“O high–born Rhodian lady,
how came you to our door?
For women are debarred from here
by usages of yore.”
“My nephew’s name is Eukles;
my father and my son,
and my three brothers, all of these
Olympic glory won.
“Judges of Greece, their merits
bespeak my right to pass,
proud of their splendid bodies, these
that clinch for crowns of Herakles,
sprigs of wild olive: spirits
manly and marvellous.
“I am no common woman.
My brave men shine in story:
they earned what cannot fade.
Writ gold on sparkling marble
their golden hymn of glory,
that deathless Pindar made.”
Women were not admitted to the ancient Olympic Games under penalty of death,1 except for the priestess of Demeter Chamyne (Demeter ‘whose bed is the Earth’).2 Kallipateira of Ialysos, Rhodes, lived in the 5th to 4th century BC and came from a famous family of athletes. Kallipateira’s father Diagoras of Rhodes was a famous boxer and Olympic champion. Pindar’s great poem celebrating his victory, Olympic Ode 7, was engraved in gold on marble in the Temple of Athena in Lindos, Rhodes.3 Her brothers and nephew were also Panhellenic champions.4 Later, as a widow, Kallipateira accompanied her son to the Olympic Games disguised as a male trainer. When the young man won his event, she happily jumped the barrier into the athletes’ enclosure, where it happened to be revealed that she was a woman. However, out of respect for her outstanding father, brothers and son, she was not punished.5
1 Pausanias, Description of Greece, 5.6.7.
2 Pausanias, Description of Greece, 6.20.8–9.
3 Drachmann 1903 (Vol. I), p. 195 (Olymp. VII) = FGrHist 515 F 18
4 Pausanias, Description of Greece, 6.7.1–3. Ancient sources differ as to whether Kallipateira had a sister and nephew, or two sons.
5 Pausanias, Description of Greece, 5.6.7–8.
24 February 2023