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  • Beyond Courtesans and Whores:Sex and Labor in the Greco-Roman World
  • Allison Glazebrook (bio)

It was not until the late 1990s that scholarship on ancient prostitution came into its own in North America. Thomas McGinn’s important monograph, Prostitution, Sexuality and the Law in Ancient Rome, was published by The University of Michigan Press in 1998, followed six years later by The Economy of Prostitution in the Roman World: A Study of Social History and the Brothel (2004). Together they represent a comprehensive social history of prostitution for ancient Rome. The important studies of James Davidson’s Courtesans and Fishcakes: The Consuming Passions of Classical Athens (1997) and Leslie Kurke’s Coins, Bodies, Games and Gold: The Politics of Meaning in Archaic Greece (1999) focused on cultural constructions of the Greek prostitute and discursive techniques used to distinguish the hetaira from the pornê, while Laura K. McClure’s Courtesans at Table: Gender and Literary Culture in Athenaeus (2003) examined the hetaira as a cultural sign in the Second Sophistic. But a comprehensive social history of prostitution in ancient Greece is still waiting to be written. This gap may soon be filled, however, by Konstantine Kapparis’s monograph, Prostitution in the Ancient Greek World (forthcoming with The University of Pennsylvania Press and Edward E. Cohen, Athenian Prostitution: The Business of Sex (forthcoming with Oxford University Press).

While prostitution is now recognized as a serious field of study intersecting as it does with issues of economy, sexuality, slavery, and gender, the questions and approaches remain diverse. The 2006 publication of C. Faraone and L. K. McClure’s edited collection, Prostitutes and Courtesans in the Ancient World, broadened the focus of prostitution studies to prostitutes themselves, as dedicators at sanctuaries, as laborers, as owners of prostitutes, and began to look at the effect of prostitution on the citizen body more generally. This work was followed by A. Glazebrook and M. M. Henry’s edited volume, Greek Prostitutes in the Ancient Mediterranean, 800 BCE–200 CE (2011), which began to explore the margins of prostitution by focusing on the origins of Greek prostitution, the brothel, the terminology of prostitution, and the Greek prostitute in the Roman imagination, and by questioning previous approaches to interpreting [End Page 1] visual representations of prostitutes. Both volumes are rich in bibliography (not possible to go through here, but note Henry 1985 and 1995, Flemming 1999, and Gilhuly 2009; also Glazebrook 2015) and are evidence that no single approach to ancient prostitution is satisfactory.

A number of the contributions in this collection (Goldman, Green, Lee, Witzke) were part of the panel on sexual labor sponsored by the Women’s Classical Caucus at the annual meeting of the Society for Classical Studies (at that time still the American Philological Association) in Seattle, Washington, in January 2013. Despite the growing interest in this field, papers on prostitution were not regularly featured on the general program of the annual conference and this marked an opportunity to showcase the research being done in this area to the association more broadly. Two members of the original panel do not appear in this issue: Debra Kamen’s thoughtful examination of slave prostitutes and ergasia in the Delphic manumission inscriptions has since appeared in ZPE 188 (2014) 149–53, and Sarah Levin-Richardson’s discussion of graffiti in the “Lupanar” at Pompeii will be published as part of a monograph. The purpose of the panel was to explore types of sexual labor and its associated terminology, the connections between sexual labor, gender, and the body, between sexual laborers, social hierarchies, and citizen status in the ancient world, and to invite considerations of literary, epigraphic, and material evidence together in one venue. It was ambitious in scope, but was intended to capture new work and new approaches being taken to the material and the topic. As Simon Goldhill (2014, 185, 192–3) has recently reaffirmed, prostitution is a complex social and political phenomenon and requires recognition of the difficulty in defining and writing about prostitution, affected by such issues as agency and autonomy, boundaries between public and private, concepts of marriage and desire, economic and social values, as well as regulation and conceptions of the body...


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