Not much is known about the exact details of her life, but what is definite is that a Milesian woman named Aspasia had a profound effect on the Athenian statesman, Pericles. Spending the majority of her adult life in Athens, she may have influenced Pericles and the course of Athenian politics. In this article, you will learn further details regarding her life.
What we know about Aspasia comes courtesy of writers living during the same time as she, such as Plato, Aristophanes, and Xenophon. She is believed to have lived somewhere around 470 BC to 400 BC. Somewhere in that time, ancient authors cite Aspasia as the keeper of a brothel. She is often described as a “harlot” , otherwise known as a prostitute.
However, over the years, there has been some dispute to these claims, as a handful of modern scholars believe writers of this time may have taken shots at Aspasia’s credibility as a way to insult Pericles. Historical accounts usually place Aspasia in the shoes of a courtesan, but some beg to differ , stating she may have even been the wife of Pericles.
Her Younger Years
Born in the Ionian Greek city of Miletus (what is now known as a province called Aydin in Turkey), Aspasia most likely belonged to a wealthy family, which explained how she was able to receive the first-rate education that she did. No one knows how she made it to Athens, but one historian has a theory. Peter K. Bicknell believes that a man exiled to Miletus (Alcibiades) took Asparia’s sister as his wife. He then returned to Athens with his new wife in tow, as well as her younger sister. Bicknell also believes that living in Alcibiades’s household gave Aspasia the chance to come in contact with Pericles.
Living in Athens
While in Athens, many scholars believe that Aspasia ran a brothel and made a living providing professional high-class entertainment. Some have given her the title of ‘hetaera,’ which meant that on top of being physically attractive, she was also educated and in many cases , equipped with a high level of learning. Other attributes for this kind of Athenian woman was that they were independent and paid their own taxes. Aspasia and women like her represented the ‘liberated’ woman of her times.
Since Aspasia came from another city and was most likely a hetaera, she was not tied down to the legal limitations that married women had to abide by. Without the restriction of being confined to the home, Aspasia could become an active member of public life about the city. During the early 440s, she became the mistress of Pericles, who was highly powerful and respected during the Golden Age of Athens. Following a divorce from his wife around 445 BC, Pericles was free to have Aspasia live with him. Details are hazy on whether or not they married.
For more information on Aspasia, continue with the second part of this article, which also mentions what she did after her beloved Pericles dies.