Famous courtesans – Phryne
Phryne (Ancient Greek: Φρύνη) (born c. 371 BC) was an ancient Greek courtesan (hetaira). She is best known for her trial for impiety, where she allegedly was defended by the orator Hypereides.
Phryne’s real name was Mnesarete, but owing to her yellowish complexion she was called Phrýnē (‘toad’). Athenaeus provides many anecdotes about Phryne. Supposedly the sculptor Praxiteles, who was also her lover, used her as the model for the statue of the Aphrodite of Knidos. It was the first nude statue of a woman from ancient Greece.
The best known event in Phryne’s life is her trial. Athenaeus writes that she was prosecuted for a capital charge and defended by the orator Hyereides, who was one of her lovers. Athenaeus does not specify the nature of the charge, but Pseudo Plutarch writes that she was accused of impiety. When it seemed as if the verdict would be unfavourable, Hypereides removed Phryne’s robe and bared her breasts before the judges to arouse their pity. Her beauty instilled the judges with a superstitious fear. They could not bring themselves to condemn “a prophetess and priestess of Aphrodite” to death. They decided to acquit her out of pity.
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