Phryne ancient greek courtesan
“Phryne before the Areopagus,” Jean Leon Gerome, 1861. Credit: General public Domain

Phryne the Thespian was a notable ancient Greek hetaira, or courtesan, of Athens, who is remembered all over the millennia for her dramatic trial which she won by baring her bare physique.

Her actual identify name was Mnesarete, but folks referred to her as Phryne (“toad”), because of the yellow undertone of her skin.

Her tale has survived for countless numbers of years, with the well known model and courtesan getting to be a symbol of independence from sexism, as effectively as repression disguised as piety.

Phryne was born around 371 BC in Thespiae (Boeotia), but spent most of her everyday living in Athens. For the reason that of her gorgeous seems, she became a model, posing for different painters and sculptors, including Praxiteles, who was also a single of her most frequent clientele.

Lifetime as an ancient Greek courtesan

Compared with most Athenian women of all ages, who rarely remaining their properties and experienced pretty very little voice in culture, courtesans like Phryne were granted a great deal extra freedom.

They could leave the residence, and ended up noticed as educated and clever, so that they could have engaging conversations with their shoppers.

1 of the statutes Praxiteles modeled soon after Phryne, the Aphrodite of Cnidus, was ordered by the metropolis of Cnidus in Kos just after the town that experienced initially commissioned it objected to its becoming a nude –  and the statue grew to become such a notable vacationer magnet that the metropolis managed to shell out off its whole financial debt.

Phryne’s splendor also turned the topic of quite a few historic Greek writers, who praised her appears, with Athenaeus brazenly worshiping her in his get the job done titled The Deipnosophists.  From this get the job done we also know that Phryne was the wealthiest self-manufactured lady in all Athens at the time.

She turned so loaded and highly effective through her lifetime that she even proposed shelling out for the reconstruction of the walls of Thebes, which had been ruined by Alexander the Good in 336 BC.

Intimidated by the plan that a woman model and courtesan could restore what a terrific king like Alexander the Terrific experienced wrecked, Phryne’s offer you was rejected by the community authorities of Thebes — and the walls remained in their ruined problem.

The trial of Phryne

Phryne ancient greek courtesan
Phryne by Gustave Boulanger, Credit rating: Community Domain

Regardless of her unbelievable wealth and splendor — and prominent clients — what keeps the memory of Phryne alive to this day is her famed trial.

According to Athenaeus, Phryne was prosecuted on a cash offense, and was defended by the orator Hypereides, 1 of her enthusiasts. Athenaeus does not specify the mother nature of the demand, though some other historical sources point out that she was accused of profaning the Eleusinian Mysteries.

Whilst there is excellent discussion between students about what seriously transpired that working day in court docket, Athenaeus wrote that Hypereides tore off Phryne’s gown in the middle of the courtroom to demonstrate the judges her gorgeous system.

His reasoning was that only the gods could sculpt these kinds of a ideal physique therefore killing or imprisoning her would be seen as blasphemy and disrespect to the gods.

What appeared to be an unfavorable verdict for Phryne turned into a glorious victory for her after the inspired motion of Hypereides.

Phryne walked out the court triumphant, and her tale went on to inspire several will work of art, including the legendary painting Phryne in advance of the Areopagus by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1861) and the sculpture Phryne Before the Judges, by Albert Weine, from 1948.

In addition, Baudelaire wrote two poems about her, the composer Saint-Saëns wrote an opera about her (Phryne, 1893), and quite a few contemporary writers have penned novels about her controversial demo.