Telesilla appears to be one of those rare Greek heroines who is actually more history than myth.
She lived in the 6th century BC in Argos. Despite being of noble lineage, she was a very sickly girl. Seeking the advice of an oracle, she was told to “serve the Muses.” She then became a poet, and apparently a very good one, because Antipater of Thessalonike listed her among nine “divinely tongued women.” Maximus of Tyre said, “The Spartiates were roused by the poems of Tyrtaeus, the Argives by the songs of Telesilla, and the Lesbians by the poetry of Alcaeus.”
In 494 BCE, the Spartan tyrant Cleomenes defeated the Argive army, killing all the men of Argos. The Spartans then advanced on the city of Argos. Telesilla gathered weapons from the homes around town and rallied the women, children, sick, and elderly to the defense of the city, placing them at the battlements and other strategic points. When the Spartans arrived, they gave a war-cry to scare the women defending the city, but the women of Argos stood their ground and were unafraid. The Spartans attacked, but were repelled. Realizing that victory over women would be invidious, and defeat would be shameful, the Spartans withdrew and fled.
For saving the city of Argos, a statue of Telesilla was erected. It showed her holding a helmet as though she was about to put it on, with books lying at her feet. The festival of Hybristica, where men and women exchanged clothes, was supposedly a celebration of women taking on the role of men to defend Argos.