“Sex ed” at the Archaic Symposium

Prostitutes, boys and paideia 1

Authored by: Allison Glazebrook

Sex in Antiquity

Print publication date:  December  2014
Online publication date:  December  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415519410
eBook ISBN: 9781315747910
Adobe ISBN: 9781317602774


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Both the pais 2 and hetaira-figure 3 were eroticized in sympotic poetry, drinking games and dedications. Their common identity as objects of desire resulted in similarities that might have produced anxiety among symposiasts. Aeschines’ attack on the character of Timarchus in Aeschines 1, although a fourth-century example, demonstrates how easily the pederastic relationship could slip into the realm of prostitution. It is this slippage between boy-youths and prostitutes that might have made archaic symposiasts apprehensive. 4 In fact, the increasing popularity of boy courtship as a sympotic theme in the mid- to late sixth century BCE (in poetry and on pots) suggests a desire to explore and define the pederastic relationship and even a need to distinguish the boy-youth (free and future active citizen) from the hetaira-prostitute (slave/freed and foreign). 5 The female body, in its guise as a prostitute at the drinking party, was an essential element in this discourse. While her presence at symposia was multi-faceted and attitudes toward her body were complex and varied, I focus here on the use of the hetaira-figure as a pedagogical tool and negative paradigm for boy-youths and adult males at symposia. I investigate attitudes toward the boy beloved and the prostitute discernible in sympotic poetry and in images on sympotic ware and suggest that the relationship of the hetaira-prostitute and her client versus that of the boy beloved and his eraste-s was an important focus of paideia (education) at symposia; the symposium was not simply an erotic space, but a forum for a kind of sexual ethics.

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