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(‘companions’, sing. hetaira) is an Attic euphemism for those women, slave, freed, or foreign, who were paid for sexual favours (see prostitution, secular). There was a class and semantic distinction, but not a legal one, between the hetaira and the pornē (‘buyable woman’), at least in later sources. A porne, even a lowly brothel slave, could gain her freedom, become an independent contractor, become the lover (hetaira) of some rich man or men, and thereby exert her own influence and herself become rich. Membership of the category hetaira implied beauty, education, and the ability to inspire ruinous infatuation in both foolish young men and those older and presumably wiser.

Greek literature about hetairai cannot yield concrete historical evidence for the realities of their lives, but instead constructs, from a male viewpoint, those women whose function it was to provide pleasure within a social ideology which defined women as wives, concubines, or prostitutes and allotted to each her separate place. Because the category ‘prostitute’ was the most fluid and the most exotic of the three, it was the most dangerous for men and the most productive of literary comment, ranging from the cynical to the romantic.

Subjects: Classical Studies.

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