- Prostitutes and Courtesans in the Ancient World
Prostitutes and Courtesans in the Ancient World consists of fourteen essays with a summarizing introduction by Laura McClure.
The first essay, “Marriage, Divorce, and the Prostitute in Ancient Mesopotamia,” by Martha Roth (21–39), begins with a discussion of “sacred prostitution” in Babylon, which Herodotus famously cited as fact. Roth dismisses Herodotus, quoting Tikva Frymer-Kensky (“there is no evidence that any [temple-associated women] performed sexual acts as part of their sacred duties”), with, however, two exceptions: the entu, whose role was not specified but who “played a role in the sacred marriage ritual between the king and the goddess Inanna” in the late third millennium BCE, and the qadistu, a prostitute and “temple dedicatee.”1 But Roth prefers to discuss those independent women who were not under the control of a husband or father. Many of these women were discussed in wisdom literature, moral saws, and law codes.
In her essay, “Prostitution in the Social World and Religious Rhetoric of Ancient Israel” (40–58), Phyllis Bird analyzes the qedesah, “consecrated woman,” and the zonah, “professional ‘fornicator.’” The zonah is another “independent woman” with “no husband or sexual obligation to another male. . . . Strictly speaking her activity is not illicit—and neither is her role” (42). The prostitute in literature, however, stands for corruption: priests were not permitted to marry prostitutes, prostitutes were accused of stealing one’s life, and both Jerusalem and Israel were likened to prostitutes, where everything was for sale. Bird also addresses the issue of male prostitution. She quotes Deuteronomy 23:18: “You [masculine singular] shall not bring the hire of a prostitute [etnan zonah] or the wages of a dog [mechir keleb] into the house of the LORD [in payment] for any vow.” Scholarly consensus holds that “dog” meant the male prostitute. But Bird interprets the passage to imply that it is not prostitution that is forbidden but the use of income from prostitution as payment for a religious vow. Here we skirt again the issue of sacred prostitution.
The primary aim of Catherine Keesling’s essay, “Heavenly Bodies: Monuments to Prostitutes in Greek Sanctuaries” (59–76), “is to reconsider the issue of deviation from the norms governing votive dedications within a specific context in which prostitutes’ monuments were said to have appeared” (60). She mentions monuments like the bronze lioness dedicated to Leaina at the [End Page 186] entrance of the Acropolis next to a statue of Aphrodite (64); Leaina was the mistress of Aristogeiton and was tortured and killed by Hippias after the assassination of Hipparchus in 514 BCE. According to Pliny and Plutarch, the lioness “lacked a tongue because Leaina had refused to name her co-conspirators.” Keesling rightly attributes this story to myth. Keesling also discusses a plaque set up in a temple of Aphrodite at Corinth that carried the names of hetairai who prayed to the goddess on the eve of the Persian invasion in 480 BCE; it may have been a bronze statue group or a group painting. Keesling notes “the fame in the Roman imperial period of both the temple prostitutes of Aphrodite and of legendary Corinthian courtesans” and locates the plaque “in the temple of Aphrodite on Acrocorinth.” I doubt that the plaque was there. The hike to the summit of Acrocorinth (at an elevation of 574 meters/1,886 feet) would likely have deterred anyone from having sex there, and, in any case, the temple at the top was too small to have accommodated prostitutes, clients, and a statue group. More likely the plaque was in a temple to Aphrodite down in the city.
Stephanie Budin also tackles temple prostitution in her essay, “Sacred Prostitution in the First Person” (77–92). She begins emphatically: “Sacred prostitution never existed in the ancient world”; rather, it was “a literary motif used by one society to denigrate another” (72). Budin then discusses the many terms in the ancient texts that scholars have interpreted as referring to prostitutes...