Beyond courtesans and whores: sex and labor in the Greco-Roman world.
While prostitution is now recognized as a serious field of study intersecting as it does with issues of economy, sexuality, slavery, and gender, the questions and approaches remain diverse. The 2006 publication of C. Faraone and L. K. McClure's edited collection, Prostitutes and Courtesans in the Ancient World, broadened the focus of prostitution studies to prostitutes themselves, as dedicators at sanctuaries, as laborers, as owners of prostitutes, and began to look at the effect of prostitution on the citizen body more generally. This work was followed by A. Glazebrook and M. M. Henry's edited volume, Greek Prostitutes in the Ancient Mediterranean, 800 BCE-200 CE (2011), which began to explore the margins of prostitution by focusing on the origins of Greek prostitution, the brothel, the terminology of prostitution, and the Greek prostitute in the Roman imagination, and by questioning previous approaches to interpreting visual representations of prostitutes. Both volumes are rich in bibliography (not possible to go through here, but note Henry 1985 and 1995, Flemming 1999, and Gilhuly 2009; also Glazebrook 2015) and are evidence that no single approach to ancient prostitution is satisfactory.
A number of the contributions in this collection (Goldman, Green, Lee, Witzke) were part of the panel on sexual labor sponsored by the Women's Classical Caucus at the annual meeting of the Society for Classical Studies (at that time still the American Philological Association) in Seattle, Washington, in January 2013. Despite the growing interest in this field, papers on prostitution were not regularly featured on the general program of the annual conference and this marked an opportunity to showcase the research being done in this area to the association more broadly. Two members of the original panel do not appear in this issue: Debra Kamen's thoughtful examination of slave prostitutes and ergasia in the Delphic manumission inscriptions has since appeared in ZPE 188 (2014) 149-53, and Sarah Levin-Richardson's discussion of graffiti in the "Lupanar" at Pompeii will be published as part of a monograph. The purpose of the panel was to explore types of sexual labor and its associated terminology, the connections between sexual labor, gender, and the body, between sexual laborers, social hierarchies, and citizen status in the ancient world, and to invite considerations of literary, epigraphic, and material evidence together in one venue. It was ambitious in scope, but was intended to capture new work and new approaches being taken to the material and the topic. As Simon Goldhill (2014, 185, 192-3) has recently reaffirmed, prostitution is a complex social and political phenomenon and requires recognition of the difficulty in defining and writing about prostitution, affected by such issues as agency and autonomy, boundaries between public and private, concepts of marriage and desire, economic and social values, as well as regulation and conceptions of the body.
Serena Witzke starts the issue off with a discussion of terminology in Roman Comedy. Her focus is how to translate the Latin terms into English. Much of what she says is equally applicable to other genres and not restricted to the Roman world. In formulating the original panel, I thought carefully about what umbrella label to use. As Witzke carefully outlines, many English terms carry connotations, both positive and negative, not present in the original contexts. As a solution, the terms 'sex worker' and 'sex work' are increasingly used to refer to prostitution in the ancient world. But while the terms are devoid of stigma (at least, to a greater extent than many alternatives), they also mislead and misappropriate the original intention behind these terms. Sex workers today are a mobilizing class asserting choice and agency and their right to choose their work as a profession with the same rights as other workers to safe working conditions. When we use this terminology for the ancient world, we dilute the fact of slavery as a crucial element of many (but not all) ancient prostitution practices. We also undermine the significance of 'sex work' as a term in the modern context by associating sex workers with slavery and exploitation. While even today, on the global scale, sex trafficking is still linked to sex slavery, mobilized sex workers are against prostitution as slavery and dispute the claim that prostitution is always exploitive, instead focusing on choice and the right to choose sex work as a profession. With regard to the ancient world, then, the apolitical term 'sexual labor' seems more appropriate.
The next two articles look at prostitution from a socio-historical perspective and are revisionist in that they both question or complicate who should and should not be classed as sex laborers/prostitutes. Max Goldman considers evidence for the connection between the auletris and prostitution, commonly accepted as one and the same thing, and concludes that the two are not quite so intimately intertwined and are even mutually exclusive. He puts the focus back on the auletris as a hired musician, who in some circumstances might also perform sexual favors, but whose main trade was as a highly skilled and sought after musical performer. Rebecca Kennedy reconsiders the term hetaira as always indicating prostitutes at the symposium. She instead argues for a class of elite women who participated on equal footing with men as part of the habrosune culture of late sixth- and early fifth-century Athens. Kennedy collects evidence on the lives of Elpinice and Coisyra, both members of the most elite citizen families, and argues they represent an aristocratic lifestyle on par with their male peers, hetairoi.
Sexuality and sex laborers are considered in the contributions of Mireille Lee and my own contribution to this collection. Lee considers the attitude of women, and prostitutes specifically, toward their own sexuality with an examination of the Aphrodite of Knidos by applying the female gaze and carefully considering the famous statue's context as a cult statue in a temple. I consider the darker side of prostitution and explore attitudes toward the prostitute body as an accessible body in comedy and how such accessibility might be defined by sexual violence.
Prostitution, however, is only one facet of sexual labor, which includes slavery more generally. While prostitutes were regularly of slave status, general household slaves were required to provide sexual gratification on demand and some slaves were maintained solely for the purpose of sex. Their labor thus still falls under the category of sexual labor more broadly. Edward Cohen (2014), who has published extensively on the economy of Greek prostitution (2000 and 2006), has begun to explore the complexity of the erotic experience of slaves, and such discussions should consider further the sexual work carried out by male and female household slaves in addition to the work of prostitutes. The next two contributions thus look more broadly at the sexual labor of slaves. C. W. Marshall considers the use of the domestic slave as a sex slave in Roman comedy, focusing on examples in which no money or gift is regularly exchanged, despite her regular accessibility. These scenarios cannot easily be labelled prostitution, although they may involve women once owned by a pimp, but such slaves remain an important category for considerations of sexual labor. This study follows his recent powerful re-examination of the prostitute as sex slave through the genre of New Comedy (2013). Mira Green looks at how and to what purpose Roman males directly and indirectly involved slaves (women and boys) in their sexual lives as both audiences and as objects of sexual fantasies and the resulting effect of these encounters on slaves. Finally, Jennifer Baird challenges us to recognize the complexity of relationships surrounding material objects and to view such objects from the perspective of sexual labor. Using the lens of sexual labor exposes our assumptions behind discussions of master-slave relationships. Baird's goal is not to suggest a single correct reading, but simply to highlight how complex an approach we need to employ when considering questions of material culture and slavery (particularly as evidence of the sexual experience of slaves).
The study of prostitution in the ancient world has become a rich and necessary field of inquiry. Modern Western cultures struggle with how to react/respond to prostitution locally and globally, and by carefully considering prostitution in the Greco-Roman world we provide an important context for such discussions.
Cohen, E. E. 2000. "Whoring under Contract: The Legal Context of Prostitution in Fourth-Century Athens." In V Hunter and J. Edmondson, eds., Law and Social Status in Classical Athens. Oxford. 113-48.
--. 2006. "Free and Unfree Sexual Work: An Economic Analysis of Athenian Prostitution." In C. A. Faraone and L. A. McClure, eds., Prostitutes and Courtesans in the Ancient World. Madison. 95-124.
--. 2014. "Sexual Abuse and Sexual Rights: Slaves' Erotic Experience at Athens and Rome." In T. K. Hubbard, ed., A Companion to Greek and Roman Sexualities. Malden, MA. 184-98.
Davidson, J. 1997. Courtesans and Fishcakes: The Consuming Passions of Classical Athens. London.
Flemming, R. 1999. "Quae corpore quaestum fecit: The Sexual Economy of Female Prostitution in the Roman Empire." JRS 89: 38-61.
Gilhuly, K. 2009. The Feminine Matrix of Sex and Gender in Classical Athens. Cambridge. Glazebrook, A. 2015. "Sexuality." In D. Clayman, ed., Oxford Bibliographies in Classics. New York, http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/ (accessed 1 February 2015).
--, and M. M. Henry, eds. 2011. Greek Prostitutes in the Ancient Mediterranean, 800 BCE-200 CE. Madison.
Goldhill, S. 2014. "Is There a History of Prostitution?" In M. Masterson, N. S. Rabinowitz, and J. Robson, eds., Sex in Antiquity: Exploring Gender and Sexuality in the Ancient World. New York. 179-97.
Henry, M. M. 1985. Menander's Courtesans and the Greek Comic Tradition. Frankfurt am Main.
--. 1995. Prisoner of History: Aspasia of Miletus and Her Biographical Tradition. Oxford.
Kurke, L. 1999. Coins, Bodies, Games and Gold: The Politics of Meaning in Archaic Greece. Princeton.
Marshall, C. W. 2013. "Sex Slaves in New Comedy." In B. Akrigg and R. Tordoff, eds., Slaves and Slavery in Ancient Greek Comic Drama. Cambridge. 173-96.
McClure, L. K. 2003. Courtesans at Table: Gender and Literary Culture in Athenaeus. New York.
--, and C. A. Faraone, eds. 2006. Prostitutes and Courtesans in the Ancient World. Madison.
McGinn, T. A. J. 1998. Prostitution, Sexuality, and the Law in Ancient Rome. Oxford.
--. 2004. The Economy of Prostitution in the Roman World: A Study of Social History and the Brothel. Ann Arbor.
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|Date:||Mar 22, 2015|
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