Above the theater is a sanctuary of Aphrodite, and before the image is a slab with a representation wrought on it in relief of Telesilla, the lyric poetess. Her books lie scattered at her feet, and she herself holds in her hand an helmet, which she is looking at and is about to place on her head. Telesilla was a distinguished woman who was especially renowned for her poetry. It happened that the Argives had suffered an awful defeat at the hands of Cleomenes, the son of Anaxandrides, and the Lacedaemonians. Some fell in the actual fighting; others, who had fled to the grove of Argus, also perished. At first they left sanctuary under an agreement, which was treacherously broken, and the survivors, when they realized this, were burnt to death in the grove. So when Cleomenes led his troops to Argos there were no men to defend it.
But Telesilla mounted on the wall all the slaves and such as were incapable of bearing arms through youth or old age, and she herself, collecting the arms in the sanctuaries and those that were left in the houses, armed the women of vigorous age, and then posted them where she knew the enemy would attack. When the Lacedaemonians came on, the women were not dismayed at their battle-cry, but stood their ground and fought valiantly. Then the Lacedaemonians, realizing that to destroy the women would be an invidious success while defeat would mean a shameful disaster, gave way before the women. This fight had been foretold by the Pythian priestess in the oracle quoted by Herodotus, who perhaps understood to what it referred and perhaps did not: --
But when the time shall come that the female conquers in battle,
Telesilla (gr. Τελέσιλλα), Greek poetess, a native of Argos, one of the so-called nine lyric muses.
According to the traditional story, when Cleomenes, king of Sparta, invaded the land of the Argives in 510 BC, and slew all the males capable of bearing arms, Telesilla, dressed in men's clothes, put herself at the head of the women and repelled an attack upon the city of Argos. To commemorate this exploit, a statue of the poetess, in the act of putting on a helmet, with books lying at her feet, was set up in the temple of Aphrodite at Argos. The festival Hybristica or Endymatia, in which men and women exchanged clothes, also celebrated the heroism of her female compatriots.
Herodotus (vi. 76) does not refer to the intervention of Telesilla, but mentions an oracle which predicted that the female should conquer the male, whence the tradition itself may have been derived. Further, the statue seen by Pausanias may not have been intended for Telesilla; it would equally represent Aphrodite, in her character as wife of Ares and a warlike goddess (the books, however, seem out of place). The Hybristica, again, was most probably a religious festival connected with the worship of some androgynous divinity. Of Telesilla's poems only two lines remain, quoted by the grammarian Hephaestion, apparently from a Parthenion, or song for a chorus of maidens.
See Pausanias ii. 20, 8; Plutarch, De Virtut. Mulierum, 8; Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, iv. 19, p. 522; Bergk, Poetae Lyrici Graeci, iii.; and especially Macan, Herodotus iv.-vi., i. 336 foil, and notes.
This article incorporates text from the public domain 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica.