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A hetaera (from the Greek word ἑταίρα - companion, associate) was a woman in Ancient Greece who led a free and independent lifestyle. Ancient Greek hetaerae received an education as comprehensive as that of men and played a significant role in society.

The term hetaera, of Greek origin, acquired a different connotation in Ancient Rome and came to refer to women engaged in prostitution. In the Latin language, there were also equivalents:

"Hetaera Frine before the Areopagus." Painting by J.-L. Gérôme. Kunsthalle, Hamburg. 1861

Greek hetaerae could come from slave women and later also from free women. Often, a mistress would entrust her slave to education and then release her or offer her to a worthy patron. The most famous hetaerae were highly educated. The term, originally used by the ancient Greeks, later reached other cultures, acquiring a new meaning. In Ancient Greece, hetaerae were educated unmarried women who hosted gatherings in their homes for prominent political figures, philosophers, poets, sculptors, and others. As a rule, hetaerae were maintained by wealthy patrons who paid them substantial sums for their favor. Stone plaques have survived on which men engraved the price they were willing to pay for a desired hetaera. However, this was not prostitution in the modern sense, as hetaerae engaged in sexual relationships only with those patrons for whom they had feelings.

Common prostitutes existed alongside hetaerae. The ancient Greek orator and politician Demosthenes said that every respectable Greek man had three women: a wife for procreation, a slave woman for sensual pleasures, and a hetaera for emotional comfort. A hetaera could also marry. For example, the famous hetaera Aspasia, renowned for her intelligence, education, and beauty, became the wife of the prominent military leader Pericles.

Hetaera Phryne. 4th century BC
Hetaera Aspasia. 5th century BC
Hetaera dancing at a symposium. 5th-3rd century BC

Related topics

Women in Ancient Rome, Women in Ancient Greece, Spintres, Erotica and sex in Ancient Rome