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In ancient Greek society, prostitutes were independent and sometimes influential women who were required to wear distinctive dresses and had to pay taxes. There is evidence that, unlike most other women in Greek society at the time, hetaerae were educated. Some similarities have been found between the ancient Greek Hetaera and the Japanese Geisha, complex figures that are perhaps in an intermediate position between prostitution and courtesans.

Hetaera, Phintias Painter, c. 510 BC

Among the most famous were Aspasia, long-time companion of the Athenian politician Pericles, and Thais, a concubine of Alexander the Great.

Hetaerae appear to have been regarded as distinct from pornê or simple prostitutes, and also distinguished from mistresses or wives. In his speech Against Neaera, Demosthenes is quoted as saying:

"We have hetaerae for pleasure, pallakae to care for our daily body’s needs and gynaekes to bear us legitimate children and to be faithful guardians of our households."

The male form of the word, hetaeros (pl. hetaeroi) signified male companions in the sense of a business or political associate. A hetaera would perform the same role along with her sexual aspects, while a mistress and wife would not.

Lais of Corinth, Hans Holbein the Younger, 1526, Kunstmuseum Basel, Switzerland

Alcibiades with Hetaerae

Phryne

See also

Lalage

Images

Courtesan fastening her sandal. Neck of a red-figured amphora (525-515 BC) attributed to the Oltos Painter , Louvre

Prostitutes and courtesans in the ancient world , Christopher A. Faraone (Editor), Laura K. McClure (Editor), University of Wisconsin Press 2006

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An essay on women's lives in classical Athens

James Grout: Hetairai, part of the Encyclopædia Romana

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