Were all named women prostitutes?

The notion according to which the Greek women whose names have been preserved in writing are all courtesans is all too resilient. For instance, we find the following passage a in work dedicated to inscriptions engraved or painted on vases: “An ancient Greek woman recorded on a jar for pouring liquid, for instance wine, in a fervent statement of her beauty is a priori likely to be a hetaera” (Wachter 2001, p. 223). The author is actually commenting on an inscription preserved on a Rhodian vase (New York, MMA 06.1116), which refers to a woman by praising her beauty and names her as “she who comes from Brasos”. The author goes on to add: “If a woman on Rhodes is called after a local place in the countryside, this name is likely to be a nickname and the person fairly well known, which supports the interpretation as a hetaera.” He then links this inscription with another Rhodian graffito, preserved on a cup that proclaims: “I am the many-coloured cup of beautiful Philto”, thus implying that Philto was necessarily a hetaera.

The main bias that underlines the author’s reasoning is as follows:

-A woman whose name has been written on a vase used for banqueting is a hetarea;

-A woman whose beauty is praised is a courtesan (which would not apply to a man described as “kalos” on a vase!);

-A woman of renown is bound to be a courtesan.

The foundation of the Eurykleia database aims at eluding this very bias, which too often slants out analysis of Ancient sources and skews our understanding of the active part played by women in society… indeed, the name does not make the hetaera!

Adeline Grand-Clément


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