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Artemis the Hetaera

In Classical and Hellenistic Greek society, hetaerae were often slaves, but some – a few in the elite – could purchase their freedom and rise to become independent and influential women. All hetaerae were required to wear distinctive dresses and had to pay taxes. Composed mostly of slaves and foreigners, these courtesans were renowned for their achievements in dance and music, as well as for their physical talents. There is evidence that, unlike most other women in Attic society at the time, hetaerae were educated. It is worth noting that in Sparta, for instance, all women were encouraged to perform dance and athletics and to learn, whereas in “liberal” Athens and Corinth, such pastimes were reserved for the elite of the sex trade.

Among the most famous hetaerae were Thargelia, a renowned Ionian hetaera of ancient times, Aspasia, long-time companion of the Athenian politician Pericles, Archeanassa, companion of Plato, the famous Neaera, and Thaïs, a concubine of Ptolemy, general on the expedition of Alexander the Great and later king of Egypt, who accompanied Alexander’s armies and gave me the idea for Artemis.

Hetaerae appear to have been regarded as distinct from pornê or simple prostitutes, and also distinguished from mistresses or wives. In the oration Against Neaera, Demosthenes said:

“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.”

In this same oration, Demosthenes mentions that Neaera’s purchase price (both at her original purchase by Timanoridas of Corinth and Eucrates of Leucas and her own subsequent purchase of her freedom) was 30 minas. Since the mina was equal to 100 drachmae and the drachma can be thought of as equivalent to the daily wage of a skilled worker, this would make her purchase price over 8 years salary—obviously beyond the means of the average person.

Artemis aspires to such value, but in 330 BC she is simply an attractive girl with a tough mind who has learned to survive as a prostitute in an army of hard men. However, her talent for dance (inspired by a line in Xenophon) and her attraction to men of education has started her on the path to achieve her ambition to be one of those gilded and educated women who shaped Greek society.