The Representation of Prostitutes in Ancient Greek Vase-painting

Madeline Beck


Ancient Greeks in the Classical Period (ca. 480-323 BCE) surely did not shy away from eroticism in their production of artwork. Yet elite Greek women were never shown in sexual situations in art, for blatant sexual expression was reserved only for men and the objects of their lust, such as prostitutes. Various surviving examples of Classical vase-painting from Athens blatantly and subtly represent prostitution. In the past, scholars have used this art predominantly to theorize about male societal values and their politics. Prostitution in antiquity is often examined in the context of male relations, not as a study of women. This perpetuates the societal failure to humanize sex workers; their function in life is to serve a specific role for male exploitation. Focusing on a kylix by the Pedieus Painter (ca. 510 BCE) and an Athenian red-figure cup by the Euaion Painter (ca. 470 BCE), I compare and contrast prostitutes in Greek art to those in real Greek life, employ gender theory, and explore ingrained patriarchal systems that are still relevant to modern feminism. I aim not only to investigate what the imagery of prostitution tells us about ancient Greek society, but also to give a perspective on the harsh realities that were trivialized in erotic art created for male enjoyment during the festivities of the symposion. I argue that Ancient Greek prostitution and the art associated with it are about men for men. Women are forced into these positions to satisfy the male citizen’s “democratic right” to access brothels but they are then overlooked by society.


Ancient Greece; Athens; Attica; Vase-painting; Prostitution; Hetairai; Pornai; Symposion, Pedieus Painter, Euaion Painter;

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