08 MARCH 2018
The voices of ancient women
The lives of women from former times often go unrecognised. But here at the British Library we hold a number of ancient Greek private letters, written on papyri, that preserve glimpses of everyday life from a world long disappeared. For International Women’s Day, we are taking a closer look at some of these stories, which contain the intimate voices of ancient women who would otherwise be unknown.
A girl serving drinks at a table, from an illustrated copy of the Life of Secundus, the Silent Philosopher: Egypt, 6th century (Papyrus 113 (15c))
One of the earliest British Library papyri to preserve a woman’s voice is a petition from 235 BCE. A mother, Haynchis, wrote to an official, asking for assistance in a dispute involving her daughter. Although probably not written by her, but dictated to a professional scribe, the voice resonating from this document is still vivid.
“Demetrios the vine dresser deceived my daughter and took her away and keeps her hidden saying that he is going to live with her without me. She was managing my store and supported me, since I am old. But he has a wife and children so he cannot live with a woman he deceived. Please help me, an old woman, to return my daughter back to me.”