Classic Court

Party Girls

Men visiting hetairi. Greek, Attributed to Makron (painter) and Heiron (potter), Kylix (Drinking Cup) with Woman Sacrificing and Courtesans (detail). Wheel-thrown, slip-decorated earthenware, about 490–180 BCE. Toledo Museum of Art.

Though wives and respectable women were forbidden to attend a symposium, courtesans known as hetairai were permitted to attend. Often of non-Greek descent, well educated, and skilled in the arts, this class of women acted as sophisticated companions to wealthy men. They also often enjoyed more freedom in Greek society than the wives and daughters of the most powerful men. At symposia hetairai would be brought in to perform (sometimes playing musical instruments, such as the flute, or dancing) as well as to flirt and converse with the men, their opinions being welcomed by their male counterparts.

Socrates disapproved of the attendance of hetairi, stating, “where the drinkers are men of worth and culture, you will find no girls piping or dancing or harping. They are quite capable of enjoying their own company without such frivolous non-sense, using their own voices in sober discussion and each taking his turn to speak or listen, even if the drinking is really heavy.” (from Plato’s Protagoras)