Prisoner of History: Aspasia of Miletus and Her Biographical Tradition

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According to legend, Aspasia of Miletus was a courtesan, the teacher of Socrates, and the political adviser of her lover Pericles. Next to Sappho and Cleopatra, she is the best known woman of the ancient Mediterranean. Yet continued uncritical reception of her depiction in Attic comedy and naive acceptance of Plutarch's account of her in his Life of Pericles prevent us from understanding who she was and what her contributions to Greek thought may have been. In the first study of its type, Madeleine Henry combines traditional philological and historical methods of analysis with feminist critical perspectives in order to trace the construction of Aspasia's biographical tradition from ancient times to the present. Through her analysis of both literary and historical evidence, Henry determines the ways in which Aspasia has become an icon of the sexually attractive and politically influential female, how this construction has prevented her from taking her rightful place as a contributor to the philosophical enterprise, and how continued belief in this icon has helped sexualize all women's intellectual achievements. An important corrective to the historical literature on Aspasia of Miletus, Prisoner of History will interest scholars in a wide range of disciplines, including classics, ancient history, philosophy, and women's studies.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The book not only makes a welcome and significant contribution to the study of this particular woman, but Henry also contributes to a better understanding of the social and political culture of fifth-century Athens and women's positions in it....Henry's analysis is rigorous and subtle; her examination of the original sources is meticulous."—Choice

"Henry's Prisoner is the first detailed study of Aspasia, both as she may have been and as she has been portrayed....this book marks a start - and I think a good start - in opening new avenues of research, to recover traditions both ancient and modern about the woman with whom Pericles lived."—Bryn Mawr Classical Review

"The contribution of this study of a famous woman is thus not to add to our knowledge about her as a historical personage, but to demonstrate how interest in a colorful female 'historical' figure can lead students to an appreciation of the fragility of ancient-and-modern-historical evidence."—Ancient Philosophy

"A richly entertaining book for those interested in how traditions develop."—Religious Studies Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195087123
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 7/28/1995
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 208
  • Lexile: 1440L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.78 (w) x 8.78 (h) x 0.82 (d)

Meet the Author

Iowa State University
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Table of Contents

Introduction 3
1 Aspasia in Greek History 9
2 The Story Told by Comedy 19
3 Aspasia and the Socratic Tradition 29
4 The Sargasso Sea: Aspasia and the Discourse on Prostitutes in the Hellenistic, Roman, and Late Antique Periods 57
5 Aspasia in the Postclassical West 83
Afterword 127
Notes 131
Bibliography 177
Index 195
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