Lamia and the Slutty King of Macedonia!

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.

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 Macedon (294-288 B.C.)

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.

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, Bocchoris is also the guy who drove the Jews out of Egypt and into the desert toward Canaan.

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. "A girl's work is never done!"

—————-

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.)

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Phryne shows naked assets, wows jury…

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.

Actually, Phyrne had posed for a famous statue of Aphrodite

Actually, Phyrne had famously posed for a famous statue of 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.

Phryne gave the philosopher Diogenes a freebie, because she admired his mind...

Phryne gave the philosopher Diogenes a freebie, just because she admired his mind...

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.

Although she was stunning, it wasn't just her nudity that frazzled the oligarchs...

Although she was stunning, it wasn't just her nudity that frazzled the oligarchs...

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…

I guess you don't want to get on the bad side of a powerful courtesan!

I guess you don't want to get on the bad side of a powerful courtesan!

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.

A Roman copy of Praxitele's Aphrodite at Knidos. The original is now lost...

A Roman copy of Praxitele's Aphrodite at Knidos. The original is now lost...

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.

There's something about her eyes that tells me she could use a few laughs...

There's something about her eyes that tells me she could use a few laughs...

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.”

I'll have to come back to ancient Greece for another blog post soon!

I'll have to come back to ancient Greece for another blog post soon!

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.

Published in: on January 13, 2009 at 3:30 am  Comments (5)  
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Caravaggio’s courtesan…

Let’s travel back in time to Rome in the late 1500s, and meet a prostitute and artist’s model named Fillide Melandroni.

I never knew her name until last night, when I looked up one of my favorite paintings, “Judith Beheading Holofernes.” In that Biblical story, the heroine Judith lulls the Assyrian general Holofernes into drunken passivity, then assassinates him. Result? His troops are demoralized and defeated and the Hebrews of Judith’s village of Bethulia survive.

Fillide, as Judith, looks like a dangerously cool customer

Fillide, as Judith, looks like a dangerously cool customer...

Apparently Fillide’s friend and lover, the great painter Caravaggio, killed her pimp by trying to castrate him. Fillide frequented the palazzos of the wealthy, but she was a street girl at heart. I can imagine her pressing a hard bargain for her fee. Caravaggio was notorious for using ordinary people as the models for his religious-themed paintings, which was apparently a radical practice at that time in art history. Prostitutes (or courtesans, as they were more delicately called) posed for such Biblical figures as Mary Magdalene, Martha, and Saint Catherine, seen directly below. The heathen Romans wanted to torture Saint Catherine on the wheel for out-debating their pagan philosophers and converting them to Christianity, but the wheel broke at her very touch.

Fillide's face conveys the beauty and bravery of St. Catherine, but the virginity? Hmm...

Fillide's face conveys the intelligence and bravery of St. Catherine, but the virginity? Hmm...

Caravaggio painted Fillide as herself in 1597 in the Portrait of a Courtesan, a painting that has since been lost and is known only through reproductions:

Here, Fillide looks like she was packing on the pounds...

Here, Fillide looks like she was packing on the pounds...

I like her better in Caravaggio’s Martha and Mary Magdalene, where Fillide as Martha persuades Mary to give up her life of sin and eroticism. Of course, both models lived that kind of life for real outside the studio–Fillide’s friend Anna Bianchini, as Mary, was another prostitute.

Fillide's composure has a very erotic quality as she rests her arm on the mirror...

Fillide's composure has a very erotic quality as she rests her arm on the mirror...

I wonder if Caravaggio got into bed with both of these lovelies after a long session of posing? The painter was apparently bisexual.

I like those tight bodices on the gowns. I can just imagine the rustle of the fabric as the ladies climb on top of me. Fillide definitely looks as if she enjoyed riding cowgirl!

Published in: on January 9, 2009 at 4:18 pm  Comments (2)  
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