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Aspasia, Pio Clementino Inv 272

Aspasia (Ἀσπασία) (c.469 BC – c.406 BC) was the mistress of Pericles. Aspasia was born in the Ionian Greek colony of Miletus (in what is now Turkey), but at some point travelled to Athens, where she became a hetaira — a high-class entertainer, something like a courtesan, but closer to the Japanese geisha. Hetairai differed from most Athenian women in being educated (often to a high standard, as in Aspasia's case), having independence, and paying taxes.

Aspasia was legally forbidden to marry an Athenian citizen on two counts: as a hetaira, and as a foreigner. She became the mistress of the statesman Pericles, however, and when he divorced his first wife, Aspasia began to live with him as if they were married. After Pericles' two sons from his first marriage died, the son he had with Aspasia obtained Athenian citizenship.

Their house became an intellectual centre in Athens, attracting the most prominent writers and thinkers, including the philosopher Socrates. The attraction wasn't merely the powerful and brilliant Pericles, for Aspasia was not only beautiful, but intelligent and skilled in writing and speech; moreover, she was believed to have great political influence. She was openly credited by writers such as Plato with making a significant contribution to Pericles' oratory, especially his famous funeral oration.

Her political influence also brought her unpopularity; she was said, for example, to be responsible for the Samian revolt of 440, and for the Peloponnesian War with Sparta (431- –404). She was not only attacked by the comic playwrights, but was actually accused of impiety by Hermippus, a comic poet, though Pericles was able successfully to defend her.

Plato was so impressed by her intelligence and wit that he is thought to have based his character Diotima on her (see his Symposium).

After Pericles' death in 429, Aspasia married the democrat Lysides, with whom she had another son.

Images, Paintings

Aspasia, World Noted Women. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1883

Links

A page studying Aspasia (http://www.pbs.org/empires/thegreeks/characters/aspasia_p1.html)

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