Stoic Woman: 11+ Famous Female Stoic Writers

Updated July 20, 2023

If you've started studying Stoicism, there's a good chance a perplexing question has occurred to you: Is there such a thing as a Stoic woman?

After all, the list of the great Stoic philosophers is all male-- Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, Seneca, Zeno, Cleanthes, Musonius Rufus, and so on.

When we look back thousands of years, we have to remember just how much has been lost since then. The works we have are only a fraction of what was produced, and the stories and thoughts of so many incredible beings have been lost to history. In this way, identifying Stoic women from the ancient world requires that we play detective to some extent.

Fast forward to contemporary times, there are a number of notable Stoic women that have made their mark on modern Stoicism. In this article, we'll learn more about several famous female Stoic writers and thinkers.

Examining the Stoic Perspective of Women

When studying ancient Stoicism, it's important to recognize the vastly different social and cultural context that the prominent Stoics were operating within. After all, Zeno first founded the philosophy more than two thousand years ago.

Beyond that, we have to remember that all of the Stoics were individuals that didn't always share the same perspectives. Zeno and Marcus Aurelius, for example, lived several hundred years apart from one another, Zeno being born in Cyprus and Aurelius in Rome.

Overall, Stoicism held that all individuals possess the capacity for virtue and reason.

Here are a few notes on what we can glean from the works of the great Stoics regarding their perspective of women:

  • Epictetus stated that, by nature, women are equal to men
  • Seneca wrote that women had the same capacity for virtue as men
  • Musonius Rufus argued that women should be taught philosophy
  • In Zeno's Republic, both women and men shared equal standing
  • Cleanthes believed that, in virtue, men and women are equal

According to a paper called Stoicism, Feminism, and Autonomy by Scott Aikin and Emily McGill-Rutherford, the Stoics also believed that women "nevertheless had different natural and social roles to play" even though they "may have had equal capacities for virtue."

Stoic Women in Ancient Times

The question of whether there were ever ancient Stoic women is one that comes up from time to time. The truth is, there is very little evidence that lets us know with any certainty whether women practicing Stoicism in Greek and Roman society was a real phenomenon.

That being said, there are a number of women from ancient times that are thought to have potentially been Stoic. Let's explore a little about who they were.

1. Annia Cornificia Faustina Minor

One of the daughters of Marcus Aurelius, Annia Conificia Faustina Minor, may have followed in the footsteps of her Stoic father. What we do know about her certainly implies that she was a courageous woman in the face of death.

seneca the younger stoic woman

"Life without the courage for death is slavery."

- Seneca the Younger

Her brother, Commodus, grew up to become the emperor of Rome and ended up ordering the deaths of many of her close family members, including:

  • Her husband
  • Her son
  • Her sister-in-law's family
  • Her brother-in-law

Cornificia herself wasn't killed by her brother. However, the successor to Commodus, Caracalla, ordered her by force to commit suicide some years later.

It is said that she was told to choose how she would die and "uttered many laments." She is then said to have spoken the following words before severing her veins:

cornificia stoic woman

"My poor, unhappy soul, trapped in an unworthy body, go forth, be free, show them that you are the daughter of Marcus Aurelius!"

Though we know so little about her, her last words suggest that his Stoicism may have been something that she picked up from her father.

2. Porcia Catonis

Another daughter of a famous Stoic, Porcia Catonis' father, was Cato of Utica. Also known as Cato the Younger, he was a follower of Stoicism and a noted orator that gained a powerful political following thanks to his deep commitment to honesty and respect for traditional Roman values.

cato the younger quote stoic woman

"The best way to keep good acts in memory is to refresh them with new."

- Cato the Younger

Like Cornificia, very little is really known for certain about Porcia Catonis. She lived during the 1st century BC and was a contemporary of Cicero and Posidonius of Rhodes. She was the wife of a Roman politician that was influenced by Stoic philosophy, Brutus, who you might recognize of 'et tu, Brute?' fame.

That's right, Porcia wasn't just the daughter of Cato the Younger, but she was also the wife of Brutus, the leading assassin of Julius Caesar.

Plutarch's Writings About Porcia

Plutarch wrote this about Porcia:

"Nor was the daughter of Cato inferior to the rest of her family, for sober-living and greatness of spirit. She was married to Brutus, who killed Caesar; was acquainted with the conspiracy, and ended her life as became one of her birth and virtue."

A story is also included in Plutarch's Life of Brutus that discusses that Porcia was "addicted to philosophy" and was "full of an understanding courage." It then goes on to describe a scene where she "gave herself a deep gash in the thigh" and said the following to her husband:

“I, Brutus, being the daughter of Cato, was given to you in marriage, not like a concubine, to partake only in the common intercourse of bed and board, but to bear a part in all your good and all your evil fortunes; and for your part, as regards your care for me, I find no reason to complain; but from me, what evidence of my love, what satisfaction can you receive, if I may not share with you in bearing your hidden griefs, nor to be admitted to any of your counsels that require secrecy and trust? I know very well that women seem to be of too weak a nature to be trusted with secrets; but certainly, Brutus, a virtuous birth and education, and the company of the good and honorable, are of some force to the forming our manners; and I can boast that I am the daughter of Cato, and the wife of Brutus, in which two titles though before I put less confidence, yet now I have tried myself, and find that I can bid defiance to pain.”

Porcia's Death

It is said that Porcia committed suicide after hearing of Brutus' death by swallowing hot coals. Though it's not clear whether or not this is the true story, the myth became well-known and inspired Shakespeare and other authors.

In The Merchant of Venice and other Elizabethan literature, Porcia is sometimes referred to as Portia. Here's an example of how she is portrayed in the work of Shakespeare:

"In Belmont is a lady richly left;
And she is fair, and, fairer than that word,
Of wondrous virtues: sometimes from her eyes
I did receive fair speechless messages:
Her name is Portia, nothing undervalued
To Cato’s daughter, Brutus’ Portia."

3. Fannia

Fannia was an ancient Roman woman that lived around 100 AD. The daughter of Arria the Younger and Publius Coldius Thrasea Paetus and the grandaughter of Arria Major, she shows up in the writings of Pliny the Younger as a political rebel and woman of respectability and fortitude. Her father, Thrasea, was the most prominent member of the Stoic Opposition, a group of Stoic philosophers that opposed the autocratic rule of Nero, Domitian, and other emperors.

Following her husband, Helvidius Priscus, twice into exile and then exiled herself in 93 AD, saying she was no stranger to adversity would be an understatement.

Her husband was exiled first by Nero for sympathizing with Brutus and Cassius and then again after he opposed the reign of Vespasian. Her own exile resulted from when she asked Herennius Senecio, a Stoic, to write a biography glorifying her now-dead husband. Herennius wasn't exiled for this-- instead, he was executed.

Fannia is said to have bravely and boldly confirmed that she had given Herennius her husband's diaries during the trials. According to Pliny:

“...she did not utter a single word to reduce the danger to herself.”

Pliny the Younger's Description of Fannia Before Her Death

When she was near death, Pliny wrote the following about her:

"Only her spirit is vigorous, worthy of her husband Helvidius and father Thrasea. but everything else is going down, and I am not merely afraid but deeply saddened. It pains me that so great a woman will be snatched from the eyes of her people, and who knows when her like will be seen again.  What chastity, what sanctity, what dignity, what constancy!"

He continues singing her praises, discussing how she was a truly unique and rare person that was kind, respectable, amiable, and courageous:

pliny fannia stoic woman

"How pleasant she is, how kind, how respectable and amiable at once-two qualities rarely found in the same person. Indeed, she will be a woman whom later we can show our wives, from whose fortitude men too can draw an example, whom now while we can still see and hear her we admire as much as those women whom we read about. To me her very house seems to totter on the brink of collapse, shaken at its foundations, even though she leaves descendants. How great must be their virtues and their accomplishments for her not to die the last of her line."

 4. Hipparchia of Maroneia

Hipparchia of Maroneia lived around the time of 350 BC-280 BC, but the dates of her birth and death aren't precisely known. She was the wife of Crates of Thebes who was the teacher of Stoicism's founder, Zeno of Citium. Beyond that, though, she was a Cynic philosopher in her own right.

Of course, Hipparchia herself wouldn't have been a Stoic. That being said, it is highly likely that Zeno would have known her considering that Crates was deeply influential to the creation of Stoicism.

Unfortunately, very little is known about her philosophical views in the modern day. However, she has had a significant influence throughout history, as the stories of her rejection of conventional values and attraction to Crates made her a popular figure in literature.

It is said that Hipparchia lived on equal terms with her husband and wore male clothes.  It is thought that her tomb may have held the following epigram (which is ascribed to Antipater of Sidon):

hipparchia stoic woman

"I, Hipparchia chose not the tasks of rich-robed woman, but the manly life of the Cynic.
Brooch-clasped tunics, well-clad shoes, and perfumed headscarves pleased me not;
But with wallet and fellow staff, together with coarse cloak and bed of hard ground,
My name shall be greater than Atalanta: for wisdom is better than mountain running."

5. Chrysippus’ Mysterious Old Woman

Finally, we, unfortunately, don't know the name of this last ancient Stoic woman on our list. What we do know is that she looked after Chrysippus, who became the third head of the Stoic school after Cleanthes' death.

This woman is mentioned a number of times by Diogenes Laertius. It seems that she may have even helped financially support him after he was left without his inherited possessions, though this certainly can't be known for sure. His belongings had been confiscated by the king's treasury.

The writings of Diogenes Laertius note that she watched him write and may have read the books that he wrote. Some of the writing implies that she may have been his patron, as Chryssippus seemed to ask her opinion on them:

"He [Chrysippus] appears to have been a very arrogant man. At any rate, of all his many writings he dedicated none to any of the kings. And he was satisfied with one old woman’s judgment, says Demetrius […]."

Famous Modern Female Stoics

Now, let's fast forward to the modern day to look at some contemporary Stoic women.

6. Elizabeth Carter

Elizabeth Carter was many things, including:

  • Poet
  • Translator
  • Writer
  • Classicist
  • Linguist
  • Polymath

That's a pretty impressive list for anyone, let alone a woman in 18th-century England. She is perhaps best known for the first English translation of the Discourses of Epictetus.

Three editions were published of her translation, and it maintained a high reputation. Her legacy lived on after her death, influencing the likes of Samuel Richardson, Elizabeth Gaskell, and Virginia Woolf.

In fact, Virginia Woolf urged:

"...homage to the robust shade of Eliza Carter – the valiant old woman who tied a bell to her bedstead in order that she might wake early and learn Greek."

7. Sharon Lebell

A bestselling author, composer, musician, and speaker, Sharon Lebell is perhaps best known for her book The Art of Living: The Classical Manuel on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness.

This book is a new interpretation of the work of Epictetus that intends to help readers successfully meet the challenges of everyday life.

An inspiration to the modern Stoicism movement for more than twenty-five years, this is a lovely spiritual guide that can be used by readers in all seasons of life.

Central to her message is the importance of art, music, and nature in living the best life. She has also co-authored a book, The Music of Silence, with her brother David Steindl-Rast.

Are you searching for the next book you're going to read? Check out our lists of books that will change the way you think, books on overthinking things, and ten Stoic books to read.

8. Beatrice Webb

A sociologist, labor historian, economist, and social reformer, Beatrice Potter Webb was born in England in 1858. She is known for having coined the term "collective bargaining" and was one of the founders of the London School of Economics.

After World War I, she wrote an autobiography, My Apprenticeship. In this text, she writes about the primary influences in her life.

These included:

  • Thucydides
  • Goethe
  • Plato

Another major influence was the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. She went so far as to call this book her "manual of devotion."

9. Nancy Sherman

A writer and professor of philosophy at Georgetown University, Nancy Sherman is an expert on Stoicism in the military. Her book, Stoic Warriors: The Ancient Philosophy Behind the Military Mind, discusses the notion that the philosophy of Stoicism underlies the actions and practices of the modern military.

Her most recent book is entitled Stoic Wisdom: Ancient Lessons for Modern Resilience. She has given more than sixty keynote lectures both in the US and abroad and written more than sixty articles in the fields of ancient ethics, ethics, military ethics, the history of moral philosophy, psychoanalysis, and moral psychology.

10. Emily Wilson

Emily Wilson is an often discussed name in the world of modern Stoicism, as she wrote both a biography of Seneca and a translation of his Six Tragedies.

She has also recently published a new translation of The Odyssey that helps to bring the ancient epic to new life.

In an interview with Daily Stoic, she discussed how she uses Stoicism in her day-to-day life. She states that the notion of indifferent things is quite helpful to her and that reading Seneca can cheer her up when she's feeling down. She calls his style "effective" as well as "absorbing and fun."

She goes on to discuss how she reread On Anger when she experienced a time of personal difficulty.

Here's a quote from her talking about this experience:

"...I did genuinely find it helpful.  It’s useful to have a reminder of how much being angry can hurt the person who is indulging in the feeling. I try not to be angry, and also not to be passive or ignore what’s wrong; it’s a tough balance.  I like that Seneca and the other Stoic-influenced writers are so deeply interested in these essential daily questions of how to manage our feelings, and how feelings relate to action.  "

11. Martha Nussbaum

Martha Nussbaum is one of the most well-respected and renowned philosophers in our current age. With a particular interest in political philosophy, ancient Greek and Roman philosophy, and ethics, she has been a student of Stoicism but doesn't necessarily call herself a Stoic.

She has pointed out areas where she doesn't quite agree with the ancient Stoics, including in the areas of grief and animal rights. Instead, she refers to her own theory of emotions as one that is "Neo-Stoic" rather than simply Stoic.

12. Jennifer Baker

A professor at the College of Charleston, Jennifer Baker is also the creator of the blog "For the Love of Wisdom." She teaches courses on a number of subjects, including American philosophy, business ethics, and bioethics, but is particularly interested in Stoic ethics.

She says that she teaches Stoicism as much as she can and always includes a unit on the Stoics when she teaches Philosophy 101. Beyond this, she also explores the intersection between Stoicism and economics, which is a fascinating and understudied area.

In an interview with the Daily Stoic, she mentions that she does Stoic exercises and offers one of her favorite Stoic quotes:

"Remember that you must behave in life as at a dinner party. Is anything brought around to you? Put out your hand and take your share with moderation. Does it pass by you? Don’t stop it. Is it not yet come? Don’t stretch your desire towards it, but wait till it reaches you. Do this with regard to children, to a wife, to public posts, to riches, and you will eventually be a worthy partner of the feasts of the gods. And if you don’t even take the things which are set before you, but are able even to reject them, then you will not only be a partner at the feasts of the gods, but also of their empire. For, by doing this, Diogenes, Heraclitus and others like them, deservedly became, and were called, divine."

– Epictetus

If you're interested in learning more about modern Stoic women, here are some other individuals to check out:

  • Nita Strauss
  • Michele Tafoya
  • Martha Nussbaum
  • Karen Duffy
  • Eve Riches
  • Layla Lloyd
  • Alkistis Agio
  • Leah Goldrick
  • Sophia Shapira
  • Brittany Polat
  • Jennifer Baker
  • Sukhraj Gill
  • Dr. Ranjini George
  • Elizabeth Azide
  • Anne Gehrmann
  • Jamie Lombardi
  • Andi Sciacca
  • Kathryn Koromilas
  • Melinda Latour
  • Kasey Pierce
  • Rocío de Torres Artillo

Stoicism: A Framework For Life

It is an incredible trip to look back thousands of years and learn the stories of Stoic and Stoic-adjacent women that have managed to survive to the present day. Beyond that, reading about modern female Stoics and engaging with their work is a great way to gain additional perspective on the application of Stoicism to modern life.

Are you on a journey to live your best life? Are you eager to improve yourself and lead a meaningful existence?

If so, Stoicism can be a powerful philosophy to help you on your path. For more articles, inspirational quotes, and philosophical musings, make sure you check out our Stoic Quotes blog.

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Written by: Sophia Merton
Sophia received her BA from Vassar College and has always maintained a deep interest in the question of how best to live one’s life. She hopes to help others understand how they can apply Stoicism in their day-to-day lives in order to become the person they want to be, embrace the present moment, pursue their purposes, and rid themselves of unnecessary anxiety.

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