Aufria—the First Female Public Lecturer? (2nd cent CE)

Aufria—the First Female Public Lecturer? (2nd cent CE) June 30, 2020

Introducing Aufria

We do not have an image of Aufria. This is Livia Drusilla, wife of emperor Augustus.

As some of you know, I am intensively researching for a book on women in the New Testament and women in the Roman world. Recently, I was delighted to come across a small, and not well-known, inscription of an ancient woman named Aufria (2nd century CE). Apparently, she travelled to Delphi as a guest speaker at their Pythian games (kind of like our “state fair” but with more competitive sports). She was an educated woman. Classicists Mary Lefkowitz and Maureen Fant refer to her as a “woman of letters.” She regaled the crowds (of presumably men and women) with interesting lectures. I will present the whole inscription below, but this is important evidence that some women had elite education, they were not confined to the home, they were not just known as a companion/counterpart to their husbands, and men did not immediately scorn an educated woman. She probably wasn’t the first female public lecturer in history, but she appears to me to be the earliest record we have of a female public lecturer teaching in front of a large crowd who heard lecturers as a form of entertainment.

So, basically, she is now one of my heroes.

With good fortune. The city of Delphi has decreed that Aufria of…[word is damaged/unclear] is citizen of Delphi, since she was present at the festival of the god, and demonstrated the entire range of her education, and delivered many excellent lectures at the assembly of Greeks at the Pythian games…

Source: Mary R. Lefkowitz and Maureen Fant, Women’s Life in Greece and Rome: A Source Book in Translation, pg. 190.


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