Every Man's Right: Brothels in Early Greece?

Madeleine M. Henry

Iowa State University

Recent scholarship has advanced our understanding of how the Hellenic hetaira ("courtesan") emerged in archaic symposium culture and came to be fetishized in Roman imperial literature.  In this paper I consider evidence for the emergence of the porne (purchased foreign woman), the substrate from which the hetaira emerged in the preclassical period.  Her emergence is placed in context with the trafficking in females seen in Homer, with prostitutional scenarios in preclassical texts, and with the ideology of the polis in Athens and elsewhere. 

The Homeric poems connect masculinity with the rape and enslavement of enemy women. Masculinity is defined in similar terms for both war and peace, but as we move from the Iliad to the Odyssey commerce supplements war as an additional stage on which to perform masculinity.  Homer suppresses the knowledge or memory of certain kinds of trade, particularly slave trade.  Enslaved women are silently present in many "Homeric communities"—from the Achaeans' camp to the treacherous women of Penelope's household. Agamemnon's Chryseis, who will work the loom by day and serve him sexually by night, has many counterparts more humble:  the groups of slave women who labor for the great houses and sexually serve men are known collectively as dmoiai (enslaved women), for the most part nameless.   

Prostitutional scenarios and terminology found in the corpora of Archilochus, Hipponax, and Anacreon, as well as relevant elements of Solon's biographical tradition, characterize  commercial sexual activity as forced labor;  this labor is associated with foreign status and is represented as occurring in places not definable as "brothels" as such (e.g. the later use of terms for houses to imply prostitutional activity).  Of particular interest is the fragment, of dubious date, Arch 302W, which refers to a pornes gynaikos.

I examine textual and material evidence for the trafficking of females in the archaic and early classical period, whether for the sole purpose of prostituting them or for the opportunity to use them in other ways as well.  Archaic and classical sources refer to raiding as a means of obtaining women, and Solon's biographical tradition supports the view that he encouraged the prostitution of females.  

I conclude with an examination of the terms in texts from, or which refer to, pre-fifth century Athens and which are commonly translated as "brothel" as well as their semantic fields.  Do the dates and contexts of the terminology provide any clues to the evolution of the commercial prostitution of females?


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