- Hardcover: 200 pages
- Publisher: Yale University Press (December 31, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0300094310
- ISBN-13: 978-0300094312
- Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.6 x 0.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 10 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,511,096 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Trying Neaira: The True Story of a Courtesan's Scandalous Life in Ancient Greece
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"This clearly written, entertaining, and well-informed book is a wonderful means of entering the world of fourth-century Athens." Mary R. Lefkowitz, Wellesley College "Debra Hamel has written a marvelous account of a fascinating series of events in the life of a Greek woman of the fourth century B.C. She tells the tale with clarity and verve and, along the way, she teaches the reader a vast amount about Athenian society in the most interesting and entertaining way." Donald Kagan, Yale University
From the Back Cover
"This clearly written, entertaining, and well-informed book is a wonderful means of entering the world of fourth-century Athens."Mary R. Lefkowitz, Wellesley College; "Debra Hamel has written a marvelous account of a fascinating series of events in the life of a Greek woman of the fourth century B.C. She tells the tale with clarity and verve and, along the way, she teaches the reader a vast amount about Athenian society in the most interesting and entertaining way."Donald Kagan, Yale University
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Top customer reviews
Neaira was a prostitute in the 4th century, who grew up in Corinth and eventually found herself in a stable relationship as the long-time mistress of an influential Athenian, Stephanos. Unfortunately, Stephanos had an equally influential enemy (or at least rival) Apollodoros. They battled back and forth in the courts, and eventually Apollodoros hit on a different way to attack Stephanos--through Neaira.
Athenian laws were quite strict about foreigners and allowed no intermarriage. Apollodoros set out to prove that Neaira was living with Stephanos as his wife, instead of as his mistress, and that their children were being given the rights of Athenian citizens--which, as Neaira's children, they never could be.
Using Apollodoros speech to the jury, Hamel recreates Neaira's life, while using other sources to fill out the story with interesting details about prostitution, jury duty, social customs and Athenian law.*
Hamel approaches Neaira's life (via the speech) as a detective would, piecing together bits, shifting out obvious falsehoods, and in the end presenting a surprising full picture of one woman's life.
This is an excellent book for anyone who is, or who is NOT, interested in ancient Athenian law. I, myself, had not the least curiosity in said subject and yet found myself fascinated, all the while being constantly entertained by her sly wit and bizarre trivia. I learned enough from this book to become quite interested in Athenian history and I feel it will have the same effect on any other casual historian.
*to qoute from the Preface:
Apollodoros'speech, inevitably hostile to Neaira, must be the principal source for her biography, though we will need very often to question and reject the information he provides. Where what he tells us is not inherently unlikely, however, or contradicted by other sources, and when lying about the issue under discussion would not have furthered the prosecution's case, we can feel reasonably confident about accepting Apollodoros'testimony. Fleshing out Neaira's story, too, will require frequent dips into other source material.
We learn how much Athenian citizenship was valued by those who had it. We learn a lot about the limitations that women had due to their gender. We learn a great deal about how litigation worked and how juries were selected. We learn about Athenian law, especially concerning those concerning foreigners living in the city and what their rights were. We learn about how litigation was used as a political tool, as well as a way to continue a personal vendetta against someone, and that juries did not always vote based on who was right on the side of the law, but sometimes based on who was better able to appeal to their personal sensibilities.
Unfortunately, the fate of Neaira and her husband is not recorded, so the reader is left slightly disappointed at the end.
If one chooses to read this book in an effort to discover what the everyday life of a Greek hetaira was like, one is most likely to be seriously disappointed. One may gain a better appreciation of that subject by working one's way through James Davidson's "Courtesans and Fishcakes."
However, this text is highly recommended to anyone who has read (or is required to read) the very biased speech of Apollodoros (catalogued as Demosthenes 59) in the prosecution of Neaira that was undertaken to undermine her lover's political life in Athens. What is most frustrating about all aspects of studying ancient Greek society is the almost total lack of women's voices speaking about women's lives. Debra Hamel's little text is one successful effort to shed light on the way in which surviving literature distorts the reality of women in Ancient Greece. It does that, in my opinion, quite well. However, it does not tell "the true story of a courtesan's scandalous life in Ancient Greece."
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