[10] The surviving fragment of On Piety concerns a Pythagorean analogy between numbers and objects; the various surviving letters deal with domestic concerns: how a woman should bring up children, how she should treat servants, and how she should behave virtuously towards her husband.[10]

According to Thesleff, Stobaeus, and Heeren, Theano wrote in On Piety:[1]

I have learned that many of the Greeks believe Pythagoras said all things are generated from number. The very assertion poses a difficulty: How can things which do not exist even be conceived to generate? But he did not say that all things come to be from number; rather, in accordance with number – on the grounds that order in the primary sense is in number and it is by participation in order that a first and a second and the rest sequentially are assigned to things which are counted.

Although some sources have claimed that Theano wrote about either the doctrine of the golden mean in philosophy, or the golden ratio in mathematics, there is no evidence from the time to justify this claim.[13]


  1. ^ a b M.E. Waithe (1987). A History of Women Philosophers: Volume I: Ancient Women Philosophers, 600 B.C.-500 A.D. p. 12. ISBN 9789024733484.
  2. ^ Plant, Ian Michael (2004). Women writers of ancient Greece and Rome: an anthology. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 68. ISBN 978-0-8061-3621-9.
  3. ^ a b c Porphyry, Life of Pythagoras, 4
  4. ^ a b c d e Suda, Theano θ84
  5. ^ a b c d Diogenes Laërtius, viii. 42-3
  6. ^ a b c Suda, Pythagoras π3120
  7. ^ Suda, Theano θ83
  8. ^ Iamblichus, On the Pythagorean Life, 132
  9. ^ Suda Encyclopedia, th.84
  10. ^ a b c d Ian Michael Plant, (2004), Women writers of ancient Greece and Rome: an anthology, page 69. University of Oklahoma Press
  11. ^ Mary Ellen Waithe, A History of Women Philosophers. Volume 1, 600 BC-500 AD. Springer
  12. ^ Voula Lambropoulou, Some Pythagorean female virtues, in Richard Hawley, Barbara Levick, (1995), Women in antiquity: new assessments, page 133. Routledge
  13. ^ Deakin, Michael A. B. (2013), "Theano: the world's first female mathematician?", International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology, 44 (3): 350–364, doi:10.1080/0020739X.2012.729614

Further reading[edit]

  • Kai Brodersen, Christoph M. Wieland, (2010), Theano: Briefe einer antiken Philosophin. Greek/German. Reclams Universal-Bibliothek 18787, Stuttgart. ISBN 978-3-15-018787-6

External links[edit]