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Hetairai and Love-Making

The number of his pederastic scenes might lead one to think this was a personal preoccupation of the Harrow Painter, but heterosexual love was another of his themes. Here too there are divine correspondents, with Dionysos pursuing Ariadne on two early neck-amphorae.1 In the mortal sphere, the sexual undercurrents in pictures of men and women standing together might be overlooked or undervalued were it not that the man is occasionally shown groping the woman or offering her a purse.2 In one of the painter's most intriguing paintings, on the hydria Tampa 76.70 (ARV2, 276, 70), a man bearing a purse and accompanied by a youth has come calling on a woman, who is seated within a room with a Doric frieze and an Aeolic column. The man leans on his staff facing the woman, but it is not clear that she can see him. She sits on a stool, holding a mirror in her left hand and conversing with a small boy. The domestic setting recalls the so-called "spinning hetairai," who sit working wool while waiting for their next customer.3 Is this a husband returning home, a visit to a hetaira, or a more innocent commercial transaction? This is the ambiguity that underlies many such scenes, exacerbated in this instance by the presence of the boy and the distance between the man and woman. This scene has usually been interpreted as a visit to a hetaira; if this is correct, the boy may have been sent in to negotiate with the woman, or perhaps he has been brought here by his erastes for some sexual education.4

1 Villa Giulia 50471 and Mississippi 1977.3.87;

(ARV2, 272, 1-2).

2 Groping: Tarquinia RC 7455 (ARV2, 272, 3). Offering a purse: St. Petersburg 605 (ARV2, 272, 12) and Villa Giulia 1054 (ARV2, 275, 50).

3 For "spinning hetairai," see Rodenwaldt 1932, 7-21; and Keuls 1983, 225-29. Cf. the scene on Palermo 2047, by the Harrow Painter (ARV2, 275, 58), where a man leaning on a staff and accompanied by a youth is offered a wreath by a woman seated next to a column.

4 Meyer 1988 agrees it is a hetaira, but believes the offering of a purse has a larger, symbolic meaning unknown to us. Eva Keuls interprets the scene as entirely respectable, with the boy being the woman's son and the man a "hen-pecked husband trying to appease his wife with money"; see Keuls 1985, 260.

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