Pherenike the Trainer


published on 18 January 2012

Pherenike was born on the island of Rhodes, located in the Aegean Sea. She was a girl in a family of accomplished male athletes. Her father, Diagoras, was a champion Olympic boxer from the games of 464 BCE Her brothers were also champion boxers, as well as prevailing champions in the Pancration. Because women were not permitted to participate in sports in any way, shape, or form (save for the Spartans), Pherenike was relegated to cheerleader (though she couldn’t even do that from the sidelines!).

Greek Athletes

Pherenike was married to Callianax, and they had 2 sons together. The two boys showed early on that they had inherited great athletic potential from their mother’s family. Callianax trained the boys to be champions, and when their older son became a champion boxer, it seemed that the family athletic legacy would continue.

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Pherenike donned the long trainer’s robe, & then likely disguised her face in some way in order to look more masculine. 

Unfortunately, Callianax died, leaving Pherenike overcome with grief and disappointment over the fate of her sons’ athletic careers. Her younger son, Pisodorus, had been training for the next Olympic games, after all. But Pherenike came from a family of fighters. She would not let the technicality of her gender ruin her son’s chance for glory. So, she decided to become his trainer.

The rules of the ancient Olympic games required both the trainers and the athletes to live in the Olympic village for a period prior to the games. So, in 388 BCE, Pherenike donned the long trainer’s robe, and then likely disguised her face in some way in order to look more masculine. She did this to protect her own life. Women caught breaking the strict rules of athletics in ancient Greece were swiftly hurled over the cliffs of Mount Typaeum!

Stadium of Olympia

In his match, Pisodorus did his family proud, and won Olympic laurels. Pherenike, lost in the excitement of the moment, leapt into the ring to congratulate her son. Because undergarments were not part of the ancient Greek wardrobe, this hasty maneuver revealed Pherenike’s true identity to everyone.

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Pherenike got lucky, though. Her pedigree as a member of such a famous athletic dynasty softened the hearts of the judges, and spared her life. The judges did, however, pass a new law that was effective from that point forward. All trainers and competitors in the athletic games were to be naked.

After that, Pherenike forever became known as Callipatira, Greek for "Mrs. Good Father", for her determination that her boys got the glory and recognition that she knew was owed them.

Editorial Review This Article has been reviewed for accuracy, reliability and adherence to academic standards prior to publication.

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Recommended Books



  • Leon, V. Uppity Women of Ancient Times. (MJF Books, New York, 1995)

Cite This Work

APA Style

writer873, . (2012, January 18). Pherenike the Trainer. Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from

Chicago Style

writer873, . "Pherenike the Trainer." Ancient History Encyclopedia. Last modified January 18, 2012.

MLA Style

writer873, . "Pherenike the Trainer." Ancient History Encyclopedia. Ancient History Encyclopedia, 18 Jan 2012. Web. 19 Feb 2019.

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