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Arete of Cyrene came from a city in North Africa in what is now the nation of Libya. Greek legend has it that the city was named after Cyrene, daughter of Hypsesus who appears in a Greek myth. According to the myth Apollo came upon Cyrene wrestling a lion. He was smitten and took her off to Mt. Pelion. Later he founded a city which he named after her and installed her as queen. But historically the city was actually founded around 630 BCE by Greek colonists from Thera. The city eventually became an important center and was known for its academic pursuits. They had a well known medical school, the geographer Erastosthenes lived there and of course there was the Cyrenaic school of philosophy founded by Aristippus, the father of Arete of Cyrene and continued by her and then her son.
Parents of Arete of Cyrene.
We know nothing about her mother but a great deal is known about Aristippus, the father of Arete of Cyrene. Aristippus left Cyrene for Athens reportedly because he had heard of Socrates and his dialogues. He became a close follower of Socrates, so much so that in Plato's Phaedo there is surprise that he was not with Socrates on the day of his death. (It appears that Artistippus was visiting Cleombrotus, another Socratic disciple on the Island of Aegina.)
In his work, Diogenes Laertius makes careful note that there are several persons with the name Aristippus including a grandson, who was the son of Arete of Cyrene. Since Arete of Cyrene was much influenced by her father's pursuit of philosophy, it might be useful to read the entire piece about Aristippus as found in Diogenes. To do so, scroll down to section VI of Life of Aristippus.
Arete of Cyrene, her life.
Diogenes Laertius notes that Arete of Cyrene followed her father to Athens and studied philosophy. It is widely accepted that after her father's death, she headed the Cyreniac school which he had founded.
Arete of Cyrene had a son, who she named after her father, Aristippus. She raised him herself and in contrast to the custom of the times, did not hire tutors for him. She taught him herself so he was called, "mêtrodidactos" [Mother-Taught]. This son also became a philosopher and it appears that he was the person who codified much of the philosophy of the Cyreniac School.
"Now the pupils of Aristippus were his own daughter Arete, and Aethiops of Ptolemais, and Antipater of Cyrene. Arete had for her pupil the Aristippus who was surnamed mêtrodidactos, whose disciple was Theodorus the atheist, but who was afterwards called Theos. Antipater had for a pupil Epitimedes of Cyrene who was the master of Pyraebates, who was the master of Hegesias, who was surnamed Peisithanatos (persuading to die), and of Anniceris who ransomed Plato."
Diogenes then goes on to explain the beliefs of the Cyrenaics. Since it is clear that Arete of Cyrene was a major figure in this school of thought, it is well worth reading Diogenes' description of the basic tenets of the school. See: Scroll down to part VII of Life of Aristippus.
Boccacio, in De Claris Mulieribus indicates that she taught science and philosophy for thirty-three years, and wrote over forty books. "She was so highly esteemed that they had inscribed on her tomb an epitaph which declared that she was the splendor of Greece and possessed the beauty of Helen, the virtue of Thirma, the soul of Socrates, and the tongue of Homer."
Arete of Cyrene and the Fathers of the Christian Church:
Arete of Cyrene is mentioned in the work of Clement of Alexandria, a 2nd century Christian "Father of the Church". He mentions Arete of Cyrene as one of a long line of women who cultivated their souls.
"Arete of Cyrene, too, the daughter of Aristippus, educated her son Aristippus, who was surnamed Mother-taught." (Italics mine). Clement of Alexandria See: Stromata . Scroll down to Chapter XIX.
For those interested in the Cyrenic School of Philosophy and its main theses, which Arete of Cyrene's son is believed to have codified, there is an article at the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy on the topic.
The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy gives only a brief mention of Arete of Cyrene in an article on the Cyrenaic school. This, despite her pivotal role in leading the school after the death of Aristippus or her education of her son in Cyreniac philosophy or her leadership of the school until the rise of her son's generation. That encyclopedia's article on Aristippus the Elder, Arete's father, does not mention her.