Prostitutes, women, and gender in Ancient Greece

Authored by: Allison Glazebrook

Women in Antiquity

Print publication date:  August  2016
Online publication date:  August  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138808362
eBook ISBN: 9781315621425
Adobe ISBN: 9781317219910


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Prostitution in classical Athens was an accepted practice. In fact, the city collected a prostitution tax (Aeschines 1.119), legitimating the profession, and suggesting its economic importance. A history of ancient sex laborers, however, is difficult to write given the lack of evidence from the perspective of such workers themselves. Actual anecdotes about these working women, penned by male writers, cannot be trusted, since an accurate portrayal of the prostitutes themselves is not the motivation behind these accounts. Still, these portraits do reveal something about the expected circumstances and practices of sex laborers, and this chapter is an attempt to consider the possible environment and livelihood of female prostitutes in classical Greece by looking at the narratives of three women identified in our sources as sex laborers: Alke (Isaeus 6), an unnamed slave (Antiphon 1), and Neaira ([Demosthenes] 59). The accounts of these women appear in law court speeches and, by focusing on this one genre, I hope to reveal what we can and cannot know about these women, while also showing how negative female stereotypes centered on the prostitute body.

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