Phryne: A Beauty in the Ancient Greek Spotlight
Phryne, known as the “living Aphrodite,” hailed from Thespiae but captured the limelight in Athens. Despite her nickname, meaning “toad,” she was a renowned beauty, posing for famous artists. Her fortune, possibly making her the richest self-made woman of her time, came from both her modeling and courtesan endeavors.
The Courtroom Revelation: A Daring Escape
Phryne faced a capital charge, and things looked grim until a dramatic courtroom twist. Her dress was torn open, revealing her perfection, leading the judges to believe only gods could create such beauty. This audacious move secured Phryne’s release, as the judges hesitated to imprison such a captivating woman, showing respect for the divine.
Theodora: From Circus Star to Empress
Theodora’s journey began in the circus in 6th-century Constantinople, where her father worked. Trained in theatre after his death, Theodora became a star performer by 15, often associated with high-end prostitution. Later, she became the mistress of Hecebolus, the governor of Libya, before embracing an early form of Christianity.
From Mistress to Empress: Theodora’s Political Acumen
Returning to Constantinople at 21, Theodora met Justinian, altering laws to marry her. As empress, she showcased intelligence, shaping political affairs. A pioneer in women’s rights, Theodora passed anti-rape laws, championed women’s marriage rights, and established a safe haven for former prostitutes, solidifying her as an early feminist icon.
Nell Gwynn: The Charming Actress
Nell Gwynn, the “Pretty, witty” orange seller turned actress in the 1660s, won hearts with her warm and charming personality. Becoming the lead actress, she attracted the upper class, eventually becoming the mistress of King Charles II. Known for her modest requests, Nell’s popularity endured despite financial troubles, with the public supporting her during challenging times.
The Protestant Wh*re: A Remarkable Protest
Despite being attacked by a mistaken mob, Nell’s wit prevailed as she declared, “Be civil—I am the Protestant wh*re!” Charles II, recognizing her financial struggles, ensured her well-being even after his death, securing a pension until Nell’s passing.
In summary, these incredible courtesans transcended their societal roles, leaving indelible marks through beauty, wit, intelligence, and bold actions. Their stories, though often rooted in controversy, stand as testaments to the complexities and resilience of women throughout history.