This paper evaluates the discourse on domestic life in the pseudoepigraphic Cynic Epistles centered on the radical relationship between the Cynic philosophers Hipparchia and Crates.This collection, which dates to the early Imperial period (Malherbe1977), comments on Hipparchia as a female philosopher through her position as a Cynic wife and mother. Crates and Hipparchia’s kynogamia (‘dog-marriage’) was highlighted in later anecdotal accounts about Diogenes’ fourth-century BCE philosophical project.In this tradition, the choice by Hipparchia to marry the poor, physically deformed Crates for the sake of philosophy and her rejection of socially anticipated female roles vividly demonstrated the Cynic ideal of anaideia (shamelessness) as exemplified in action.
Hipparchia’s self-chosen exile has been activated as a symbol within feminist philosophical inquiry (Kennedy 1999, Le Doueff 1991), and her characterization within the letters used as a part of that re-assessment. Recent scholarship (Hartmann 2007, Grams 2007), while acknowledging the limitation of our ancient sources, presents her life as a transgressive philosophical achievement.In terms of women and philosophy more generally, Levick has demonstrated how imperial philosophy and its extension to women served to enforce normative gender dynamics, rather than radically invert those norms (Levick 2002, 151).In her analysis, however, Levick withholds her charge that philosophy works to underscore social norms from the Cynics precisely because of Hipparchia's unique status. In this paper, I nuance this modern turn to Hipparchia as exceptional through a close reading of the Cynic Epistles and their particular reframing of the female Cynic. I contend that this text, in fact, does reinstate normative gender ideas by depicting a philosopher engaged in wifely and motherly activities that essentially distance her from her philosophical calling.
I analyze the cycle of letters addressed to Hipparchia from her husband Crates (1, 28-33 in Malherbe 1977). Unlike the Pythagorean tradition in which women were later given authorship in a set of pseudo-epigraphic letters, Hipparchia is only ever an addressee and never given a voice within the collection.The first letter makes it clear that she is physically absent, but also philosophically disadvantaged by that absence. Crates writes to her as Diogenes lies dying, and urges her to return quickly in order to be present at his passing and glean philosophical enlightenment from that experience (καá½¶ γνá¿·ςá½…σον δÏναται καá½¶ á¼ν τοá¿–ς φοβερωτÎ¬τοις φιλοσοφÎ¯α). The center point of this epistolary narrative is a series of letters that deal most directly with Hipparchia’s possible failure as a philosopher as a consequence of domestic life. In letters 28 and 29, Crates lectures her on the fundamental tenet that women are in no way inferior practioners of philosophy than men. Yet, following this exhortation are two letters (30 and 32) that chastise Hipparchia for weaving and sending a cloak and a tunic to her husband. The making of these clothes is a sign of her possible disavowal of Cynic philosophy. I read these letters against the only anecdote about Hipparchia as a philosophical agent in an exchange she reportedly had with the Cyrenaic philosopher Theodorus (Diogenes Laertius vi. 97-98). He dismisses Hipparchia as a philosopher by reference to weaving as women’s work and questions whether the female philosopher engages in that activity. I argue that the Epistles use her production of clothes as a mark of her distance from philosophy, and as part of an attempt to lessen the radical aspects of her presence in Cynicism in line with Theodorus' criticism.
The Epistles seem to have been produced in order to represent Cynicism as a moralizing philosophy of virtuous living. Many of the more radical tenets, the very disavowal of textual transmission and the preference for philosophy as a mode of living, are recast in a less severe form or abandoned. My analysis of Hipparchia as a character reinforces this assessment. This pseudoepigraphic collection must transform her unique position as philosopher-wife into a recognizably conventional one in order for the project of domesticating Cynicism itself to work.