Prostitutes in Ancient Athens
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Ancient Athens was a highly polarized society in which citizenship meant everything. Citizenship permitted individuals to not only participate in the democratic
government but also gave them access to all the rights and splendors of the city. A
citizen controlled influence over slaves, foreigners and most importantly women.
Athenian women were relegated to the status of child bearers and keepers of the household. There was no room for personal expression or freedom and the strict
moral code in many cases restricted these women from even leaving their homes. There was a select group of women however who overcame these obstacles to achieve greater sexual, economical, and social freedom. They were the prostitutes.
The freedom which prostitutes enjoyed would be better understood only after first assessing the status of "respectable" women in Athens. Girls were raised from an early age to learn domestic affairs and were to be wed even as early as the age of fourteen (Just 1989: 40). Marriage was almost mandatory as single women were looked upon as shameful and might even be labeled as "whores". The wedding was almost always arranged by the father or kyrios and from this point on the woman's role was clear. Pericles gives a good explanation of the ideal wife in his famous Funeral Oration when reminding the women of Athens that: "Your great glory is not to be inferior in the way nature made you; and the greatest glory is hers who is least talked about by men, whether in praise or in blame (Thucydides: 2.45)." This implies that an Athenian's woman virtue lay in her absence from the public eye. Athenians made sure to protect their wives' virtue by excluding women from all aspects of politics. They could not speak or vote in the ekklesia or hold any sort of secular office and thus were not considered to be citizens (Just 1989: 13). This is evident in the way that women were referred to in conversation as they were called aste (city woman) rather than the feminine form of citizen which was politis (Just 1989: 21). Furthermore, women's subservient status is also demonstrated in the common practice during formal speech of specifying women by their relationships with men. Wives remained in the house for the majority of the time and did not perform strenuous activity as the procreation of a son was all-important (http//:www.perseus.tufts.edu/classes/JKp.html). Another example of the inferior status of women is the fact that adultery was a more serious crime than rape as it
was an offense to the husband and put into question the legitimacy of his sons (http://www.ucd.ie/~classics/94/Arkins94.html). Perhaps the best description of the way
in which wives were viewed by Athenian men is given by Ischomachos in the Oikonomikos: Why, what knowledge could she have had, Sokrates, when I took her? She was not yet fifteen years old when she came to me, and up until that time she had lived...