Famous Courtesans


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Some of the oldest women in history were courtesans: Madame de Chatelet, the famed mistress of Voltaire who translated Newton's Principia into French; Diane de Poitiers, the courtesan of King Henry II, who was responsible for ushering the Renaissance into France; Madame de Pompadour, one of the most well known courtesans; the long line of the geisha of Kyoto; the devidasi of India and the hetairai of ancient Greece who strongly influenced the philosophers and rhetoriticians of their time.

(5th Century BC)

Aspasia of Miletus was a highly educated woman of her time and was known for writings, rhetoric and philosophy. In fact Aspasia's accomplishments are numerous and her knowledge and influence has effected many great minds and thinkers including Plato, Pericles, and Socrates. Because Aspasia was a non Athenian, which excluded her from the law that governed Athenian women, it allowed her to live outside these laws making it possible for her to do the things she did. Unfortunately there are no physical works of Aspasia but her work can be seen through the voice of the men she influenced like that of her lover, Pericles who did the popular Funeral Oration. Her influence did not stop there however, as she also ran her own courtesian salon, a school for girls of wealthy families where she taught things like political oratory, as well as domestic economics. This salon was frequented by many great politicians and philosophers, who would gather along with their wives or mistresses to indulge in her knowledge and words. The salon would be used by these men as a way in which to influence and pool intellectual minds.


Veronica was born in Venice in 1546. During that time Venice was a wonderful place for courtesans, rivaling ancient Athens. The city was actually well known for its beautiful and intelligent Courtesans. After Veronica's doctor husband died, the young widow was left to raise their son alone. She turned to her mother, who was also a courtesan and quickly learned the art. Veronica was an intelligent woman and was well known to many of the prominent political and literary figures of her time. In fact it was her loyal patrons that allowed her to publish her poetry and letters. While in the Petrarchan style, her writings are undeniably erotic and celebratory of female sexuality. In 1575, she published her best known collection, "Terza Rima," which rejects the ideal of female chastity and submissiveness, and even argues for the superiority of women over men. Veronica is known as the "honest courtesan" as her patrons often desired her company more than her body. Such thing was rare indeed. Sometime in her thirties, Franco gave up courtesanship, and seems to have founded a hostel for other women leaving that life. You can see her life portrayed on the big screen with the movie, Dangerous Beauty.

(4th century BC)
Lais of Corinth was a hetaira in ancient Greece who was famous for her dazzling beauty and her high price. At this time Corinth was the center of those worshipping Aphrodite and sexuality was rampant. Of course at the time the Greeks found this not only to be natural but sacred. spent some time in Athens, where her lover Myron immortalized her in marble, while she carried on a war of one-liners with another lover, the playwright Euripides. She was skilled in her art and she charged her patrons accordingly. In fact the philosopher Aristippus, a follower of Socrates, could only afford her for two months out of the year. She modeled frequently for Apelles, a noted painter of the ancient world: she was the centerpiece of his now-lost masterwork, "Aphrodite Rising from the Sea."


The priestesses of temples served as dispensers of karuna, or charis. Charis was mother-love, kindness, tenderness, sympathy, spiritual enlightenment, sensuality, healing, and conversation. Sex was only part, though an important part, of these priestesses' lives. They were skilled conversationalists, educators and healers, loyal daughters of the Goddess (her name varied depending on the location) , and dispensers of Her grace, Her charis, Her "charity." In those days, a harlot was a holy woman and Goddesses such as Ishtar called Themselves "Compassionate Whore." As revealed in the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, these women were considered a civilizing influence: when the beastly Enkidu terrorized the countryside, the Goddess Ishtar sent Her priestess to have sex with him and take him back to the city, a civilized man.
The Geisha of Japan were and are highly trained Courtesans. They are highly trained in the arts of love as they are poetry, etiquette and entertainment. There is a hierarchy within as well. The highest were the Oiran, an opulent courtesan whose sensual and sexual arts had no comparison. Then there were the Yujo or "Dragon Women" who made the polite fantasy of apprentice geisha become reality in the bedroom.  The Courtesans were highly ritualized and had strict etiquette from everything to what the Geisha should wear to those who could associate with the women. Exquisite creatures, they remain a reminder of the way Courtesans used to be.