[agade] eREVIEWS: Of "Greek Prostitutes in the Ancient Mediterranean, 800 BCE-200 CE" From <http://bmcr.brynmawr.edu/2011/2011-11-40.html>:
Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2011.11.40
Allison Glazebrook, Madeleine M. Henry (ed.), Greek Prostitutes in the
Ancient Mediterranean, 800 BCE-200 CE. Wisconsin studies in classics.
Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2011. Pp. xi, 324. ISBN
9780299235642. $26.95 (pb).
Reviewed by Matthew Dillon, University of New England, Australia
With any collection of essays, a reviewer generally has no choice but
to deal individually with the different chapters, especially in this
collection, where they form rather an eclectic gathering of papers:
the intention of the authors is not to provide a definitive account of
Greek prostitution, but a series of illuminating case studies. Opening
the volume is ‘Introduction. Why Prostitutes? Why Greek? Why Now?’
(pp. 3-13), in which Allison Glazebrook and Madeleine Henry, the
volume editors, give a brief but useful bibliographic survey of Greek
prostitution and contextualise their own collection of essays within
this. This book will focus ‘on the brothel, the porne, the male
prostitutes, and the trafficking background of prostitutes’ (p. 4).
Discussion follows on defining the terms hetaira versus porne (pp.
4-8), the trafficking in women for prostitution (p. 10), and how
prostitution was a commercial enterprise (pp. 11-12). All of this has
of course been dealt with before, but there is an originality of
approach to these topics in the essays as a whole and ancient Greek
prostitution is presented in a thought-provoking way.
Henry in the opening essay (‘The Traffic in Women: From Homer to
Hipponax, from War to Commerce’, pp. 14-33) argues for a connection
between war and enslavement for prostitution. Capturing women in war
entitled the capturer or recipient to sexual rights over the victim
(pp. 18-20). As the author notes, the Homeric texts, manuals for Greek
cultural behaviour, specifically condone the enslavement of women and
their sexual exploitation. But the description of Achilles’ shield at
Homer Iliad 18.509-40 does not in fact either explicitly or implicitly
refer to the enslavement and sexploitation of women, and it does not
make rape ‘paradigmatic of human society’ (p. 20). Homer’s Iliad does
not—contrary to Henry’s argument—establish rape as an aftermath of war
(pp. 17-27). Solon’s city and the notorious evidence that he
subsidised brothels, a wonderful piece of social engineering fiction,
need not be entertained seriously (p. 31), originating in a comic play
(not cited). No source methodology is employed here to disentangle
fiction (Solon and cheap brothels) from the actual state and social
ideology (brothels were socially acceptable for pre- and post-marital
sex for men of all ages).
Where were brothels located in ancient Athens? Glazebrook addresses
this problem in her contribution, ‘Porneion. Prostitution in Athenian
Civic Place’ (pp. 34-59). A brothel was most generally termed a
porneion, ‘the place of the porne’ (p. 35). Dealing with the
archaeological evidence for brothels is difficult as the evidence is
tendentious (pp. 39-46). Regulating prostitution is a modern concern,
and was a concern in ancient Athens too (pp. 46-49). For Glazebrook,
the separation of porneion from oikos (52-53) is crucial: males might
have ‘man-handled’ the women slaves of the house, but having pornai in
the house was found unacceptable by Alkibiades’ wife (pp. 52-53).
Putting the evidence together Glazebrook is surely correct in arguing
that there was no prostitutes’ quarter, no ‘red-light’ districts in
ancient Athens, and that brothels were probably in workshop or
commercial areas (compare the situation on Delos, chapter 7). But it
probably also needs stressing that the literary references
counter-indicate that brothels were sited in residential areas (p.
53). Here Stahlmann in Brill’s New Pauly, s.v. brothel, has it right.
Sean Corner in ‘Bringing the Outside In. The Andron as Brothel and the
Symposium’s Civic Sexuality’ (chapter 3, pp. 60-85) opens by defining
the andron and has a nuanced discussion of how this area was
specifically the male quarter of the house, but argues that women had
a ‘free run’ of the rest of the household (pp. 60-66). Corner argues
for a new interpretation of the well-known vase NY 37.11.19, which
shows a man battering at the door of a house with a woman on the
inside coming tentatively towards it: this is a komast and the woman a
hetaira letting him in. While this is fundamentally unlikely, new
readings of vases are always to be encouraged to elucidate them
further. Corner’s discussion leads her to the interesting contention
that the symposium was not an elitist institution (as opposed to
Glazebrook in the next chapter, who argues for the elite status of the
symposium and is closer to the facts of the situation [pp. 88, 99]).
Further, the symposium provided a way in which the outside world was
brought within the house and—in a homosocial context— ‘integrated a
man into the reciprocity of an egalitarian non-kin community of
liberal pleasures’ (p. 79). This is very original, thought provoking
and also valid: but how far down the socio-economic tree did the
Whether the Athenian citizen wife drank has always fascinated
scholars, and Clare K. Blazeby in ‘Woman + Wine = Prostitute in
Classical Athens’ (chapter 4, pp. 86-105) deals with this difficult
question. Is every woman shown drinking on Athenian vases a whore? As
has been long known, she notes that religious festivals provided women
with an opportunity to drink (pp. 101-104), and that they drank at
home with their families (p. 89). As Blazeby notes, there are ‘no
ancient texts directly relating to women drinking’ (p. 93). But she
makes good use of what there is (p. 94) before turning to the evidence
of curse tablets, which I thought could have been pursued in more
depth (pp. 95- 96). Metic women seem to have run ‘drinking bars’ and
this was seen as a less than respectful profession. Blazeby’s
conclusion that Athenian citizen women did drink is certainly correct
(p. 105), but the iconographic differences in the portrayal of
different groups of women needs addressing.
An interesting discussion of a well-known vase (figure 5.1, p. 107)
enables Helene A. Coccagna, ‘Embodying Sympotic Pleasure. A Visual Pun
on the Body of an Auletris’ (chapter 5, pp. 106-121), to make comments
on vases, prostitutes and the symposium. Sociological methodology is
adroitly employed, and numerous interesting conclusions are advanced.
On a similar theme, Nancy S. Rabinowitz takes as her area a group of
vases in the Lagunillas Collection in Havana as a case study: ‘Sex for
Sale? Interpreting Erotica in the Havana Collection’ (chapter 6, pp.
122-46). Commencing with a sensible discussion of the value of vases
for evidence, she moves on to issues of reality versus idealised
portrayal on these (pp. 122-24). But this can all be taken too far, I
suggest. Many vase scenes can be ‘literally’ interpreted for what they
are: scenes of a woman shown reading, weaving or mourning can be
identified as—and in fact are in my opinion—‘real snapshots’ of
everyday life. Excellent points are made—on the basis of the vases in
the collection—about gift-giving, and there are sufficient cross
references to other vases to sustain the ideas presented here. That
music making was ‘high status’ for men but not for women might be a
commonplace of scholarship (pp. 138-39), but the evidence of vases in
which highly respectable women hold ‘soirees’ of reading and music, in
addition to the music competitions for women at festivals at Delphi,
indicate that this is simply ignoring the evidence.
T. Davina McClain and Nicholas K. Rauh set out in ‘The Brothels at
Delos. The Evidence for Prostitution in the Maritime World’ (chapter
7, pp. 147-71) to corroborate Rauh’s previously published suggestion
that the ‘House of the Lake’ on Delos was a tavern-inn where
prostitution was practised (p. 147). Identifying places of
prostitution is difficult, as the authors recognise (p. 148; cf.
Glazebrook, pp. 34-59). Delos, with a ‘tax haven’ status and busy
harbour, attracted large numbers of merchants and sailors, and
prostitution would have boomed in tandem with the island’s commercial
prosperity (pp. 148-49). A possible brothel is identified (pp.
166-67). Yet the authors note the problems of the archaeological
record. Their suggestion is a possible one, but as they themselves
note, it has not gained widespread acceptance (p. 147).
Moving on from vases and spatial studies, Judith P. Hallett examines
Plautus’ Pseudolos for evidence of the reading and writing skills of
prostitutes: ‘Ballio’s Brothel, Phoenicium’s Letter, and the Literary
Education of Greco- Roman Prostitutes. The Evidence of Plautus’s
Pseudolus’ (chapter 8, pp. 172-96). Pseudolus opens with a letter from
the brothel slave Phoenicium (text and translation at pp. 174-78), and
Hallett closely examines the text as a literary construction. Whether
this letter of Phoenicium can be related to any argument about women’s
literacy is questionable: it could simply be a comic device. Hallett
raises interesting questions for the reader: if prostitutes could
read, were they taught to do so in special schools of some kind? Did
having these skills make them more profitable to their masters (p.
193)? More questions are raised than are answered, but that is the
point: to have the reader think about the evidence and its
Nicholas K. Rauh, in a second contribution to the volume, traces the
importance of prostitutes and pimps in the last decades of the Roman
Republic (‘Prostitutes, Pimps, and Political Conspiracies during the
Late Roman Republic’, chapter 9, pp. 197-221). Rauh picks a careful
path through a hostile source tradition lumping prostitutes and
brothels with ‘malingerers’ conspiring against the state (pp.
198-203). Ancient ‘conspiracy theory’ was alive and well at Rome, and
prostitutes figured prominently (pp. 203-06). But the main recorders
of such conspiracies, Sallust and Cicero, were drawing on previous
Greek literary accounts of the dangers of the politicised hetaira (pp.
206-14). Such accounts, in Athens and at Rome, were purely fictitious
and served to marginalise even further a delegitimised social group
Concluding as the last, tenth, chapter is Konstantinos K. Kapparis,
‘The Terminology of Prostitution in the Ancient Greek World’ (pp.
222-55), a fascinating discussion of the terminology of prostitution.
The ancients themselves conducted lexicographic studies of
prostitution revealing their interest in this subject and its
importance to their society (pp. 224-25). The brothel was a workshop
(p. 226) and also a public place (pp. 226-27). Most of the
terminological abuse against prostitutes was aimed at free male
practitioners, who had a choice to prostitute themselves, whereas the
woman prostitute generally did not (pp. 227-28). A brief exploration
of the acts which may have been indulged in with prostitutes (p. 230)
indicates that at least one major item is missing from this
collection: what sexual practices did men engage in with prostitutes?
Neglected is a wholistic examination of vase paintings showing acts of
intercourse, and how this relates to the treatment, status,
humiliation and exploitation of these girls and women. Kapparis
provides a very full list of the terminology of prostitution, quite
usefully giving the main sources, all of which provides very
interesting and fascinating reading (pp. 232-55).
One would hardly guess given the paucity of illustrations and the
unrepresentative selection of porne-iconography (as opposed to
pornography: or is there a distinction to be made?) that this was a
book on Greek prostitutes. Why are prostitutes shown on Greek vases,
what vases do they appear on, who were the buyers of these vases, what
contexts were they used in, and what was their specific relationship
to Athenian ideologies?
Historiographical and iconographical methodologies are absent. Little
serious historiographical enquiry is made into the evidence, which
tends to be taken at face value; note my comments above about Solon’s
supposed brothels. Vases are not researched, and basic items such as
Beazley ARV and Addenda numbers, which this reader immediately reached
for to check details, are not given (e.g. fig. 4.1 should be given its
Beazley number: ARV2 58.53, 1622—and Beazley ascribed it to Oltos, not
‘artist unknown’). In addition general scholarship such as Fantham
1984 (see p. 86) on this vase need not be cited: see what the experts
say. But the reader who bears these limitations in mind and corrects
them will find a great deal of useful material and interpretation
here. This collection of essays will now form an indispensible item
for studies of ancient prostitutes; much here is thought-provoking and