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Prostitutes and Courtesans in the Ancient World

Edited by Christopher A. Faraone and Laura K. McClure

Publication Year: 2006

    Prostitutes and Courtesans in the Ancient World explores the implications of sex-for-pay across a broad span of time, from ancient Mesopotamia to the early Christian period. In ancient times, although they were socially marginal, prostitutes connected with almost every aspect of daily life. They sat in brothels and walked the streets; they paid taxes and set up dedications in religious sanctuaries; they appeared as characters—sometimes admirable, sometimes despicable—on the comic stage and in the law courts; they lived lavishly, consorting with famous poets and politicians; and they participated in otherwise all-male banquets and drinking parties, where they aroused jealousy among their anxious lovers.

    The chapters in this volume examine a wide variety of genres and sources, from legal and religious tracts to the genres of lyric poetry, love elegy, and comic drama to the graffiti scrawled on the walls of ancient Pompeii. These essays reflect the variety and vitality of the debates engendered by the last three decades of research by confronting the ambiguous terms for prostitution in ancient languages, the difficulty of distinguishing the prostitute from the woman who is merely promiscuous or adulterous, the question of whether sacred or temple prostitution actually existed in the ancient Near East and Greece, and the political and social implications of literary representations of prostitutes and courtesans.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii

The editors would like to acknowledge the Anonymous Fund of the College of Letters and Science at the University of Wisconsin for their generous funding of the conference at which these papers were first delivered, “Prostitution in the Ancient World,” held in Madison...

Abbreviations and Transliteration

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pp. ix-x

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pp. 3-18

The study of prostitution in the classical world has been until recently but a footnote to scholarship on ancient sexuality and gender. And yet, as David Halperin noted in his introduction to the landmark volume, Before Sexuality, a comprehensive view of ancient...

Prostitution and the Sacred

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Marriage, Divorce, and the Prostitute in Ancient Mesopotamia

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pp. 21-39

“The most shameful custom,” Herodotus called it. He was writing, in his account of the events leading up to the war between Greece and Persia, about the goings-on at the temple of Ishtar in Babylon, in which, he claimed, once in her life every woman had to accept the sexual...

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Prostitution in the Social World and the Religious Rhetoric of Ancient Israel

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pp. 40-58

Any attempt to speak of prostitution in ancient Israel must reckon first with the literary sources that provide our sole means of access to the institution. All information about practices, incidence, and attitudes toward the practitioners must be drawn from a literature that contains a...

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Heavenly Bodies: Monuments to Prostitutes in Greek Sanctuaries

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pp. 59-76

References in Greek literature to monuments commemorating prostitutes habitually stress the extent to which they violate conventions governing public monuments. The thirteenth book of Athenaeus’s Deipnosophistae offers a veritable treasure trove of references...

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Sacred Prostitution in the First Person

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pp. 77-92

This paper reconsiders the evidence for sacred prostitution in the classical corpus. It takes as a departure point the recent Near Eastern scholarship that shows that sacred prostitution never existed in the ancient Near East but rather was a fabricated idea based on allegations made...

Legal and Moral Discourses on Prostitution

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Free and Unfree Sexual Work: An Economic Analysis of Athenian Prostitution

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pp. 95-124

Modern languages use the word “prostitution” (and its foreign equivalents) inexactly to cover a multitude of conflicting meanings denoting a variety of physical, commercial, and social arrangements.1 Although scholars have long sought to differentiate commercial sex from other...

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The Bad Girls of Athens: The Image and Function of Hetairai in Judicial Oratory

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pp. 125-138

In a climactic moment of the epilogue of [Demosthenes] 59, Apollodorus makes the following appeal to his audience...

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The Psychology of Prostitution in Aeschines’ Speech against Timarchus

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pp. 139-160

In 346/5 BCE Aeschines successfully prosecuted Timarchus for violating a law that prohibited any man who had mistreated his parents, been derelict in his military duty, squandered an inheritance, prostituted himself, or otherwise acted as an “escort,” from political activity...

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Zoning Shame in the Roman City

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pp. 161-176

In recent years the idea that there were around thirty-five brothels in ancient Pompeii has occasioned disquiet among scholars.1 How could a city with a population of, say, ten thousand people support so many? Even more shocking perhaps is the possibility that thirty-five may be...

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The Politics of Prostitution: Clodia, Cicero, and Social Order in the Late Roman Republic

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pp. 177-185

Cicero’s scathing attack on Clodia in his speech defending M. Caelius Rufus in the spring of 56 BCE has usually been seen as the result of the complex political situation of the time and Cicero’s desire to take revenge on her brother Clodius for his role in Cicero’s exile in...

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Matrona and Whore: Clothing and Definition in Roman Antiquity

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pp. 186-204

Clothing is an important part of the sign system of every society, a central aspect of its visual language.1 Clothing has the power to express rank, communicate status, wealth, and power, symbolize the relation between the sexes, reflect values, exemplify anxieties. The sartorial...

Prostitution, Comedy, and Public Performance

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Priestess and Courtesan: The Ambivalence of Female Leadership in Aristophanes’ Lysistrata

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pp. 207-223

The Lysistrata has had a deeply divided reception in the last half century or so, hailed as the first feminist text in western culture and at the same time dismissed as an early example of pornography that degrades women. These reactions are each, in fact, rooted firmly in the text...

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A Courtesan’s Choreography: Female Liberty and Male Anxiety at the Roman Dinner Party

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pp. 224-251

Three Latin texts, more than 150 years apart in time, comically portray Roman citizen men in a state of obsession over the minute details of the behavior of courtesans at a banquet.1 As these works—Plautus’s Asinaria, Ovid’s...

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Infamous Performers: Comic Actors and Female Prostitutes in Rome

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pp. 252-273

The Romans made frequent connections between prostitutes and actors in law, in literature, and in clothing conventions.1 These connections suggest an association in the Roman cultural imagination between sexuality, public life, and performance. Essentially, both...

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The Phallic Lesbian: Philosophy, Comedy, and SocialInversion in Lucian’s Dialogues of the Courtesans

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pp. 274-291

Contrary to expectations that may be roused by the title, Lucian’s Dialogues of the Courtesans have little to say about sex. The fifth dialogue is the only one that approaches an overt description of a courtesan’s sexual exploits: one hetaira, Klonarion, interrogates her colleague...


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pp. 295-327


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pp. 329-331


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pp. 333-352

Index Locorum

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pp. 353-360

E-ISBN-13: 9780299213138
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299213145

Publication Year: 2006