He met her in 306 B.C. when he defeated the navy of Menelaus in a quest to take Athens away from the tyrants Cassander and Ptolemy. She was one of the spoils of war, once a flute player, now a hetaira (courtesan) in the circle of Menelaus. Her name was Lamia—named after a demon in Greek mythology who ate children and could take her eyes out of their sockets! That should have been warning enough, but some guys like a challenge…
This 1909 painting by Herbert James Draper depicts the demon in the human form of an indolent ancient Greek prostitute.
His name was Demetrius I, the future King of Macedonia. When he won Athens, he was saluted as The Preserver; later, when he attacked Rhodes with huge engines of war such as his 125 foot tall siege tower known as “Helepolis” (“Taker of Cities”)—he was dubbed “Demetrius Poliorcetes”—Demetrius the Besieger.
And, as he took cities, Lamia took him…
A satiric poet nicknamed Lamia a "helepolis" in the way she conquered Demetrius.
Not that he wasn’t ripe for the taking. He was a paradoxical combination of gross sensualist and dedicated, innovative general. Handsome, impetuous, and bisexual, he could pursue young men to the point where one committed suicide by jumping into a boiling pot of water rather than succumb to Demetrius’s lust when cornered in a bathhouse. But over his lifetime, Demetrius was also married five times, had seven children, and was obsessed with chasing female prostitutes, slaves, and freeborn women.
A military innovator, he designed a 180 foot battering ram that needed 1000 men to move!
Lamia was apparently “past her prime” when Demetrius met her, and the bolder members of his court didn’t hesitate to tease him on this count and call Lamia an “old woman.” Once at dinner when Demetrius was praising Lamia to Demo, one of his other prostitutes, complimenting the dessert that Lamia had presented, Demo replied with more than a dash of snark, “My mother will send you something even better, if you sleep with her, too.”
Though he still had his fun with other hetairae hotties like Demo, Chrysis, and Anticyra, Lamia remained his number one babe. According to our ever-handy historian pal Plutarch: “Her beauty was on the wane, yet she captivated Demetrius, though not near her age, and so effectively enslaved him by the peculiar power of her charms that, though other women had a passion for him, he could only think of her.”
A lamia, according to the mythology, was half-serpent and half-woman, but in the way that myths mutate over the years, it would not be a stretch to say that any lamia, or Demetrius’s own personal Lamia, had more than a little bit of spider in her too…
She apparently was more than willing to blackmail members of the court in order to pay for elaborate banquets for her besotted trick. According Plutarch again (from whom I got most of my info, if not my prose), Demetrius’s courtiers would compare the psychic wounds inflicted by their master’s mistress to the scars left by a lion on the body of a warrior: “Our king bears on his neck the marks of a dreadful wild beast called a lamia.” Demetrius was nicknamed “Mythus” behind his back, meaning “Fable,” because they saw him acting out the fairy tale scenario of a man consumed by a monster woman.
Interestingly, according to Wikipedia, the playwright Aristophanes inferred that the lamia could have a hermaphroditic phallus—like a kind of supernatural, demonic man/woman. Had Demetrius himself ever heard of such a wrinkle to the lamia’s characteristics? It is interesting to ponder, given his sexual ambidexterity…
Plutarch (or Wikipedia, for that matter) does not record the kind of sex that Lamia and Demetrius practiced…but given the heavily symbolic nature of her name (which she probably was not born with, but adopted as her hooker moniker)—and even the joke alluding to her conquering nature as a “helepolis” (what could be more phallic that a siege tower spewing fire and arrows?), it is not too difficult to speculate what stuff might have gone on in the bedchambers of an enraptured Demetrius…
What is certain is that Demetrius I of Macedonia, like other men throughout history, was more than willing to be devoured by a predatory female!
The most infamous example of Lamia’s hold over her Besieger was that she would not go to bed with him at first until he coughed up an outrageous sum…250 talents, which comes to about $415,000, if my calculations of the value of the ancient silver talent (a monetary unit) is correct from my research on the Web.
Actually, I found two versions of this anecdote. According to Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Book of Women (another one of the volumes of “esoteric lore” I love to collect, and which introduced me to this story in the first place), Lamia asked for $300,000 and when Demetrius couldn’t afford it (siege towers so eat up a conqueror’s budget!), he put a tax on soap for the Athenians. In Plutarch’s version, Lamia and her hetairae pals apparently said they themselves wanted to buy 250 talents worth of soap (I guess it was hard to scrub away the lingering scents of some of their less appealing clients), and so Demetrius used that as an excuse to rigorously squeeze the citizenry for dough. Once he got the cash, he turned it over to Lamia—$415,000 worth, if my math is right—and if you think modern Americans are pissed off about high taxes, multiply it to the nth power to gauge the Athenian reaction to this outrage.
Well, Demetrius, ole buddy, we hope it was worth it!
These are authentic coins from his reign as King of Macedonia (294-288 B.C.)
Maybe Demetrius had developed a taste for the older woman, “yummy mummy” or “MILF” type, from his experience with his first wife, Phila, with whom he tied the knot when he was quite young. The marriage was arranged by Demetrius’s dad, the mighty Antigonus, another brazen general and roaming conqueror to whom Demetrius was very loyal. Phila was much older than Demetrius (how much older I couldn’t determine), but she stuck by him through thick and thin, through his successful campaigns and his failures (there were many of both), through his boy-toys and his lamia ladies. When he finally lost it all and entered the captivity in which he died at fifty-four, she took poison.
It’s not recorded what Lamia thought when her lover no longer had any drachmas for her purse..
A timeless scene: hookers recalling the pleasure of pulling fast ones on their dopier johns.
But Plutarch does record one last telling anecdote that reflects the greed of Lamia…
About three hundred years before the time of Demetrius, there was a young fellow in Egypt who lusted for a courtesan named Thonis. Unfortunately, he couldn’t afford her, but luckily one night he had a powerful dream in which he imagined himself hooking up with Thonis. When he awakened, he felt as if he’d had Thonis and was thoroughly satisfied. His sticky post-wet dream sheets, no doubt, were proof of that…
When Thonis heard about this, she wanted to be paid for the young man’s satisfaction. (I guess he just had to go and boast about it.) The Pharoah, named Bocchoris, heard both sides of the story from them, and he told the ersatz “customer” to put the gold that Thonis demanded into a dish, and to jingle the coins in front of her so that she could enjoy the sight and sound of it. That, the Pharoah concluded, was all that she deserved in return: “For fantasy,” he declared, “is no more than the shadow of truth.” Bocchoris decreed that Thonis had gotten the equivalent of what the young man had enjoyed.
In some accounts, mostly likely erroneous, Bocchoris is also the Pharoah who drove the Jews out of Egypt and into the desert toward Canaan.
According to Plutarch, when Lamia heard this story, she felt the Pharoah was wrong, because Thonis’ desire for the money was not satiated by just seeing it, unlike the young man’s pleasure which had been achieved through a dream.
Lamia was probably one of those avaricious types who would look at a potential customer and think, “What is my money doing in your wallet?” (This is the attitude of the more cold-hearted lapdancers of our modern era.)
Anyway, I have the feeling that Lamia didn’t take poison when Demetrius—once at the command of 98,000 foot soldiers, 12,000 horsemen, and 500 galleys—was captured by his enemies and put in prison. Nope…she probably just moved on to the next trick.
I got my pictures from many sources, but the amazing closeup of actress Tandra Quinn turning into a prehistoric monster in 1953’s The Neanderthal Man is a terrific screen capture from the site Music From the Monster Movies 1950-69. She’s also the lady with the spider, a publicity still from the absurd but entertaining cult classic Mesa of Lost Women.)