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Accounts of her life as a child reveal that she was working for Nicarete, along with six other girls purchased at the same time, before she had come of age (before puberty). But if she does not enjoy smiling, she must spend the day indoors and, like something positioned by a butcher when selling goats’ heads, she must hold upright between her teeth a thin stick of myrtle; that way, in time she will show off her teeth whether she likes to or not.As she matured, Neaira was sold, passed around, and finally found herself in court on charges of illegally marrying. In another comedy from the same era, the playwright describes the women on display in brothels.
The word hetairos (male companion) is also attested in some sources but rarely in its reference to sexual activity.
In an extract preserved from a comic play from the 4th or 3rd century BC, the lengths to which a pimp would go to alter the appearance and behaviour of new girls is recorded: One girl happens to be small? Once courted by elite men, and described as having a haughty disposition, the aged Lais is depicted in this comedic passage as roaming the streets, taking on any client she could get, and having become “so tame …
Cork is stitched to the sole of her delicate shoes. She wears a flat slipper, and goes out drooping her head on her shoulders, thus taking away some of her height. She puts on a girdle with padded hips under her clothes so that men, on seeing her beautiful derriere, call out to her. that she takes the money out of your hand.” The existence of so-called “temple prostitution” in Greek, Italian and Near Eastern antiquity has been recorded by several ancient authors, including Strabo in his Geography, written in the first century BC, which details “temple slaves” in the precincts of Aphrodite at Eryx (Sicily) and Corinth.
While Aspasia may not have been a typical hetaira, but rather an exceptionally successful and fortunate one, there is ancient evidence to attest that this class of women was educated in literary arts, philosophy, and rhetoric.
In this sense, they could converse with men in a way that traditional wives could not, owing to the limited access to formal education afforded Athenian girls and women of citizen families. From a wealthy family from Miletus (in modern-day Turkey), she seems to have acquired her extensive education through virtue of their prominence and her father’s decision to allow her tuition.
The circumstances behind her arrival in Athens are debated, although as a resident alien, Aspasia had little options once there.
She could not legally marry an Athenian citizen, nor could she seek legitimate work.
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The price of women varied according to their age and condition and the quality (or lack thereof) of the business. Turning to a comic play once more, there is a description of an aged hetaira called Lais and the difficulties and humiliations facing her, which is evoked by the lines: “it is easier to get an audience with her than it is to spit”.
As the hetairai were trained in the skills required to please men, women in brothels were sometimes modified to suit certain male tastes. Lais was an actual person who lived around the same time as Aspasia, and was reputed to have been a stunningly beautiful hetaira.
Other hetairai, like Neaira, were put into the trade as children and trained for a life of satisfying wealthy clients.