published on 18 January 2012
Hipparchia was the wife of Crates, a very popular Athenian philosopher. She was also notable for her brazen abandonment of her aristocratic upbringing for life as a Cynic. Though not much is known about Hipparchia, her importance in the history of ancient Greek women is undeniable. She was an educated philosopher, she was outspoken, and she was unconventional.
Hipparchia was from an upper class family from Maroneia, in northeastern Greece, and because she lived in the slightly more relaxed Hellenistic Period, she was afforded a basic education in subjects like reading and music. This knowledge would give her the ammunition to stand on her own intellectually later in her life.
In an effort to rebel against her elite background, Hipparchia began keeping company with Crates, and began to follow his teachings of the Cynic school of philosophy. She fell in love with him, and despite his attempts to turn her away (at her parents' behest), he eventually gave in to her. When Crates decided to take Hipparchia as his wife (a convention that was not popular among the Cynics), he made her promise to turn her back on her family, abandon all conventions, and be his intellectual equal in living the Cynic lifestyle. Naturally, she agreed.
When Hipparchia married Crates, she happily began to follow the Cynic lifestyle. Cynics were unconventional thinkers, who were more individually focused than concerned with the greater good. Cynics eschewed materialism and the conventions of society and marriage (including where marriage was consummated, at least for Hipparchia and Crates!), and were known for their shocking behaviors and shamelessness when it came to demonstrating their philosophical views.
As Cynics, Hipparchia and Crates were quite the team. When they weren't performing unspeakable acts in public places, they actually made rather solid contributions to society (which might seem a bit contradictory to the philosophy). They counseled troubled citizens, and even consoled the sick and bereaved. They were also known for attending many dinner parties, where Hipparchia often engaged in debates with the male guests, who were often infuriated with her audacity.
Hipparchia was the mother of 2 children, whom she no doubt raised in the non-material ways of the Cynic lifestyle. She was also a writer, and wrote several books on Cynicism and harangues against other philosophies. Due to the unpopularity of her philosophical school, and the fact that she was a female pursuing a mostly male pursuit, her writings were not preserved. Her legacy, though, is preserved in the few references of the ancient writers and philosophers who saw fit to mention her name. There is no doubt, though, that Hipparchia must have stood out among the Greek women of her time, for good or for bad.