previous next


πόρνη). A woman of loose character. There are a number of words in Greek and Latin to designate the harlot; ἑταίρα and concubina usually implying one who has a quasi-recognized connection with a single man, while πόρνη, meretrix, scortum, etc., designate the common prostitute: παλλάκή, παλλακίς, and pellex usually imply the kept mistress of a married man. See Concubina.

I. Greek.—In Greece the State not only tolerated but protected the public courtesans. Solon is said to have established a brothel (πορνεῖον) from whose profits he built a temple to Aphrodité Pandemos. In later times the number of such places increased and were licensed (πορνικὸν τέλος), as in Paris and other Continental cities to-day. Women living by themselves also paid a regular tax like the filles inscrites. The keepers of houses of ill-fame were known as πορνοβοσκοί. Private courtesans were very numerous at Athens and especially at Corinth, which last city was proverbial for its loose morals and the beauty of its hetaerae. Some of these persons were famous throughout Greece for their wit and accomplishments, and seem to have prided themselves on their mental gifts. Thus the Arcadian Lasthenea was a pupil of Plato, Leontion of Epicurus, and Aspasia (q.v.) is said to have instructed Sophocles and Pericles. For other famous courtesans, see the articles Harmodius; Laïs; Phryné.

As virtuous women in Greece (outside of Sparta and a few Dorian communities) were kept strictly at home and possessed few accomplishments, we find the hetaera occupying often the influential position which in modern times belongs to the lawful wife; and so long as the husband did not altogether neglect his wife, any associations that he might have outside his own home with hetaerae were not regarded with severity. It is probable that the indulgence with which women of this class were looked upon sprang in part from the semi-religious character of the prostitute as being associated with the worship of Aphrodité. At Corinth, for instance, a large number of these women were formally dedicated to the service of that goddess and were styled ἱερόδουλοι. Few citizens ever entered the ranks of the πορναί, and whenever such a case happened loss of citizenship was the penalty, as also for a person who kept a πορνεῖον.

II. Roman.—In the early days of the Roman Republic prostitution was little known, and when recognized was branded with infamy. It seems to have been first introduced as a regular profession from Etruria, and at last assumed frightful proportions and had little or no legal restriction. Its growth was fostered by the spread of slavery among the Romans, since from the slave-markets both men and women, bred in the midst of Oriental corruption, came from Asia and Africa to taint the old-time purity of Rome by their influence. The pages of Ovid, Petronius, Juvenal, and Martial supply a mass of information regarding the frightful prevalence of the social evil. Under the Empire, so lightly was public debauchery regarded that ladies of noble birth voluntarily abandoned their rank in order to enroll themselves in the police-registers as courtesans; while Juvenal states that the empress Messalina, the wife of Claudius, used to steal away from the imperial palace at night and under the assumed name of Lycisca occupy a harlot's cell ( 638). Dancing-girls, actresses, musicians, and professional women in general were regularly classed as meretrices; and there were both those who occupied public houses (lupanaria) and those who lived in private lodgings. The parts of the city that were most frequented by them were the Suburra (q. v.), the Vicus Tuscus, the Vicus Patricius, the baths, the Summoenium (near the walls), and the arcades of the Circus Maximus, where remains of their low-vaulted cells (cellae) still exist. These places were small and a little lower than the sidewalk, and were also known as fornices from the arch (fornix) that formed their roof. At the entrance to each was usually a sign (titulus) bearing the name of the meretrix and her price. The wording of one of them has been preserved for us in the Apollonius Tyrius (ch. xxx.). Besides the names given above, these women were called lupae, “wolves,” prostibulae (pro+stabulum), prosedae (pro+sedeo), bustuariae (as plying their trade near the bustae or cemeteries), diobolariae, alicariae (from the bakeries), and nonariae (as forbidden to appear on the streets before the hora nona, 3 p. m.).

Some few attempts were made to control and regulate this evil. Meretrices were forbidden to wear the stola of the matron, but dressed in a dark toga; and the city praetor had power to imprison, scourge, or banish them without a trial. Yet the restraint put upon them was only nominal, and as they were publicly recognized in some of the great festivals, such as the Floralia (q.v.), they may be said to have had a sort of official standing.

Bibliography.—See Dufour, Histoire de la Prostitution, 6 vols. (Paris, 1853); Lecky, Hist. of European Morals, vol. i. (N. Y. 1884); Becker-Göll, Charikles, vol. ii. pp. 85-104; vol. iii. pp. 306-398; Fr. Jacobs, Vermischte Schriften, vol. iv. (1844). The ancient authorities for Roman prostitution are carefully collected by Jeannel, La Prostitution (Paris, 1874). A Roman lupanar is among the houses excavated at Pompeii, where it is now shown to visitors. The paintings on the walls are still too plainly preserved. The other objects found in this house are now kept in the Raccolta Pornografica of the Museo Nazionale at Naples.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: