Saturday, September 4, 2021

Challenging Gender Roles: Sappho, Nikarete, Bilistiche, Leaena. Athenaeus Deip. XIII.lxx

The following passage is a list of famous courtesans from Greek history. It is interesting to note how Sappho is treated; just like her entry in the Suda, this author simplified her complex history and impact by splitting her into two identities: a revered poet and a lusty entertainer. 

Sed & Ereso oriunda meretrix quaedam Sappho, quae pulcrum Phaonem amavit, celebris fuit, ut ait Nymph[odor]is in Asiae Periplo. Nicareta vero Megarensis non ignobilis fuit meretrix, sed & honestis parentibus nata, & ob doctrina amabilis erat: Stilponem enim philosophym audierat. Bilistiche vero Argiva, celebris item meretrix, genus ab Atridis repetens, ut tradunt qui Res Argolicas scripserunt. Celebratur quoque Leaena meretrix, Harmodii amasia tyrannicidae: quae etiam cruciata iussu Hippiae tyranni, nihil enuncians in tormentis mortua est.


70. καὶ ἡ ἐξ Ἐρέσου δὲ τῆς ποιητρίας ὁμώνυμος ἑταίρα Σαπφὼ τοῦ καλοῦ Φάωνος ἐρασθεῖσα περιβόητος ἦν, ὥς φησι Νυμφόδωρος ἐν Περίπλῳ [p. 216] Ἀσίας. Νικαρέτη δὲ ἡ Μεγαρὶς οὐκ ἀγεννὴς ἦν ἑταίρα, ἀλλὰ καὶ γονέων ἕνεκα καὶ κατὰ παιδείαν ἐπέραστος ἦν, ἠκροᾶτο δὲ Στίλπωνος τοῦ φιλοσόφου. Βιλιστίχη δ᾽ ἡ Ἀργεία ἑταίρα καὶ αὐτὴ ἔνδοξος, τὸ γένος ἀπὸ τῶν Ἀτρειδῶν σῴζουσα, ὡς οἱ τὰ Ἀργολικὰ γράψαντες ἱστοροῦσιν. ἔνδοξος δ᾽ ἐστὶν καὶ Λέαινα ἡ ἑταίρα, Ἁρμοδίου ἐρωμένη τοῦ τυραννοκτονήσαντος:: ἥτις καὶ αἰκιζομένη ὑπὸ τῶν περὶ Ἱππίαν τὸν τύραννον οὐδὲν ἐξειποῦσα ἐναπέθανεν ταῖς βασάνοις.


--Athenaeus, Deipnosoph. XIII.lxx; Translated into Latin by Iohannes Schweighaeuser (1805)

There was a courtesan from Eresos [city in Lesbos] named Sappho, just like the famous poet, who loved the beautiful Phaon. She was famously discussed by Nymphodorus in his Travels Around Asia. Nikarete, a courtesan from Megara, was not quite born in poverty; instead, she was born from a noble lineage and had a great education, and even became the philosopher Stilpon’s student. [The Olympic victor] Bilistiche, a courtesan from Argos, was also highly respected; according to the authors of Argive History, she was descended from Atreus’ dynasty.  The courtesan Leaena was also quite famous. She was the lover of the tyrant-killing Harmodius. Even when she was tortured by the tyrant Hippias, she died without betraying [her lover].



Name:  Athenaeus

Date:  2nd c. CE

Works:  Deipnosophists



Region 1: Peninsular Italy; Region 2: Western Europe; Region 3: Western Coast of Africa; Region 4: Egypt and Eastern Mediterranean; Region 5: Greece and the Balkans



 Athenaeus was a scholar who lived in Naucratis (modern Egypt) during the reign of the Antonines. His fifteen volume work, the Deipnosophists, are invaluable for the amount of quotations they preserve of otherwise lost authors, including the poetry of Sappho.


ARCHAIC: (through 6th c. BCE); GOLDEN AGE: (5th - 4th c. BCE); HELLENISTIC: (4th c. BCE - 1st c. BCE); ROMAN: (1st c. BCE - 4th c. CE); POST CONSTANTINOPLE: (4th c. CE - 8th c. CE); BYZANTINE: (post 8th c CE)


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