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In some ancient Greek cities but most notably Athens, an unmarried woman who provided companionship for men. A far cry from the average Athenian woman who was little more than a housekeeper and childbearer, hetairai were educated, appreciated and the best of them enjoyed high social standing comparable to that of prominent male citizens. A high class hetaira was expected to not only be attractive and sexually adept, but also artistic, especially musical, and capable of debating subjects such as politics and philosophy with her clients. As long as she remained unmarried, a hetaira could gain personal wealth and status and even support relatives or children on her income. Long-term contracts were not uncommon, though most frequently a hetaira would be hired to accompany a man to a symposium or similar event.

Most hetairai were foreigners (that is, not Athenian) since Athenian society did not encourage girls to enter such a profession. They were allowed to pursue further education, host their own social events and some even ran schools and lectured. With their wealth, they would contribute to public life like male citizens did. A hetaira was very much not a common prostitute but rather equivalent to a modern geisha or high priced call girl and the best among them could be very selective about their clients.

Some of the most famous hetairai were Aspasia, companion of Pericles, Phryne, much renowned for her looks but most of the time unusually modest (her likeness was said to be used as a model for Aphrodite), and Thais, who accompanied Alexander the Great on his Persian campaign and later married Ptolemy to become Queen of Egypt.

He*tæ"ra (?), He*tai"ra (?), n.; pl. -ræ (#). [NL. See Hetairism.] (Gr. Antiq.)

A female paramour; a mistress, concubine, or harlot. -- He*tæ"ric, He*tai"ric (#), a.


© Webster 1913.

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