Pandrosion of Alexandria
Hypatia may not have been the first or only female Alexandrian mathematician- philosopher of note. Netz is certain that she had a predecessor. Having referred to Hypatia in the course of his discussion of ancient Greek mathematicians, he goes on to state that:
But, about a century earlier in the same city, we hear from Pappus about another female mathematician, Pandrosion. Pappus is very critical towards her, but then he is just as critical towards Apollonius and indeed towards almost everyone except (to a large extent) Euclid and Archimedes. So there are two well-documented [my italics] women in our group, which is not a little given the obvious obstacles in the way of women in antiquity. (R Netz, Greek mathematicians: A group picture, in C Tuplin and T Rihll (eds.), Science and mathematics in ancient Greek culture (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2002), 197).
I would quibble over the use of 'well-documented' to describe Hypatia, in the light of the difficulties in separating her work from that of her father and given the extent to which her work has been underappreciated and unrecognized in the past: the process of uncovering Hypatia's intellectual identity has been seen to be complex and, as yet, incomplete. The documentation on Pandrosion, if anything, illustrates how difficult it may have been for women's work to be recorded at all: her identity is disputed. Pandrosion may have been a mathematician of sufficient standing to have attracted pupils and be the addressee of a work by Pappus. Let us therefore look more closely at the sources of information about Pandrosion to see how she has been edited out of existence as part and parcel of the editorial decision-making process. I will argue that in this particular case a key tenet of textual criticism may have been passed over for no good reason: gender bias.
The prime source quoted by Netz is Pappus of Alexandria (Collection 3. 1). The reader who consults this passage is at the mercy of the particular version of the text available. The Greek words which give the name of the person being addressed at the beginning of Book Three have been considered problematic by textual critics editing the text and scholars translating it. The result of this is that the gender of Pandrosion fluctuates depending on which edition or translation the reader consults; and the reader must be fairly fluent in Greek, Latin, and French in order to compare the standard versions available. For example, according to Ver Eecke's French translation (P Ver Eeche, La collection mathématique: ouvres traduites pour la première fois du Grec en Francais avec une introduction et des notes (Desclée, Paris, 1982), 21), Pandrosion is 'excellent Pandrosius' and therefore male. Likewise in Hultsch's edition, where the Greek original has a Latin translation opposite it as was the norm, Pandrosion is male:
The gender of the name in ancient Greek, however, can be divined only by its accompanying adjective, which in the manuscript is in its feminine form. On what grounds did Hultsch therefore alter the feminine form in the manuscript tradition to what appears in his primed text? After all, despite the plea to analogy advocated by Hultsch in his index, a principle in editing ancient Greek and Latin texts is that a more difficult or less likely reading (lectio difficilior) is to be preferred by editors to an easier or more obvious one (lectio facilior), given that scribes are inclined to simplify what is in front of them, thereby moving further away from the original form of the text. I would argue that in the case of Pandrosion, the fact that a masculine form Megethion may elsewhere have been restored in the text, does not nullify the presence of
The basic idea behind this term [lectio difficilior] is, that a lectio difficilior is more likely to be simplified into a lectio facilior than the opposite ... Generally speaking this may be true, bur one should be aware of the trap hidden underneath this apparently sensible principle: much nonsense has been printed simply because some word or construction was less common or correct than the alternative. (R Huygens, Ars Edendi: A practical introduction to editing medieval Latin texts (Brepols, Turnhout, 2000), 49)
Huygens is of course talking about 'nonsense' in the sense of readings which are gibberish or rubbish in linguistic terms, the end result of the principle being applied blindly. However, if we accept the point being made, we should then ask the following question: in the case of Pandrosion, is the editorial substitution of the masculine form in place of the feminine explicable, if not justifiable, even partly on the grounds that it is 'nonsensical' to imagine that Pandrosion was actually a scholar of substance, and female? Is this a case of gender-related assumptions and biases operating under the guise of the objectivity attributed to textual criticism? Hultsch's imposition of a masculine gender through the substitution of the masculine form of an adjective in his text for the feminine form in the manuscript is not the only way editors and translators have coped with the Pandrosion problem, i.e. the possibility that Pandrosion was a woman. Jones pulls no punches in his summation of the lengths to which editors have gone rather than accept the feminine reading of the manuscript:
Pappus's Pandrosion has suffered strange indignities from Pappus's editors: in Commandino's Latin translation her name vanishes, leaving the absurdity of the polite epithet
In considering women's role in creating philosophico-scientific culture from antiquity onwards, we cannot assess their contribution outside the traditional and almost exclusively male canon. Rather, we must be aware of the social factors which hindered not only women's actual participation in discourse but also even the acknowledgement of their participation in it. The case of Pandrosion is an example of the very tenuous thread by which any awareness of a woman's contribution may hang: her existence falls or stands on the length of a single vowel. In short, to return to the phrase with which this discussion of her opened, she is therefore nowhere near as well-documented as we would like. Her successor in the line of notable female figures in philosophico-scientific culture, Hypatia, is by comparison well-documented, although as has already been noted, prime source materials are at a premium. We have to wait half a millennium before a climate arose in which some women could leave their own words.