Sacred Texts  Classics  Lucian 

L'Idylle, by William Bougereau [1850] (Public domain image)

The Mimes of the Courtesans

translated by A.L.H.


Contents    Start Reading

The Education of Corinna---
The Pleasure of Being BeatenVIII
The MistakeXII
The IncantationIV
The Terror of MarriageII
The Lesbians---
The Return of the SoldierIX
The Little Flute PlayerXV
There is a Time for LyingXIII
At NightXI
A Poor Sailor's LoveXIV
A Mother's AdviceIII
The Philosopher--
Living at the height of the Roman Empire, the audience Lucian wrote for was hardly shocked by these short dialogues of the Greek hetaerae. However, two millenia of ensuing prudery made it impossible to acknowledge this part of the Lucian corpus, a set of humorous vignettes set in the context of the 'oldest profession,' let alone translate it into a vernacular language. These comedic sketches are timeless: working girls competing for clients, dishing gossip and candid tips of the trade, men trying to keep their girls' attention with expensive gifts. It also portrays the dark side of the hetaera's life: out-of-control parties, blowhard men, and putting up with rough treatment by clients.

Notably lacking is one modern reality. The hetaerae of Lucian are not constantly wondering whether their next client is going flash a badge and haul them off to jail. Sex workers in antiquity were another just legal occupation, like the butcher, the baker and the sandal maker. At that time, pagan temples throughout the eastern Mediterranean had sacred prostitutes, and patronizing them was considered a sanctified act. The hetearae actually had a lot more freedom than other women in Greek society, particularly the sequestered wives.

With the dawn of the 20th century, it finally became feasible to publish English translations of the 'naughty bits' of Lucian. This one was published during the roaring 1920s in a deluxe art-deco illustrated version. The identity of the author is only known by the initials 'A.L.H.' on the Translator's Foreword page.

This translation includes three chapters not included in the Fowler and Fowler translation, The Education of Corinna, The Lesbians, and The Philosopher. There are three gaps in the numbering of Fowler: V, VI and X, so these are probably the missing dialogues. The table on the left shows the correspondences between Fowler and this version. At issue here is the obviously the subject matter of these pieces: the first has a mother 'turning out' her daughter, the other two depict female and male homosexual characters respectively. However, they are far from explicit. It is an interesting to note that these were considered untranslatable in an academic edition in 1905, but could be published in a popular edition in 1928.

Bibliographic note: although the spine of this book says 'Dialogues of the Courtesans,' the title page and running headers use the title 'Mimes of the Courtesans.'

Title Page
Translator's Foreword
The Education of Corinna
The Pleasure of Being Beaten
The Mistake
The Incantation
The Terror of Marriage
The Lesbians
The Return of the Soldier
The Little Flute Player
There is a Time for Lying
At Night
A Poor Sailor's Love
A Mother's Advice
The Philosopher