prostitution, secular, female
The prostitution of women (broadly defined here as the exchange of a female's sexual service, with or without her consent, for some other resource) may have arisen in Greece/Hellas out of contact with earlier Near Eastern manifestations both “sacred” and secular. The Greek terms porneion (“brothel”) and pornē (“whore”) are related to pernēmi (“to sell”), as is the Latin term meretrix (“courtesan”). The exchange of sexual service for the economic benefits conferred by marriage is remarked upon by Hesiod (Works and Days 373–375). In both Hellas and Rome, prostitution was considered to be as necessary an institution as the institutions of marriage, concubinage (see contubernium), or slavery, and Solon is credited with having founded state brothels, staffed by pornai (enslaved foreign women) for the sexual relief of young men.1 Social attitudes and legislation generally stigmatized and disfranchised prostitutes both male and female; to be characterized as a prostitute in literature was a significant form of discreditation.
Greek and Roman authors emphasize both the economic perils and the physical pleasures of the transaction for men (Archil. 302W, Philemon, Adelphoi fr. 3KA, Hor. Sat. 1.2). Major written sources—fiction, the law, the orators, historiography—frequently set into collision medical, moralizing, regulatory, tolerant, and oppressive ideologies, and must be used with great care. Social attitudes and legislation generally stigmatized and disenfranchised both male and female prostitutes; to be characterized as a prostitute significantly discredited an individual. Locales of prostitution seem to have been integrated into neighbourhoods rather than segregated into “red-light districts,” and many prostitutes worked at additional occupations. The iconography of sexual activity, especially on vases, is not unequivocal of the context. For most female prostitutes, conditions were coercive and slavelike; few attained iconic status. Much work remains to be done on this important feature of social history.
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(1.) See Eberhard Ruschenbusch, Solonos nomoi: Die Fragmente des solonischen Gesetzeswerkes (Wiesbaden: F. Steiner, 1966).