Prostitution was a big part of ancient Greece. In the more important cities such as Athens as there are many ports and piers and there were many merchants and traders who would visit as they carried out trading activities. Prostitution, depending on which was not viewed as a stigma but rather a common aspect and reputable career in the city. Owners of brothels, or prostitutes who were self employed had a part to play in the growth in economy. They employed a significant number of people in the industry and that made up a big aspect of the greek’s economy during the time.
Prostitution was also seen as a form of entertainment for men and sometimes women. An interesting part of the industry was that they had different classes of prostitutes, some of which were viewed as unacceptable and others that society felt was a actual job.
The 4 types were:
2. Middle-class Pornai
3. Lower-class Pornai
4. Male prostitutes
Starting from Hetairai who were then considered ‘special class’. The word ‘Hetaera’ means ‘companion’ from the Indo-European language, and that was what they were. Hetairai was classed the highest of prostitutes and they were viewed as entertainers rather than prostitutes. They were beautiful and elegant but not only that - they had intellectual training and artistic talents. They provided entertainment for men. Their customers were usually those younger in age - below 30. As societal norms in the greek society was for men to marry when they were only 30. Hence, the younger men were the one who usually employed these women to provide them pleasure and an experience. Compared to the women in the society, Hetairais were lucky enough to have independence and the luxury of being self employed.
Next, we have male prostitutes, they were usually young - usually in their tweens or teens, small in build with no beard or any hair on their body. These men were said to have more privilege then any other female prostitutes. They were usually, either slaves of war, but some were freemen who wanted to be their own boss. Hence, they would open a business for themselves. Prostituiton for these young men were too seen as a recognised and respectable job, just like the Hetairai. Rumour has it that male prostitutes were meant for women, however, the greeks were quite open to the idea of homosexuality and thus, majority of these fulfilled the needs of older men.
The bottom of the last are women who were called, Pornai. Pornai is the ancient Greek word for prostitutes or buyable women, they are considered slaves as compared to Hetairai who had significantly more freedom. Even though their jobs were similar, pornai was considered second rate compared to hetairai prostitutes. They were looked down upon while Hetairai was viewed as a legitimate job, who gave back to society. Pornai was considered simple prostitutes, the kind you think of when the word prostitute is mentioned. They are viewed as sleazy as they get dolled up and their sexual act and favour has set a price which men paid to receive. They were considered second rate because they worked in brothels and on the streets. They would walk around and wait for men to ‘pick them up’.
I hope this was an informative and interesting post, and you liked it as much as I do. It was eye opening to find out that the greeks were so open minded in a sense and that there was actually a ranking, hierarchy sort of system in an industry that would be mainly considered a stigma today.