Dawn LaValle Norman

Teaching in Greece for Paideia Institute's summer Ancient Greek program

Senior Research Fellow

Classics and Early Christian Literature

Institute for Religion and Critical Inquiry

Australian Catholic University

Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Research Award Winner (DECRA)

‘The Female Voice in Ancient Philosophical Dialogues’

Contact: dawn.lavallenorman@acu.edu.au

Flat Fill Twitter Icon
Envelope Icon for Email

University Webpage

Academic Biography

My research centres on the Greek literature of the Roman Empire during the transitional period from the first to the fourth centuries CE, looking especially at the conversation between Christian and non-Christian literary texts during this period. Much of my work focuses on the history of the philosophical dialogue.

My first book presented a new reading of the fascinating Symposium of Methodius of Olympus, a third century CE Christian rewriting of Plato’s work that made radical changes in gender, topic and aesthetic from the Platonic original.

My current project, funded by the Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Research Award (DECRA) ‘The Female Voice in Ancient Philosophical Dialogues’, analyses the role that women play in philosophical dialogues from Plato to Augustine, tracking when women are allowed to speak and upon which topics they are deemed experts in the ancient and late ancient worlds. My argument is that by following the role of women in these works, you can also follow the rise and fall of certain topics gendered feminine. For this project, I was chosen as an Innovation Fellow with the Anchoring Innovation Gravitation Grant at the University of Utrecht during 2020 and a Lewis-Gibson Fellow at the Cambridge Centre for Greek Studies in 2023. A video of a public lecture I gave while a Lewis-Gibson Fellow can be found below. Some of the work of this project was published as a Cambridge Element in 2022 for the ‘Women in the History of Philosophy’ series edited by Jacqueline Broad.

I am also researching the role that Aristotle plays in the later development of the dialogic tradition in both Greek and Latin. As part of this project, I am looking at Boethius’ First Commentary on Porphyry’s Isagoge, a neglected early work of Boethius and his only philosophical dialogue besides The Consolation of Philosophy.

I came to ACU in 2017 after a Junior Research Fellowship at Magdalen College, Oxford, and a Ph.D. in Classics at Princeton (2015).

Methodius wrote dialogues that attempted to reorient the gaze of a generation from the classical past to a future he believed to be even more real. To do do, he creatively adapts the readers' expectations of the genres of dialogue, sympotic literature, rhetoric and poetry.

Reviews: Katerina Oikonomopoulou, JECS 29.4 (2021), 641-643

Jane Heath, CP 116.1 (2021): 148-153

Mariapaola Bergomi, Méthexis 33 (2021): 223-226

Alberto Rigolio, BMCR, 2022.01.12


Can women be philosophers?

This short book explores three Christian women who were called philosophers in ancient texts: Thecla, Macrina the Younger and Monica. It explores how their depictions varies depending on whether they are characters in biographies or dialogues.

Hypatia of Alexandria is the most famous ancient female philosopher. However, she is better known for her gruesome death than her contributions during her life. This edited collection expands our knowledge about Hypatia by turning focus on the many ancient sources and modern receptions that provide a more rounded assessment of her life and contributions.

Reviews: David Brakke, ZAC 25.2 (2021): 352-355

Dominic O’Meara, sehepunkte 21(2021), Nr. 5

Ephraim Nissan, Studi e Materiali di Storia delle Religioni (SMSR) 87 (2021): 756-771.

The female voice

in ancient

philosophical dialogues

Discovery Early Career Research Award

Australian Research Council (DE220100854)

'The Female Voice' is a multi-year project devoted to conceptualising and communicating how a major innovation was accepted in the ancient world, when women for the first time began to serve as intellectual role-models for both men and women. Through articles, a major monograph, a theatre prize, and public engagement, I will craft a ground-breaking narrative of female intellectuals over 800 years of history. The expected outcome is a new history of the role women played in the intellectual life in the ancient world, and a new understanding of how their voices were used as authorities on certain issues in philosophy and the good life.

The Greek Graces

The Australian Research Council has funded the creation of 'The Diotima Prize' ($5,000 x 3), awarded to three one-act plays in 2024, in connection with my DECRA project “The Female Voice in Ancient Philosophical Dialogues.”

The ancient Greeks invented a new way of writing philosophy as a dramatic conversation. Yet women were rarely allowed to join the stage in ancient philosophical dramas. My research probes the historical roots of women's marginalisation in philosophical conversations from the Greek tradition into the modern day. Why is philosophy still so male-dominated?

Along with my collaborators, Jamaica Zuanetti and Yogashree Thirunavukarasu, I ran a series of workshops in the first half of 2023 that provided provocations from the ancient world to inform modern one-act plays that reflect on the relationship between gender and the life of the mind. The winners will be announced in July 2023.

The Diotima Prize will bring new voices onto the philosophical stage by supporting the creation of dramatic works that inspire us to rethink what it means to be a philosopher.


March 25, 2023 (10-4), ACU Melbourne Campus

For Information On winning projects, visit


Bust of Juno Illustration

Publications for the MEdia

Oct, 9, 2023, The Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH), University of Cambridge

Godly Grooming, Religion, Spirituality, and Male Hair

A report on a public outreach event at the University of Cambridge stemming from my research.

August 25, 2022, The Conversation

The book that changed me: how Augustine’s Confessions has travelled with me for decades, bringing meaning and insight

Augustine’s Confessions has become a modern classic because it feels so immediate and familiar to our current desire for self-understanding.

November 3, 2021, The Conversation

Philosophy and sex work: how courtesans in Ancient Greece crossed the mind/body divide

Wives were not a part of intellectual life – but sex workers were often seen as having captivating minds, as well as captivating bodies.

March 8, 2021, The Conversation

Wise women: 6 ancient female philosophers you should know about

When we think about ancient philosophers we tend to imagine old men as deep thinkers. Women too have helped shape modern thought.

**The most-read article in The Conversation between 8-14 March (147,728 readers).**

August 6, 2020, The Conversation

What Groundhog Day (and my time in a monastery) taught me about lockdown

The 1993 cult classic, in which the same day repeats over and over, contains wisdom for those of us living restricted lives.

Broadcast gradient icon

Radio Interviews

The Christian Century Podcast ‘Intelligence moved by love: Thecla as philosopher with Dawn LaValle Norman (S3:E4)’, March 6, 2024

RRR Melbourne, Uncommon Sense with Amy Mullins

(minute 2.25-3.00), March 7, 2023

ABC Radio National, The Stage Show with Michael Cathcart

'The Diotima Prize: Philosophy and Drama'

(minute 38-53) January 24, 2023

ABC Radio National, Self-Improvement Wednesday

'Thecla, Found Families and Philosophy'

The Drive with Richard Glover, Oct. 19, 2022

ABC Radio National ‘Soul Search’ with Meredith Lake, Oct. 16, 2022

'Women's Voices in Ancient Texts and Australian Churches'

ABC Radio National, 'Sunday Extra with Julian Morrow', April 4, 2021

ABC Radio Sydney, 'Afternoons with Jeremy Valentine', March 10, 2021

PUblic Lecture:

Cambridge Centre for Greek Studies, Greek Dialogues Series

May 18, 2023

  • The lecture runs until minute 53.30, followed by questions.

“Medical and Poetical Breastmilk in Clement of Alexandria’s Paedagogus”

For the Seminar Series: From the Breast: Interpretations and Representations

of Breastfeeding and Infant Feeding in Pre-Modern Cultures

January 18, 2023

Other Academic publications

Ancient Greek Woman Line Art Illustration
Ancient Greek Woman Line Art Illustration

Chapters in Edited volumes

  • “Permission to Speak? Cleobulina/Eumetis in Plutarch’s Symposium of the Seven Sages and Mary in the Pistis Sophia,” in Plutarch and His Contemporaries: Sharing the Roman Empire, ed. Katarzyna Jażdżewska and Filip Doroszewski.Brill’s Plutarch Studies, Volume 14 (Brill 2024): 335-351.
  • “Female Characters as Modes of Knowing in Late Imperial Dialogues: The Body, Desire, and the Intellectual Life” in The Intellectual World of Christian Late Antiquity: Reshaping the Classical Tradition, 100-600 CE. Edited by Lewis Ayres, Matthew Crawford and Michael Champion (CUP 2023): 347-365.
  • “Courtroom Rhetoric in Imperial and Late Antique Philosophical Dialogues,” in Articulating Resistance under the Roman Empire ed. by Daniel Jolowicz and Jaś Elsner (CUP 2023): 51-70.
  • “Coming Late to the Table: Methodius in the Context of Sympotic Literary Development,” in Methodius of Olympus: State of the Art and New Perspectives ed. Bracht (de Gruyter 2017): 18-37.


  • “Identification and Distance in Lucian’s Dialogues of the Courtesans: Subjects and their Absences” in The Cambridge Companion to Lucian, ed. Simon Goldhill (in press for publication in 2024).
  • “Whose Breasts? Whose Milk? The Multiplicity of Nursing Mother Metaphors in the Works of Clement of Alexandria” for a festschrift for Robin Darling Young (Catholic University of America Press), submitted Jan. 2024.
  • “Christian Theology in the Context of Classical Traditions of Thought,” in Cambridge History of Early Christian Theology, ed. Lewis Ayres. Cambridge University Press (contracted; article submitted July 2021).