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Sosipatra of Pergamum

Philosopher and Oracle

Heidi Marx

Publication Date - 01 June 2021

ISBN: 9780197571231

148 pages
6 1/8 x 9 1/4 inches

In Stock


The story of Sosipatra of Pergamum (4th century C.E.) as told by her biographer, Eunapius of Sardis in his Lives of the Philosophers and Sophists, is a remarkable tale. It is the story of an elite young girl from the area of Ephesus, who was educated by traveling oracles (daemons), and who grew up to lead her own philosophy school on the west coast of Asia Minor. She was also a prophet of sorts, channeling divine messages to her students, family, and friends, and foretelling the future.

Sosipatra of Pergamum is the first sustained, book length attempt to tell the story of this mysterious woman. It presents a rich contextualization of the brief and highly fictionalized portrait provided by Eunapius. In doing so, the book explores the cultural and political landscape of late ancient Asia Minor, especially the areas around Ephesus, Pergamum, Sardis, and Smyrna. It also discusses moments in Sosipatra's life for what they reveal more generally about women's lives in Late Antiquity in the areas of childhood, education, family, household, motherhood, widowhood, and professional life. Her career sheds light on late Roman Platonism, its engagement with religion, ritual, and “magic,” and the role of women in this movement. By thoroughly examining the ancient evidence, Heidi Marx recovers a hidden yet important figure from the rich intellectual traditions of the Roman Near East.


  • The first full-length study of the life of Sosipatra, an understudied figure from Late Antiquity
  • Provides an in-depth examination of the ancient evidence for Sosipatra's life that fleshes out Eunapius's single historical account
  • Features new translations of selections from Eunapius's Lives of the Philosophers and Sophists

About the Author(s)

Heidi Marx is Professor of Religion at the University of Manitoba and the author of Spiritual Taxonomies and Ritual Authority: Platonists, Priests, and Gnostics in the Third Century CE.


"Sosipatra is educated by mysterious strangers. Widowed early, mother of three sons, she is a teacher and a seer. Can we believe the short account in Eunapius? Marx locates Sosipatra in her social context as an elite woman of the later fourth century, and in her intellectual and religious context as a philosopher endowed with spiritual powers." -- Gillian Clark, University of Bristol

"Sosipatra of Pergamum offers a compelling biography of one of Late Antiquity's most enigmatic and mysterious women. Marx probes deeply into the ancient sources for Sosipatra and her time, peeling back their layers to reveal a dynamic and charismatic female philosopher who inspired her students while offering a pagan alternative to Christian ideas about how holy women should behave. This book is a model for how one can understand the impact of poorly documented figures whose lives and legacies resonated greatly." -- Edward Watts, University of California, San Diego

Table of Contents

    Chapter One: Introduction
    Chapter Two: Sosipatra as a Child and Student
    Chapter Three: Sosipatra as a Wife, Mother, and Widow
    Chapter Four: Sosipatra as Teacher
    Chapter Five: Sosipatra as Theurgist and Oracle
    Chapter Six: Conclusion
    Appendix: Translation of Passages Relating to Sosipatra in Eunapius's Lives of the Philosophers and Sophists

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