Babylonian Women Must Be Prostitutes Once

Herodotus (1.199) explains a bizarre ritual of mandatory religious prostitution:

“This is the most shameful of the Babylonian customs. Every native woman must once in her lifetime sit near the shrine of Aphrodite and have sex with a foreign man. There are many women who surpass the others in wealth and do not think it worthy of themselves to mingle with the others, so they are driven to the shrine in carriages while a large entourage of attendants follows them behind. Most Babylonian women, however, do it this way: They sit in the area of Aphrodite’s temple having a crown of string upon their heads. Some approach this area, and others leave. Marked-off paths lead every way through the crowd of women, past whom the foreign men go and make their pick. Once a woman sits in this spot, she does not return home before one of the foreign men throws a silver coin to her legs and copulates with her in the shrine. When the man throws the coin, he is supposed to say ‘I call upon the goddess Mulitta,’ because the Assyrians call Aphrodite Mulitta.

The size of the coin required is whatever it happens to be; it will not be rejected, because that would be unlawful, and the silver coin itself becomes sacred. The woman follows the first man who throws a coin to her, and does not spurn him, whoever he is. Once she has lain with him, she has discharged her duty to the goddess and returns home, and after this gifts are no great thing by which she may be seduced. Those who possess beauty or height are quickly released, but those who are ugly remain there for a lengthy time because they are unable to fulfill the requirements of the law. Some even remain there for three or four years. In some places in Cyprus the custom is roughly the same.”

     ῾Ο δὲ δὴ αἴσχιστος τῶν νόμων ἐστὶ τοῖσι Βαβυλωνίοισι ὅδε· δεῖ πᾶσαν γυναῖκα ἐπιχωρίην ἱζομένην ἐς ἱρὸν ᾿Αφροδίτης ἅπαξ ἐν τῇ ζόῃ μιχθῆναι ἀνδρὶ ξείνῳ. Πολλαὶ δὲ καὶ οὐκ ἀξιούμεναι ἀναμίσγεσθαι τῇσι ἄλλῃσι, οἷα πλούτῳ ὑπερφρονέουσαι, ἐπὶ ζευγέων ἐν καμάρῃσι ἐλάσασαι πρὸς τὸ ἱρὸν ἑστᾶσι, θεραπηίη δέ σφι ὄπισθε ἕπεται πολλή. Αἱ δὲ πλέονες ποιεῦσι ὧδε· ἐν τεμένεϊ ᾿Αφροδίτης κατέαται στέφανον περὶ τῇσι κεφαλῇσι ἔχουσαι θώμιγγος πολλαὶ γυναῖκες· αἱ μὲν γὰρ προσέρχονται, αἱ δὲ ἀπέρχονται. Σχοινοτενέες δὲ διέξοδοι πάντα τρόπον [ὁδῶν] ἔχουσι διὰ τῶν γυναικῶν, δι’ ὧν οἱ ξεῖνοι διεξιόντες ἐκλέγονται. ῎Ενθα ἐπεὰν ἵζηται γυνή, οὐ πρότερον ἀπαλλάσσεται ἐς τὰ οἰκία ἤ τίς οἱ ξείνων ἀργύριον ἐμβαλὼν ἐς τὰ γούνατα μιχθῇ ἔσω τοῦ ἱροῦ. ᾿Εμβαλόντα δὲ δεῖ εἰπεῖν τοσόνδε·  «᾿Επικαλέω τοι τὴν θεὸν Μύλιττα.» Μύλιττα δὲ καλέουσι τὴν ᾿Αφροδίτην ᾿Ασσύριοι.

 Τὸ δὲ ἀργύριον μέγαθός ἐστι ὅσον ὦν· οὐ γὰρ μὴ ἀπώσηται· οὐ γάρ οἱ θέμις ἐστί· γίνεται γὰρ ἱρὸν τοῦτο τὸ ἀργύριον· τῷ δὲ πρώτῳ ἐμβαλόντι ἕπεται οὐδὲ ἀποδοκιμᾷ οὐδένα. ᾿Επεὰν δὲ μιχθῇ, ἀποσιωσαμένη τῇ θεῷ ἀπαλλάσσεται ἐς τὰ οἰκία, καὶ τὠπὸ τούτου οὐκ οὕτω μέγα τί οἱ δώσεις ᾧ μιν λάμψεαι. ῞Οσαι μέν νυν εἴδεός τε ἐπαμμέναι εἰσὶ καὶ μεγάθεος, ταχὺ ἀπαλλάσσονται, ὅσαι δὲ ἄμορφοι αὐτέων εἰσί, χρόνον πολλὸν προσμένουσι οὐ δυνάμεναι τὸν νόμον ἐκπλῆσαι· καὶ γὰρ τριέτεα καὶ τετραέτεα μετεξέτεραι χρόνον μένουσι. ᾿Ενιαχῇ δὲ καὶ τῆς Κύπρου ἐστὶ παραπλήσιος τούτῳ νόμος.

Tawdry Tuesday Two: Remorse for 10,000 Drachmas

Aulus Gellius on Demosthenes and the Courtesan Lais (Attic Nights 1.VIII)

8 A detail excerpted from the writings of the philosopher Sotion about the prostitute Lais and the orator Demosthenes

Sotion was a rather well known man from the peripatetic school. He wrote a book filled with varied and extensive anecdotes and named it The Horn of Amaltheia, which in our tongue is pretty close to saying The Horn of Plenty.

In that book he included this anecdote about Demosthenes the orator and Lais the prostitute. “Lais”, he says, “the Corinthian, used to earn a lot of money through the elegance and beauty of her body. Often, some of the most well-known wealthy men from all of Greece came to see her, but not a one was admitted unless he gave what she asked: and she used to ask for no small amount.” He says that this is where the common saying was born among Greeks that “It is not possible for everyman to sail to Corinth”, since a man went to Corinth to Lais in vain if he could not give what she asked.

“And the famous Demosthenes went to her in secret and asked for her services. But she asked for 10,000 drachmas” [1]–an amount which would be exchanged for ten thousand of our denarii—“Struck dumb by the woman’s daring and by the great heap of money, Demosthenes turned away pale and said “I cannot buy regret for such a price”. But the Greek which he is said to have spoken is more charming: “I will not buy remorse for 10,000 drachmas.”

8 Historia in libris Sotionis philosophi reperta super Laide meretrice et Demosthene rhetore.
1 Sotion ex peripatetica disciplina haut sane ignobilis vir fuit. Is librum multae variaeque historiae refertum composuit eumque inscripsit Κέρας Ἀμαλθείας. 2 Ea vox hoc ferme valet, tamquam si dicas “cornum Copiae”. 3 In eo libro super Demosthene rhetore et Laide meretrice historia haec scripta est: “Lais” inquit “Corinthia ob elegantiam venustatemque formae grandem pecuniam demerebat, conventusque ad eam ditiorum hominum ex omni Graecia celebres erant, neque admittebatur, nisi qui dabat, quod poposcerat; poscebat autem illa nimium quantum.” 4 Hinc ait natum esse illud frequens apud Graecos adagium:

Οὐ παντὸς ἀνδρὸς ἐς Κόρινθον ἔσθ᾿ ὁ πλοῦς

quod frustra iret Corinthum ad Laidem, qui non quiret dare, quod posceretur. 5 “Ad hanc ille Demosthenes clanculum adit et, ut sibi copiam sui faceret, petit. At Lais myrias drachmas poposcit”, hoc facit nummi nostratis denarium decem milia. 6 “Tali petulantia mulieris atque pecuniae magnitudine ictus expavidusque Demosthenes avertitur et discedens “ego” inquit “paenitere tanti non emo”. Sed Graeca ipsa, quae fertur dixisse, lepidiora sunt: οὐκ ὠνοῦμαι μυρίων δραχμῶν μεταμέλειαν.

demosthenes-bust
Does this face merit a surcharge?

[1] If we use the popular idea that a drachma was worth one day of a skilled worker’s wages, then Lais’ services cost 10,000 working days. Perhaps less overwhelming, but still impressive is valuing a drachma at $25 USD: A night with Lais is only $250,000 dollars. But maybe that’s just because it was Demosthenes….

Phaedo, Diogenes and Epictetus Were Slaves, Then Philosophers (Gellius)

Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights 2.18

“On the fact that the Socratic Phaedo was a slave and that others also served as the same

Phaedo of Elis, a member of Socrates’s and Plato’s circle and very close to both of them, was a slave. (Plato used his name for that divine dialogue concerning the immortality of the soul.) This Phaedo, though a slave, was by birth free and noble and, as some have written, was forced as a boy into prostitution. Cebes, also of the Socratic circle, is reported to have purchased him at Socrates’ urging and to have exposed him to philosophical training. Later he became a famous philosopher and his fine writings on Socrates are still read.

There are many other slaves who later became famous philosophers including that Menippus whose books Marcus Varro imitated with the satires some call “Cynic” but he called “Menippean”. In addition to these two men, Pompylus, the slave of the Peripatetic Theophrastus, and Zeno the Stoic’s slave who was named Persaeus, and Epicurus’ slave, Mys, all lived as famous philosophers.

Diogenes the Cynic also lived as a slave—but he was sold into servitude from freedom. When Xeniades of Corinth wanted to purchase him and inquired what his skills were, Diogenes answered, “I know how to rule free men.” Then Xeniades, because he admired the answer, purchased him and entrusted him with his children, saying “Take my children to rule”.

The fact that Epictetus, the noble philosopher, was also a slave is too recent a memory to record as if it had been forgotten.”

XVIII. Quod Phaedon Socraticus servus fuit; quodque item alii complusculi servitutem servierunt. 1 Phaedon Elidensis ex cohorte illa Socratica fuit Socratique et Platoni per fuit familiaris. 2Eius nomini Plato librum illum divinum de immortalitate animae dedit. 3 Is Phaedon servus fuit forma atque ingenio liberali et, ut quidam scripserunt, a lenone domino puer ad merendum coactus. 4 Eum Cebes Socraticus hortante Socrate emisse dicitur habuisseque in philosophiae disciplinis. 5 Atque is postea philosophus inlustris fuit, sermonesque eius de Socrate admodum elegantes leguntur. 6 Alii quoque non pauci servi fuerunt, qui post philosophi clari exstiterunt. 7 Ex quibus ille Menippus fuit, cuius libros M. Varro in saturis aemulatus est, quas alii “cynicas”, ipse appellat “Menippeas”. 8 Sed et Theophrasti Peripatetici servus Pompylus et Zenonis Stoici servus, qui Persaeus vocatus est, et Epicuri, cui Mys nomen fuit, philosophi non incelebres vixerunt. 9 Diogenes etiam Cynicus servitutem servivit. Sed is ex libertate in servitutem venum ierat. Quem cum emere vellet Xeniades Korinthios, ecquid artificii novisset, percontatus “novi” inquit Diogenes “hominibus liberis imperare”. 10 Tum Xeniades responsum eius demiratus emit et manu emisit filiosque suos ei tradens: “accipe” inquit “liberos meos, quibus imperes”. De Epicteto autem philosopho nobili, quod is quoque servus fuit, recentior est memoria, quam ut scribi quasi oblitteratum debuerit.

Remorse for 10,000 Drachmas? Aulus Gellius on Demosthenes and the Courtesan Lais

Attic Nights 1.VIII

8 A detail excerpted from the writings of the philosopher Sotion about the prostitute Lais and the orator Demosthenes

Sotion was a rather well known man from the peripatetic school. He wrote a book filled with varied and extensive anecdotes and named it The Horn of Amaltheia, which in our tongue is pretty close to saying The Horn of Plenty.

In that book he included this anecdote about Demosthenes the orator and Lais the prostitute. “Lais”, he says, “the Corinthian, used to earn a lot of money through the elegance and beauty of her body. Often, some of the most well-known wealthy men from all of Greece came to see her, but not a one was admitted unless he gave what she asked: and she used to ask for no small amount.” He says that this is where the common saying was born among Greeks that “It is not possible for everyman to sail to Corinth”, since a man went to Corinth to Lais in vain if he could not give what she asked.

“And the famous Demosthenes went to her in secret and asked for her services. But she asked for 10,000 drachmas” [1]–an amount which would be exchanged for ten thousand of our denarii—“Struck dumb by the woman’s daring and by the great heap of money, Demosthenes turned away pale and said “I cannot buy regret for such a price”. But the Greek which he is said to have spoken is more charming: “I will not buy remorse for 10,000 drachmas.”

8 Historia in libris Sotionis philosophi reperta super Laide meretrice et Demosthene rhetore.
1 Sotion ex peripatetica disciplina haut sane ignobilis vir fuit. Is librum multae variaeque historiae refertum composuit eumque inscripsit Κέρας Ἀμαλθείας. 2 Ea vox hoc ferme valet, tamquam si dicas “cornum Copiae”. 3 In eo libro super Demosthene rhetore et Laide meretrice historia haec scripta est: “Lais” inquit “Corinthia ob elegantiam venustatemque formae grandem pecuniam demerebat, conventusque ad eam ditiorum hominum ex omni Graecia celebres erant, neque admittebatur, nisi qui dabat, quod poposcerat; poscebat autem illa nimium quantum.” 4 Hinc ait natum esse illud frequens apud Graecos adagium:

Οὐ παντὸς ἀνδρὸς ἐς Κόρινθον ἔσθ᾿ ὁ πλοῦς

quod frustra iret Corinthum ad Laidem, qui non quiret dare, quod posceretur. 5 “Ad hanc ille Demosthenes clanculum adit et, ut sibi copiam sui faceret, petit. At Lais myrias drachmas poposcit”, hoc facit nummi nostratis denarium decem milia. 6 “Tali petulantia mulieris atque pecuniae magnitudine ictus expavidusque Demosthenes avertitur et discedens “ego” inquit “paenitere tanti non emo”. Sed Graeca ipsa, quae fertur dixisse, lepidiora sunt: οὐκ ὠνοῦμαι μυρίων δραχμῶν μεταμέλειαν.

[1] If we use the popular idea that a drachma was worth one day of a skilled worker’s wages, then Lais’ services cost 10,000 working days. Perhaps less overwhelming, but still impressive is valuing a drachma at $25 USD: A nigh with Lais is only $250,000 dollars. But maybe that’s just because it was Demosthenes….