A generation ago, standard ancient history courses paid little attention to domestic life. I vaguely remember being told that Aspasia was Pericles's 'mistress' and that hetairai like her were often well-educated, and thus able better to serve as 'companions' for men than their less cultivated wives. But it wasn't until relatively recently that undergraduates were encouraged to know how such women were educated not only to discuss poetry and philosophy but also to carry out the less academic functions of their profession. Such information had in fact survived antiquity, and much of it had already been translated into English, but the required texts concentrated on war, politics and ethics. Now, by contrast, the life story of the notorious courtesan Neaera, with its episodes of gang rape, blackmail and fraud, is parsed, discussed and analysed in the first-year Greek book used by many schools and universities. The consciousness (apparently) even of Classical scholars had been raised by the civil rights movement of the Sixties, so that in the Seventies and Eighties it became possible to study, sometimes for the space of an entire term's course, Blacks or Slaves or Women or the Family in Antiquity.
LRB 1 September 1983 | PDF Download