TELESSILA SQUARE, Inachou str.
Municipality of Argos
Telessila (beginning of the 6th- 5th century B.C.) was a lyric poetess and heroine of Argos. She was born in Argos in 520-515 B.C. and was a member of a renowned family. She was slightly-built and sickly. She started writing poetry on the suggestion of the Oracle of Delphi (“treating the Muses”), when she went to take advice about her health. Later on, she was dedicated to poetry with passion and she managed to give meaning to her life and gain distinction as a spiritual persona. The epigram-maker Antipatros from Thessaloniki considers her as one of the greatest poetesses of antiquity.
Her poems were mainly hymns for girls’ dances, a kind of poetry which was beloved in ancient times, since parents at the various choirs had the chance to admire their daughters dancing. She had also established her own meter, which was named “Telessileio”, by Alexandian philologists, due to its uniqueness.
Only a few poems are save of Telessila’s poetry and there is only one in full which was carved on stone later on. This stone was found in Aesculapius’s sanctuary in Epidaurus. It is a hymn of 28 verses dedicated to Rea, the mother of gods, who claimed form her son Zeus her part of the Universe. The myth of Zeus’s contradiction with his mother Rea or Kevel is not known to us form any other source and it may have been a spiritual creating of Telessila.
Telessila was married to a man named Euxenidas, who made a monument for her after her death, to honor her with this epigram:
Oh! Sweet Telessila, a monument was set up here,
by Euxenidas to the woman he married,
because she was always full of faith,
favor, virtue and love. Let your fame be preserved,
for the next generations, for ever.
Nevertheless, Telessila was better known for her heroic defense against the Spartan Kleomenis in 494 B.C. After the Argeian Army’s destruction in the sacred Grove of Sepeia between Nafplio and Tyrins, where Kleomenis caused the death of 8000 Argeians, by fraud and with fire-raising, the slightly-built and combative Telessila took over the defense of the city. She gave arms and objects of any kind to women, old men and children and lined them up at the battlements. Kleomenis, thinking that he would be hateful if he took the city fighting against women or that he would be ridiculous in case of failure, he took his army away. Telessila had saved her country.
In memory of this event, they built the temple of Enyalios, that is of the god of war, Aris, who was also considered to be the protector of women, and established annual festivities, the “hybristica”, during which women were dressed as men and vice versa. Argeian women then, due to the lack of men, naturalized neighbors and married them, but they also set a law according to which they were obliged to wear false beards, when they lay down with them, so that they would not forget their humble birth.
Pausanias mentions (Đ, 28, 8) that in the sanctuary of Aphrodite, west from the theater, he had seen a column with an anaglyph representation of Telessila, who was ready to wear her helmet, while her books were interspersed around her feet. Many ancient writers have written about Telessila, until the 2nd century A.D. and many studies have been published later on. These pieces of information from the ancient sources are all the same differing only in some details.
The fact that Herodotus, who is almost contemporary to the events ad is referred to Kleomenis’s attack, and the decimation of the Argeians (VI 76-85) does not even make a mention of her, causes a sensation. The same happens with Aristotle, who refers to the naturalization of neighbors in his “Politics” (1303,á,â). Unfortunately, Aristotle’s “Poetics” does not offer any information, because the first volume, which is saved, only refers to Epic Poetry and Tragedy. Other writers, but these are of a much more recent period of time, like Pausanias Plutarch, Polyainos, sign her praises pointing out her heroic resistance against the Spartans. We should also mention that Kleomenis did not intend to take Argos at that time, but he just wanted to weaken it and humiliate it, so that it was not a considerable power in Peloponnese and he had already achieved his goal with the decimation of the Argeian men. He could not predict that Argos would soon flourish again and that Sparta would have the same if not more serious problems (See od. Of Ancient Parliament). Nevertheless, Kleomenis wanted to avoid possible loss among the defending civilians, who were determined, especially due to the lack of men which his country always faced, and he decided not to attack the city. However, Telessila became a legend, a myth for her Argeian people. Thus, it is difficult to decide whether her initiative she took in saving her city overshadowed or provisioned her fame as a poetess; because her saved verses would not allow us to consider her as a great poetess.
t is said that there is also some information about Telessila on an anaglyph at Tsokris’s house, although this is doubted. In General Tsokris’s house there is an anaglyph, which was found during the excavation in 1828 and it was placed in the wall of the balcony. It represents a woman’s figure standing with a doric dress and a chaplet in her right hand. In front of her a naked child is trying to reach the chaplet. It has been considered to be a representation of Telessila with the winged intelligence. This aspect does not seem to be right because neither does the child have wings, nor does it “fly” over the woman’s head to crown her. It is obviously a tomb column of a dead mother with the dead’s chaplet.