Athens, 340 B.C.
Phryne, one of the most famous and beautiful of the hetaerae (high-class, highly educated courtesans, aka prostitutes), is on trial for her life–and your Horny Time Traveler has managed to sneak into the court to witness her judgment before a stern jury of city fathers. Her crime? Displaying her fantastic beauty in the nude at the religious festival at Eleusis that honors the sea god Poseidon. Her action was taken as an affront to the goddess Aphrodite.
I can’t believe the shape she’s in. After all, Phryne was born in 390 B.C., and she’s packed decades of tough-minded living (and lucrative whoring) on that frame. I move forward for a closer look.
Charged with the capital offense of profaning the ceremony at Eleusis, she’s defended by one of her lovers, the golden-tongued orator Hypereides. Despite the fact that she charged him one hundred times the going Athenian rate for nookie in that era (100 times 1 drachma), he’s unstinting in her defense. But it’s not going well, until suddenly Hypereides gets an inspiration. Whipping off Phyrne’s clothes, he displays her fabulous body to the graybeards.
I hope nobody notices me standing behind a pillar! I’m fidgeting so much–Phryne is so gorgeous I have to restrain the urge to give her a tip, like a topless dancer back in 2009. Well, she probably would only be puzzled by a piece of paper with the face of a president who won’t be born for almost two thousand years…
But my fantasies are getting ahead of me. Instead, I listen to Hypereides’ impassioned speech, punctuated by the audible anguish of Phryne. The orator is not only boggling the jury’s head with the sight of Phryne’s bod (and it’s rumored that her unseen private parts are even more beautiful than everything else), but they are starting to feel just a little bit afraid, I think–after all, someone who looks so good is obviously on very good terms with Aphrodite, and perhaps it would be a wee bit dangerous to condemn her to death. When she is finally exonerated, she tearfully thanks the oligarchs, working her way through the crowd, pressing their hands. I remember seeing a stripper work her way through an audience like that once.
After the trial, I realize I don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell to hook up with Phryne. It would be like trying to hook up with an A-lister in my own time. Hey, Phryne’s extremely wealthy, and she’s got plenty of customers–everybody from her lawyer Hypereides to the penniless Diogenes to the master artist Praxiteles. It was Prax who made that very famous statue of her as Aphrodite at Knidos that supposedly made the goddess quip, “When did that sculptor ever see me naked??” Maybe I just don’t know what I’d say to Phryne, or maybe I’m just not up to haggling for a discount if we don’t have much chemistry. If she doesn’t like someone, like the King of Lydia, she asks an outrageous price. I heard he had to levy a tax on his populace to make up all the dough he spent on Phryne! Because when he met her price, she gave him what he wanted. That’s her credo: “You pay, I’ll play.” That’s a pro.
Maybe my night with Phryne is better left to fantasy.
Meanwhile, I take a walk outside of town to cool off and whaddaya know? I run into this cute gal just sitting by a stream.
I don’t know ancient Hellenic (or modern Hellenic, for that matter), but it’s funny how you can communicate with a few gestures and funny faces. Is she human or a wood nymph? Hey, it doesn’t matter. What ‘s really nice is that she seems to agree with what the playwright Sophocles, who was stuck on a younger courtesan in his later years, once said:
“Hear me now praying, goddess, nurse of youths,
And grant that this my love may scorn young men,
And their most feeble fancies and embraces;
And rather cling to gray-headed old men,
Whose minds are vigorous, though their limbs be weak.”
Afterward I went back to my own time with a smile on my face, and it didn’t cost me a drachma!
The first painting of Phryne at Eleusis is by the Polish painter Henryk Siemiradzki (1843-1902); Phryne in the Areopagus is by Jean-Leon Gerome; Phryne solo (and looking like she wants to kick my ass) is by Boulanger; and the nymph is by Siemiradzki.