07 June 2022

Judy Chicago: Rediscovering Praxilla of Sikyon


"Most lovely of the things I have loved and lost; the sunlight,

"next, bright stars, the moon,

ripe gourds, the fruit of apple trees, the pears."

               - Praxilla, circa 441 BCE 

Anyone who has studied ancient Greece has probably heard of Sappho of Lesbos. Born around 630 BCEm Sappho lived for about six decades and her lyric poetry earned her the sobriquet "the Tenth Muse."  Higher praise cannot be imagined. 

Praxilla was a native of Sikyon, a city-state on the Gulf of Corinth. It took Judy Chicago's Dinner Part  to pay proper tribute to Praxilla of Sikyon, one of thirty-nine women honored with hew own specially designed place setting at a non-hierarchical triangular table. You can see in this photo some of the 999 women whose names are inscribed in gold on a white tile floor. More than four hundred women participated in making The Dinner Party.

Lesser known than Sappho, in her day Praxilla was called "immortal tongued'", in a time and place  where women participated in public and religious events. Today her lyric poems survive only in fragments and paraphrases; primarily "table songs" they were meant to be sung after dinner as guests imbibed wine from drinking gourds. 

Image: Judy Chicago - Praxilla,  (from The Dinner Party), ceramic, textile, porcelain with rainbow and gold luster, 1974-1979, Brooklyn Museum, photo courtesy of the museum.

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