Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Queen of Memphis

A man living in Greece during the height of the Athenian rule would have enjoyed a golden era—unless, of course, he was a slave by birth or through capture.

Free women, however, did not enjoy the same privileges.  Athenian society was organized around a man’s world. Women were expected to run their households, prepare their meals--and stay out of sight. After the age of six, girls stayed at home with their mothers whilst boys were given a proper education. Pericles believed a woman’s place was in the home and said ‘…the greatest glory of a women is to be least talked about by men.’  Her house might have been her domain to run, but public life was off bounds . Whether or not you had one or 100 slaves, the glass ceiling was painfully thick and low enough to asphyxiate any spark of possibilities.

But not all women played by those rules. Unless you had no problem entering into a pre-arranged marriage  or slaving your life away for a capricious master, the other option was to become a hetaera.

Think of a hetaera as a courtesan, the original crafty-out-of-necessity Shebug. Unlike a prostitute, or pornai, a hetaera was educated. Intellectually, she was the man’s equal. Though beautiful and well maintained, her under-the-belt skills were not her main attraction. This Greek Shebug was able to dance, to sing, to play music and recite poetry. Her educated opinions were sought after. She was independent, amassed her own wealth and even paid taxes.  

Thais, a famous hetaera kicked up her share of dust during the reign of Alexander the Great.  Born more with a thirst for adventure than swapping hummus recipes, Thais travelled to Asia Minor with the dishy conqueror himself.  It is said that Alexander burned down Persepolis on a whim of hers; fortunately, the people were allowed to evacuate before fire was set to the palace.

After Alexander’s death two years later, Thais married Ptolemy, one of Alexander’s most trusted generals, who in return for his services, was given the land known as Egypt and, thus, became Ptolemy I.

To end up ruling as the Queen of Memphis is no small feat. No wonder this Athenian Shebug remains alive to this day in art, literature and music and on the stage.

No comments:

Post a Comment