The ancient Hellenic writers were dedicated historians, but they often neglected to mention the achievements of ancient Hellenic women. Now it so happens that I am a woman and I quite like having a few female heroes to look up to, so I want to introduce you to them. Today: Diotima of Mantinea.

Diotima of Mantinea (Διοτίμα) is a female philosopher and priestess known solely through the works of Plato. She is best portrayed in his Symposium. It is uncertain whether she truly existed or is merely a fictional creation, but nearly all of the characters named in Plato's dialogues have been found to correspond to real people living in ancient Athens. aS such, I feel free to assume she, indeed, existed.
As a philosopher, the ancient Hellenic writers focussed on her ideas, not her life so we don't know much about her as a person. The name Diotima means 'honoured by Zeus'. She came from Mantinea, and ancient Hellenic city on the Peloponnese which was the site of the largest battle of the Peloponnesian War.

All we have to base our knowledge of Diotima on are Plato's words--and those words have been 'filtered' through the character of Socrates, too! Based on the writing, however, she seems to have possessed a very strong personality and she was very sure of herself. She could see things that were beyond the scientists’ universe and that puzzled Socrates--who was at the time of meeting her very much a scientist. Socrates sees in her a natural philosopher to whome understanding of the world came easy. He admired (and desired) that in her. She is described as incredibly beautiful but in describing her as such, Socrates hints that she was also witty and very intelligent--qualities he admired greatly. Meeting Diotima changed how Socrates percieved the world and--perhaps more importantly--how he wanted to percieve it. She put him onto the path of philosophy, which is quite a legacy to leave behind!

Diotima's ideas are the origin of the concept of Platonic love. In Plato's Symposium the members of a party discuss the meaning of love. Socrates says that in his youth he was taught 'the philosophy of love' by Diotima. In her view, love is a means of ascent to contemplation of the Divine. For Diotima, the most truthful way to love others is to embrace a love that transcends the earthly plane, to touch divinity. A genuine Platonic love recognizes the beauty and loveliness in another person in a way that inspires the mind and soul to the spiritual, rather than the physical.