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1 - Sex in Athens in the Fifth and Fourth Centuries bce

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 April 2024

Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks
University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
Mathew Kuefler
San Diego State University
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This chapter presents an overview of, and insight into, the sexual lives of the inhabitants of Athens in the fifth and fourth centuries BCE. It examines both public attitudes and private behaviours by focusing on three key areas: marriage, prostitution, and male same-sex relationships. The discussion of marriage looks at the traditional ages at which men and girls traditionally wed, how marital partners were chosen, and the emotional and sexual life of married couples, as well as divorce, widow(er)hood, and remarriage. The section on prostitution considers the wide variety of sex workers operating in classical Athens, the conditions in which they worked, and the status they enjoyed. The discussion takes in streetwalkers and brothel workers whose services could be bought cheaply (pornai), trained musicians and dancers who provided entertainment at all-male drinking parties, and high-fee hetairai renowned for their looks, wit, and intelligence. The last section examines the practice of pederasty, a traditionally elite pursuit which saw adult men form relationships with pubescent boys. This discussion covers courtship and its power dynamics, the age of participants, and the ways in which pederasty is depicted in art, as well as shifting public attitudes towards pederasty throughout the classical era.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2024

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Further Reading

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