Prostitution in ancient Greece

Prostitution was a part of daily life in ancient Greece. In the more important cities, and particularly the many ports, it employed a significant proportion of the population and represented one of the top levels of economic activity. It was far from being clandestine; cities did not condemn brothels, and they existed in plain view.

In Athens, the legendary lawmaker Solon is credited with having created state brothels with regulated prices. Prostitution involved both sexes differently; women of all ages and young men were prostitutes, for a predominantly male clientèle.

Female prostitution

Pseudo-Demosthenes in the 4th century BCE proclaimed in front of an assembly of citizens "we have courtesans for pleasure, concubines to provide for our daily needs, and our spouses to give us legitimate children and to be the faithful guardians of our homes" (Against Neaera, 122). If reality was somewhat less of a caricature, it is still obvious that the Greeks had no moral qualms about consorting with prostitutes.

Simultaneously, extramarital relations with a free woman were severely dealt with. In the case of adultery, the cuckold had the legal right to kill the offender if caught in the act; the same went for rape. The average age of marriage being 30 for men, the young Athenian had no choice if he wanted to have sexual relations other than to turn to slaves or prostitutes.

The existence of female prostitutes for a female clientèle is not well documented. Aristophanes mentions in Plato's Symposium / hetairistriai in his famous story about love, in which men and women were originally created from cut-off halves of a two-headed, eight-limbed people. For him,

"All the women who are sections of the woman have no great fancy for men: they are inclined rather to women, and of this stock are the she-minions (hetairistriai)." (191e 2-5)
One can suppose that this quote concerns prostitutes for a lesbian clientèle. Lucian touches on the practice in his Dialogue of Courtesans (V) but it is possible that he is simply alluding to Plato's passage.

Pornai

Ancient Greek Prostitutes were divided into several categories. The "pornai" were found at the bottom end of the scale. They were, as alluded to by the etymology - the word comes from pernemi "to sell" - the property of / pornoboskós, or pimps, who received a portion of their earnings. This owner could be a citizen, for this activity was considered as a source of income just like any other: one 4th century BCE orator cites two; Theophrastus in Characters (VI,5) lists pimp next to innkeeper and tax collector as an ordinary profession. The owner could also be a male or female Metic.

In the classical era of ancient Greece, pornai were slaves of barbarian origin; starting in the Hellenistic era the case of young girls abandoned by their citizen fathers can be added. They were considered to be slaves until proven otherwise. Pornai were usually employed in brothels located in "red-light" districts of the period, such as Piraeus (port of Athens) or the Kerameikon in Athens. These establishments were frequented by sailors and by poor citizens.

"But you found a law for the use of all men; for you, they say, Solon, were the first to see this - a thing democratic, Zeus is my witness, and salutary (yes, it is fitting that I should say this, Solon); seeing our city full of young men, seeing, too, that they were under the compulsion of nature, and that they went their erring way in a direction they should not, purchased and stationed women in various quarters, equipped and ready for all alike. They stand in nakedness, lest you be deceived; take a look at everything. Perhaps you are not feeling quite up to your form; maybe you have something that distresses you. But their door stands open. Price, one obol; hop in! There isn't a bit of prudishness or nonsense, nor does she snatch herself away; but straight to it, as you wish and in whatever way you wish. You come out; you can tell her to go hang, she is nothing to you."

As the speaker highlights, the Solonian brothels provide sexual satisfaction accessible to all, regardless of income. In the same light, Solon erected, thanks to the taxes he levied on brothels, a temple to Aphrodite Pandemos (literally "Aphrodite of all the people"). Even if the truth of all of the historical anecdotes is somewhat dubious, it is quite clear that the Athenians considered prostitution to be part of their democracy.

In regards to price, there are numerous allusions to the price of one obolus for a cheap prostitute; no doubt for basic acts. It is difficult to assess whether this was the actual price or a proverbial amount designating a "good deal".

Independent prostitutes

Independent prostitutes who worked the street were on the next higher level. Besides directly displaying their charms to potential clients they had recourse to publicity; sandals with marked soles have been found which left an imprint that stated / AKOLOUTHI ("Follow me") on the ground. They also used makeup, apparently quite outrageously. Eubulus, a comic author, offers these courtesans derision:

"plastered over with layers of white lead, ... jowls smeared with mulberry juice. And if you go out on a summer's day, two rills of inky water flow from your eyes, and the sweat rolling from your cheeks upon your throat makes a vermilion furrow, while the hairs blown about on your faces look grey, they are so full of white lead."

These prostitutes had various origins: Metic women who could not find other work, poor widows, and older pornai who had succeeded in buying back their freedom (often on credit). In Athens they had to be registered with the city and pay a tax. Some of them made a decent fortune plying their trade. In the 1st century, at Qift in Roman Egypt, passage for prostitutes cost 108 drachma, while other women paid 20. .

Their tariffs are difficult to evaluate: they varied significantly. In the 4th century BCE, Theopompus indicated that prostitutes of the second tier demanded a stater and in the 1st century BCE, the Epicurean philosopher Philodemus of Gadara, cited in the Palatine anthology, V 126, mentions a system of subscription of up to five drachma for a dozen visits. In the 2nd century, Lucian in his Dialogue of the Hetaera has the prostitute Ampelis consider five drachma per visit as a mediocre price (8, 3). In the same text a young virgin can demand a Mina, that is 100 drachma (7,3), or even two minas if the customer is less than appetizing. A young and pretty prostitute could charge a higher price than her in-decline colleague; even if, as iconography on ceramics demonstrates, a specific market existed for older women. The price would change if the client demanded exclusivity. Intermediate arrangements also existed; a group of friends could purchase exclusivity, with each having part-time rights.

Musicians and dancers working at male banquets can also undoubtedly be placed in this category. Aristotle, in his Constitution of the Athenians (L, 2) mentions among the specific directions to the ten city controllers (five from within the city and five from the Piraeus), the / astynomoi, that "it is they who supervise the flute-girls and harp-girls and lyre-girls to prevent their receiving fees of more than two drachmas" per night. Sexual services were clearly part of the contract, though the price, in spite of the efforts of the astynomoi, tended to increase throughout the period.

Hetaera

The hetaerae found themselves at the summit of the hierarchy. As opposed to the others they did not restrict themselves to offering sexual services and they did not perform "piecework"; hetairia literally means "companion", grammatically the feminine form of hetairos, a term - analogous to the Latin comes - denoting a nobleman e.g. in the - essentially military - suite of Alexander the Great. In many ways comparable to Japanese geishas, they had a meticulous education that enabled them to take part in conversations with cultivated gentlemen. Alone amongst all Greek women, excepting Spartans, they were independent and could manage their own affairs.

Aspasia, the mistress of Pericles was the most celebrated woman of the 5th century BCE. Originally from Miletus she was reduced to the status of Metic in Athens and attracted to herself Sophocles, Phidias, Socrates and his followers. According to Plutarch in Life of Pericles (XXIV, 2) "what great art or power this woman had, that she managed as she pleased the foremost men of the state, and afforded the philosophers occasion to discuss her in exalted terms and at great length."

We know the names of some of the Hetaera. During the classical period there was Theodota, companion of Alcibiades, with whom Socrates spoke in Memories (III, 11, 4); Naeara, the subject of a celebrated discourse of pseudo-Demosthene; Phryne, the model for Aphrodite of Knidos, the work of Praxiteles, of whom she was mistress but also companion of the orator Hypereides, who defended her against a charge of impiety; Leontium, companion of Epicurus and herself a philosopher, during the Hellenistic period one can cite Pythionice, the mistress of Harpalus, (Alexander the Great's treasurer), and Thais, mistress of Alexander himself and Ptolemy I after him.

Some of these Hetaera were very rich. Xenophon describes Theodota as being surrounded by slaves, richly dressed and living in a grand house. Some distinguished themselves through their extravagant expenditures; Rhodopis, the Thracian courtesan emancipated by the brother of the poetess Sappho, is said to have distinguished herself by having a pyramid built. Herodotus does not believe this, but describes a very costly epigraph erected by her at Delphi (II, 134-135). The fees of these courtesans varied considerably, but were very much higher than those of the common prostitutes. In the New Comedy, their prices varied from 20 to 60 Minas for an undetermined number of days. In Menander's the Flatterer (v. 128-130), there is mention of a courtesan earning 3 minas per day or more, as much as 10 pornai together. If Aulus Gellius is to be believed courtesans of the classical era could earn up to 10,000 drachmas per night (Noctes Atticae, I, 8), .

Sacred prostitution

Greece did not know sacred prostitution at the same scale that existed in the ancient Near East. The only known cases were at the fringes of the Greek world (in Sicily, Cyprus, in the Kingdom of Pontus and in Cappadocia), and the city of Corinth where the temple of Aphrodite housed a significant number of servants at least since the classical era. In 464 BCE a man named Xenophon, a citizen of Corinth who was an acclaimed runner and winner of pentathlon at the Olympic Games, dedicated one hundred young girls to the temple of the goddess as a sign of thanksgiving. We know this because of a hymn which Pindar was commissioned to write (fragment 122 Snell), celebrating "the very welcoming girls, servants of Peïtho and luxurious Corinth" . During the Roman period, Strabo states that the temple had more than a thousand sacred slave-prostitutes (VIII, 6, 20).

The case of Sparta

Out of all the Greek cities, only Sparta was reputed not to have housed any porne. Plutarch, in his (Life of Lycurgus, IX, 6) explains this is due to the absence of precious metal as money; Sparta used an iron currency which was not accepted anywhere else. Pimps were thus not interested in establishing themselves there. No traces of common prostitution are found in Sparta during the ancient and classical eras. The only contradicting evidence is that of a vase from the 6th century BCE which shows women playing the aulos flute at a men's banquet. It may be that this is a simple iconographic theme rather than a literal description of Spartan life at that period. The presence of a winged demon, fruits, plants and an altar may also indicate that this could have been a ritual banquet held in honour of a fertility deity such as Artemis Orthia or Apollo Hyacinthius.

Sparta did however have hetaera during the classical era. Atheneus recalls the courtesans with whom Alcibiades spent the night during his exile in Sparta (415-414 BCE). Xenophon narrating the Conspiracy of Cinadon states that they would use the excuse of arresting "the woman who was said to be the most beautiful woman in Aulon and was thought to be corrupting the Lacedaemonians who came there, older and younger alike." (Hellenica, III, 8). This probably referred to a hetaera.

From at least 3rd century BCE due to the large amount of foreign currency circulating in Laconia, Sparta began to emulate the rest of the Greek cities. During the Hellenistic period Polemon of Ilion describes in his Offering to Lacedemonia, cited by Atheneus(XIII, 34a), the portrait of the celebrated hetaerea Cottina and the bronze cow she dedicated herself to. He added that he was shown her brothel, as a curiosity, which still stood near the temple of Dionysus.

Social conditions

The social conditions of prostitutes are difficult to evaluate; as women, they were already marginalized in Greek society. We know of no direct evidence of either their lives or the brothels in which they worked. It is likely that the Greek brothels were similar to those of Rome, described by numerous authors and preserved at Pompeii; dark, narrow, and malodorous places. One of the many slang terms for prostitutes was khamaityp?s, literally "one who hits the ground", indicating by this that the act took place directly on the ground.

Certain authors have prostitutes talking about themselves: Lucian in his Dialogue of courtesans or Alciphron in his collection of letters; but these are works of fiction. The prostitutes of concern here are either independent or hetaera: the sources here do not concern themselves with the situation of slave-prostitutes, except to consider them as a source of profit. It is quite clear what ancient Greek men thought of prostitutes: primarily, they are reproached for the commercial nature of the activity. For a Greek, for a man or woman to prostitute themselves was either a case of necessity through poverty or a desire for financial enrichment; sexual appetite does not appear to be considered as a factor. The greed of prostitutes is a running theme in Greek comedy. It should be said that in Athens they were the only women who handled money, which likely raised male acrimony. An additional explanation is that the career of a prostitute tended to be short, and their income decreased with the passage of time. To provide for old age, they thus had to acquire as much money as possible in a limited period of time.

Medical treatises provide a glimpse - but very partial and incomplete - into the daily life of prostitutes. In order to keep generating revenues, the slave-prostitutes had to avoid pregnancy at any cost. Contraceptive techniques used by the Greeks are not as well known as those of the Romans. Nevertheless, in a treatise attributed to Hippocrates (Of the Seed, 13), he describes in detail the case of a dancer "who had the habit of going with the men"; he recommends that she "jump up and down, touching her buttocks with her heels at each leap " to dislodge the sperm, and thus avoid risk. It also seems likely that the pornai had recourse to abortion or infanticide. In the case of independent prostitutes the situation is less clear; girls could after all be trained "on the job", succeeding their mothers and supporting them in old age.

Greek pottery also provides an insight into the daily life of prostitutes. Their representation can generally be grouped into four categories: banquet scenes, sexual activities, toilet scenes and scenes depicting maltreatment. In the toilet scenes the prostitute frequently has a less than perfect body; sagging breasts, rolls of flesh, etc. There is a kylix showing a prostitute urinating into a chamber pot. In the representation of sexual acts, the presence of a prostitute is often indicated by a purse, which underscores the financial nature of the relationship. The position most frequently shown is the leapfrog - or sodomy; these two positions being difficult to visually distinguish. The woman is frequently folded in two with her hands flat on the ground. Sodomy was considered degrading for an adult and it seems that the leapfrog position (as opposed to the missionary position) was considered less gratifying for the woman Finally, a number of vases represent scenes of abuse, where the prostitute is threatened with a stick or sandal, and forced to perform acts considered by the Greeks to be degrading: fellatio, sodomy or with two partners.

In conclusion, if the hetaera were undeniably the most liberated women in Greece, it also needs to be said that many of them had a desire to become respectable and find a husband or stable companion. Naeara, whose career is described in a legal discourse, manages to raise three children before her past as a hetaera catches up to her. According to the sources, Aspasia is chosen as concubine or possibly spouse by Pericles. Atheneus remarks that "For when such women change to a life of sobriety they are better than the women who pride themselves on their respectability"(XIII, 38), and cites numerous great Greek men who had been fathered by a citizen and a courtesan, such as the Stratego Timotheus, son of Conon. Finally, there is no known example of a woman of the citizen class voluntarily becoming a hetaera.

Prostitutes in literature

During the time of the New Comedy (of ancient Greek comedy), prostitute characters became, after the fashion of slaves, the veritable stars of the comedies. This could be for several reasons: while Old Comedy (of ancient Greek comedy) concerned itself with political subjects, New Comedy dealt with private subjects and the daily life of Athenians. Also, social conventions forbade well-born women from being seen in public; while the plays depicted outside activities. The only women who would normally be seen out in the street were logically the prostitutes.

The intrigues of the New Comedy thus often involved prostitutes. Ovid, in his Amores, states "Whil'st Slaves be false, Fathers hard, and Bauds be whorish, Whilst Harlots flatter, shall Menander florish." (I, 15, 17-18). The courtesan could be the young girl friend of the young first star: in this case, free and virtuous, she is reduced to prostitution after having been abandoned or captured by pirates (eg. Menander's Sikyonioi). Recognized by her real parents because of trinkets left with her, she is freed and can marry. In a secondary role, she can also be the supporting actor's love interest. Menander also created, contrary to the traditional image of the greedy prostitute, the part of the "whore with a golden heart" in Dyskolos, where this permits a happy conclusion to the play.

Conversely, in the utopian worlds of the Greeks, there was often no place for prostitutes. In Aristophanes' play Assemblywomen, the heroine Praxagora formally bans them from the ideal city:

"Why, undoubtedly! Furthermore, I propose abolishing the whores ... so that, instead of them, we may have the first-fruits of the young men. It is not meet that tricked-out slaves should rob free-born women of their pleasures. Let the courtesans be free to sleep with the slaves."(v. 716-719).
The prostitutes are obviously considered to be unfair competition. In a different genre, Plato, in the Republic, proscribed Corinthian prostitutes in the same way as Attican pastries, both being accused of introducing luxury and discord into the ideal city. The cynic Crates of Thebes, (cited by Diodorus Siculus, II, 55-60) during the Hellenistic period describes a utopian city where, following the example of Plato, prostitution is also banished.

Male prostitution

The Greeks also had an abundance of male prostitutes; / pórnoi. Some of them aimed at a female clientele: the existence of gigolos is confirmed in the classical era. As such, in Aristophanes's Plutus (v. 960-1095) an old woman complains about having spent all her money on a young lover who is now jilting her. The vast majority of male prostitutes, however, were for a male clientèle.

Prostitution and pederasty

Contrary to female prostitution, which covered all age groups, male prostitution was in essence restricted to adolescents. Pseudo-Lucian, in his Affairs of the Heart (25-26) expressly states:

"Thus from maidenhood to middle age, before the time when the last wrinkles of old age finally spread over her face, a woman is a pleasant armful for a man to embrace, and, even if the beauty of her prime is past, yet

"With wiser tongue Experience doth speak than can the young." But the very man who should make attempts on a boy of twenty seems to me to be unnaturally lustful and pursuing an equivocal love. For then the limbs, being large and manly, are hard, the chins that once were soft are rough and covered with bristles, and the well-developed thighs are as it were sullied with hairs."

The period during which adolescents were judged as desirable extended from puberty until the appearance of a beard, the hairlessness of youth being an object of marked taste among the Greeks. As such, there were cases of men keeping older boys for lovers, but depilated. However, these kept boys were looked down upon, and if the matter came to the attention of the public they were deprived of citizenship rights once come to adulthood. In one of his discourses (Against Timarkhos, I, 745), Aeschines argues against one such man in court, who in his youth had been a notorious escort.

As with its female counterpart, male prostitution in Greece was not an object of scandal. Brothels for slave-boys existed openly, not only in the "Red-light district" of Piraeus, the Kerameikon, or the Lycabettus, but throughout the city. The most celebrated of these young prostitutes is without doubt Phaedo of Elis. Reduced to slavery during the capture of his city, he was sent to work in a brothel until noticed by Socrates, who had his freedom bought. The young man became a follower of Socrates and gave his name to the Phaedo dialogue, which relates the last hours of Socrates. Males were not exempt from the city tax on prostitutes. The client of such a brothel did not receive reprobation from either the courts or from public opinion.

Prostitution and citizenship

The existence of male prostitution on a large scale indicates that pederasty was not restricted to a single social class. If some portions of society did not have the time or means to practice the interconnected aristocratic rituals (spectating at the gymnasium, courtship, gifting), they could all satisfy their desires with prostitutes. The boys also received the same legal protection from assault as their female counterparts.

Sexual relations with slaves does not appear to have been a widespread option; first mention of it does not occur until 390 BCE. Another reason for resorting to prostitutes was sexual taboo: fellatio was considered degrading by the Greeks. In consequence, in a pederastic relationship, the erastes (adult lover) could not properly ask his future citizen eromenos (young lover) to perform this act, and had to resort to prostitutes.

As a consequence, though prostitution was legal, it was still socially shameful. It was generally the domain of slaves or, more generally, non-citizens. In Athens, for a citizen, it had significant political consequences, such as the atimia ; loss of public civil rights. This is demonstrated in The Prosecution of Timarkhos: Aeschines is accused by Timarkhos; to defend himself, Aeschines accuses his accuser of having been a prostitute in his youth. Consequentially, Timarkhos is stripped of civil rights; one of these rights being the ability to file charges against someone. Conversely, prostituting an adolescent, or offering him money for favours, was strictly forbidden as it could lead to the youth's future loss of legal status.

The Greek reasoning is explained by Aeschines (stanza 29), as he cites the dokimasia : the citizen who prostituted himself ( / peporneumenos) or causes himself to be so maintained ( / hetairekos) is deprived of making public statements because "he who has sold his own body for the pleasure of others ( / ''eph' hubris) would not hesitate to sell the interests of the community as a whole". According to Polybius (XII, 15, 1), the accusations of Timaeus against Agathocles reprise the same theme: a prostitute is someone who abdicates their own dignity for the desires of another, "a common prostitute ( / koinòn pórnon'') available to the most dissolute, a jackdaw, a buzzard presenting his behind to whoever wants it."

Fees

As with female prostitutes, fees varied considerably. Athenaeus (VI, 241) mentions a boy who offers his favours for one obolus; again, the mediocrity of this price calls it into some doubt. Straton of Sardis, a writer of epigrams in the 2nd century, recalls a transaction for five drachma (Palatine anthology, XII, 239). A letter of pseudo-Aeschines (VII, 3) estimates the earnings of one Melanopous at 3,000 drachma; probably through the length of his career.

The categories of male prostitution should be recouped; Aeschines, in his The Prosecution of Timarkhos (stanza 29, see above) distinguishes between the prostitute and the kept boy. He adds a little later (stanzas 51-52) that if Timarkhos had been content to stay with his first protector, his conduct would have been less reprehensible. It was not only that Timarkhos had left this man - who no longer had the funds to support him - but that he had 'collected' protectors; proving, according to Aeschines, that he was not a kept boy (hêtairêkôs), but a vulgar whore (peporneumenos).

See also

Bibliography

Index: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

This article is based on "Prostitution in ancient Greece" from the free encyclopedia Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org). It is licensed under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation Licencse. In the Wikipedia you can find a list of the authors by visiting the following address: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Prostitution+in+ancient+Greece&action=history