Phryne (Φρύνη) was a famous hetaera (courtesan) of Ancient Greece (4th century BC) who adjusted her prices for customers depending upon how she felt about them emotionally. As accounts portray her, she always had her price, and if the customer met it, she would uphold her end of the bargain.

Early life

Her real name was Mnesarete (Ancient Greek Μνησαρετή (commemorating virtue)), but owing to her yellowish complexion she was called Phryne (toad), a name given to other courtesans. She was born at Thespiae in Boeotia, but seems to have lived at Athens. She acquired so much wealth by her extraordinary beauty that she offered to rebuild the walls of Thebes, which had been destroyed by Alexander the Great (336 BC), on condition that the words destroyed by Alexander, restored by Phryne the courtesan, were inscribed upon them. The authorities turned down her offer.


She was famously beautiful. On the occasion of a festival of Poseidon at Eleusis, she laid aside her garments, let down her hair, and stepped nude into the sea in the sight of the people, thus suggesting to the painter Apelles his great picture of Aphrodite Anadyomene (also portrayed at times as this Venus Anadyomene), for which Phryne herself sat as model, and other works of art from the period are alleged to be modeled after Phryne.

Due to her beauty, she also inspired the much later painting by artist Jean-Léon Gérôme, Phryné devant l'Areopage, (Phryne before the Areopagus, 1861) as well as other works of art throughout history. She was also (according to some) the model for the statue of the Aphrodite of Knidos by Praxiteles.

In literary world, Charles Baudelaire in his poems Lesbos and La beauté and Rainer Maria Rilke in his poem Die Flamingos were inspired by beauty and fame of Phryne.


When accused of profaning the Eleusinian mysteries, she was defended by the orator Hypereides, one of her lovers. When it seemed as if the verdict would be unfavourable, he tore open her robe and displayed her breasts, which so moved her judges that they acquitted her. According to others, she herself removed her clothing. The judges' change of heart was not simply because they were overcome by the beauty of her nude body, but because physical beauty was often seen as a facet of divinity or a mark of divine favor during those times.

A statue of Phryne, the work of Praxiteles, was placed in a temple at Thespiae by the side of a statue of Aphrodite by the same artist. When the King of Lydia wanted her favors she named a truly absurd price because she considered him loathsome; however, he wanted her so badly that he paid her price, she gave herself to him, and he then levied a tax on his subjects to replace the sum. On the other hand, she gave herself to the philosopher Diogenes of Sinope for free because she admired his mind. Diogenes Laertius narrates a failed attempt Phryne made on the virtue of the philosopher Xenocrates.

Dimitris Varos, Greek poet and writer, wrote a book called Phryne.


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