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Aspasia of Miletus

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Aug 17, 2014 | 2:31 AM EDT
Category
Illustration
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history
woman
african
greek

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Author Comments

Aspasia (470-400 BC) was born in the Greek city-state of Miletus on the coast of Asia Minor (now Turkey), but moved to Athens as a resident alien (or metic). There she worked as a courtesan and became a beloved concubine of the famous statesman Pericles. Although her status as a foreign migrant protected her from the legal restraints that suppressed native-born Athenian women, it also prevented her from marrying Pericles and didn't exactly endear her to other Athenian gentlemen. Poets and philosophers alike would attack her sexuality and influence over Pericles, with one even blaming her for the Peloponnesian War.

Not all classical evaluations of her were so negative. For example, Lucian in his Imagines complimented her for "experience in affairs, shrewdness in statescraft, quick-wittedness, and penetration" and even claimed that the philosopher Socrates would visit her to listen to her discourse. Unfortunately most of the information we know about Aspasia and her life comes from very fragmented sources.

The ritual scars I've drawn on Aspasia's right cheek are modeled after a star-like symbol that appears on ancient coinage from her native Miletus. However, none of the ancient texts that have been uncovered thus far describe her appearance for certain.