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Rhodopis the Courtesan
What the ancient writers had to say
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Herodotus Histories (Loeb)

[2.133.1] After what happened to his daughter, the following happened next to this king: an oracle came to him from the city of Buto, announcing that he had just six years to live and was to die in the seventh.

[2.133.2] The king took this badly, and sent back to the oracle a message of reproach, blaming the god that his father and his uncle, though they had shut up the temples, and disregarded the gods, and destroyed men, had lived for a long time, but that he who was pious was going to die so soon.

[2.133.3] But a second oracle came announcing that for this very reason his life was hastening to a close: he had done what was contrary to fate; Egypt should have been afflicted for a hundred and fifty years, and the two kings before him knew this, but not he.

[2.133.4] Hearing this, Mycerinus knew that his doom was fixed. Therefore, he had many lamps made, and would light these at nightfall and drink and enjoy himself, not letting up day or night, roaming to the marsh country and the groves and wherever he heard of the likeliest places of pleasure. [2.133.5] This was his recourse, so that by turning night into day he might make his six years into twelve and so prove the oracle false.

[2.134.1] This king, too, left a pyramid, but far smaller than his father's, each side twenty feet short of three hundred feet long, square at the base, and as much as half its height of Ethiopian stone. Some Greeks say that it was built by Rhodopis, the courtesan, but they are wrong;

[2.134.2] indeed, it is clear to me that they say this without even knowing who Rhodopis was (otherwise, they would never have credited her with the building of a pyramid on which what I may call an uncountable sum of money was spent), or that Rhodopis flourished in the reign of Amasis, not of Mycerinus;

[2.134.3] for very many years later than these kings who left the pyramids came Rhodopis, who was Thracian by birth, and a slave of Iadmon son of Hephaestopolis the Samian, and a fellow-slave of Aesop the story-writer. For he was owned by Iadmon, too, as the following made crystal clear:

[2.134.4] when the Delphians, obeying an oracle, issued many proclamations summoning anyone who wanted it to accept compensation for the killing of Aesop, no one accepted it except the son of Iadmon's son, another Iadmon; hence Aesop, too, was Iadmon's.

[2.135.1] Rhodopis came to Egypt to work, brought by Xanthes of Samos, but upon her arrival was freed for a lot of money by Kharaxus of Mytilene, son of Scamandronymus and brother of Sappho the poetess.

[2.135.2] Thus Rhodopis lived as a free woman in Egypt, where, as she was very alluring, she acquired a lot of money--sufficient for such a Rhodopis, so to speak, but not for such a pyramid.

[2.135.3] Seeing that to this day anyone who likes can calculate what one tenth of her worth was, she cannot be credited with great wealth. For Rhodopis desired to leave a memorial of herself in Greece, by having something made which no one else had thought of or dedicated in a temple and presenting this at Delphi to preserve her memory;

[2.135.4] so she spent one tenth of her substance on the manufacture of a great number of iron beef spits, as many as the tenth would pay for, and sent them to Delphi; these lie in a heap to this day, behind the altar set up by the Chians and in front of the shrine itself.

[2.135.5] The courtesans of Naucratis seem to be peculiarly alluring, for the woman of whom this story is told became so famous that every Greek knew the name of Rhodopis, and later on a certain Archidice was the theme of song throughout Greece, although less celebrated than the other.

[2.135.6] Kharaxus, after giving Rhodopis her freedom, returned to Mytilene. He is bitterly attacked by Sappho in one of her poems. This is enough about Rhodopis.

Also see:
Greek Courtesans


This resource page is copyright © 2002-2002 N.S. Gill.

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