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Campaspe, the mistress of Alexander the Great, was painted by Apelles, who had the reputation in Antiquity for being the greatest of painters.[1] The episode occasioned an apocryphal exchange that was reported in Pliny's Natural History (35.79-97): seeing the beauty of the nude portrait, Alexander saw that the artist appreciated Campaspe (and loved her) more than he. And so Alexander kept the portrait but presented Campaspe to Apelles. "So Alexander gave him Campaspe as a present, the most generous gift of any patron and one which would remain a model for patronage and painters on through the Renaissance" (Lane Fox, Alexander the Great).

Apelles also used Campaspe as a model for his most celebrated painting of Aphrodite 'rising out of the sea', the iconic Venus Anadyomene, "wringing her hair, and the falling drops of water formed a transparent silver veil around her form" (Peck, 1898).

No Campaspe appears in what we have of the five major sources for the life of Alexander. Alexander's modern biographer Robin Lane Fox traces her legend back to the Roman authors Pliny (Natural History), Lucian of Samosata and Aelian's Varia Historia. They would have it that Campaspe was a prominent citizen of Larisa in Thessaly; Aelian surmised that she initiated the young Alexander in love.

Campaspe became a generic poetical pseudonym for a man's mistress; The English University wit and poet John Lyly (1553–1606), who produced a play, often referred to as Campaspe in 1583, also wrote:

Cupid and my Campaspe play'd
At cards for kisses—Cupid paid:"

  • ^ Her name is sometimes reported in Hellenized form as Pancaste (or Pancaspe)


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