Hipparchia was born to an aristocratic family in Maroneia in Thrace about 346 BCE. She was known for her intellectual curiosity, her lack of interest in domestic chores and her independent public behavior.
She had a younger brother, Metrocles. During his teens he studied philosophy in Aristotle's school, the Lyceum. His teacher was Theophrastus.
Metrocles became unhappy with the arrangement at the Lyceum and moved on to study with the Cynic philosopher, Crates. His sister, Hipparchia seems to have followed along with Metrocles' studies and education and when he moved his studies to Crates, she became acquainted with this Cynic philosopher.
The Cynics were a group of philosophers who claimed that their work and style originated with Socrates. They did not really form a 'school'. They were too unconventional and anti-theoretical. Ethics was their main interest and they held that ethics was a way of living more than a set of theories or doctrines. They emphasized practice, a training of the self to live the ethical life. some Cynics claimed to have found the shortest and most certain path to the virtuous life.
Hipparchia became entranced by Crates. She not only wanted to study with him but fell in love with him, despite his notorious 'poor looks' and the fact that he was an old man at the time.
Her parents asked Crates to discourage her and he tried to do so but Hipparchia was not to be dissuaded. She married Crates and began to accompany him in public.
In doing so she acted in accord with the Cynic idea of changing culture and politics by one's life and action. To understand the revolutionary aspect of her actions, do read the discussion of the situation of women in Athens at this time. This discussion can be found at Aspasia and the social classes for women in Athens.
Hipparchia's behavior was bold and independent in public. Diogenes Laertius describes a public encounter with Theodorus, a well known thinker of the day. Unable to win the debate with this woman philosopher, Theodorous tried to strip her of her cloak but she was not to be disturbed. Instead she defended her choice of education over domestic accomplishments.
She combined philosophizing and domestic chores. She gave birth to several children and during her pregnancy continued to attend public functions debating and engaging in public discourse.
One can see in these actions the Cynic approach of living in accord with one's beliefs and the importance of changing society by ones own life and actions.
Diogenes Laertius includes her in his book Lives of the Eminent Philosophers in his chapter Life of Hipparchia.
There is an essay by Maria Jamil Fasolo that is well worth reading. It is entitled Hipparchia, the World's First Liberated Woman.
This page was last updated 12/12/14.