Skip to content

Neaera and her time in Athens

November 10, 2013

The most substantive evidence for the life of Neaera comes from Apollodorus’ speech Against Neaera delivered during her trial in the late 340s B.C. This is the prosecutions speech and, as such, paints a negative portrayal of her; unfortunately there is no copy of the defence speech. Apollodorus’ argument, although heavily biased, details parts of Neaera’s life and as such may provide insight into her real aims whilst she lived in Athens. These aims can be broadly considered as Nearera’s freedom, care of her children and personal desires.

Neaera’s Freedom

Neaera was brought up by Nicarete to be a prostitute and, once she had served her purpose, was sold to Timanoridas and Eucrates who ‘made use of her for as long as they wished’ (Apollodorus Against Neaera 18 and 29). Apollodorus (Against Neaera 29) details that when Timanoridas and Eucrates were about to marry they offered Neaera the opportunity to purchase her freedom. In order to raise the required sum she sought assistance from her former clientele. One former client Phrynion answered Neaera’s request and made up the deficit required to complete the purchase. Phrynion brought Neaera to Athens and treated her as a possession, ‘he kept her…[and]…made love to her openly, anywhere and everywhere he chose’ (Apollodorus Against Neaera 33). Hamel (2003:41), Blundell (1995:148) and Davidson (1997:101) note Neaera’s dissatisfaction with the relationship. However, Davidson (1997:100) goes further observing the power that Phrynion held over her. It certainly appears from Apollodorus’ account that Phrynion believed he could control Neaera. However, given her subsequent action, in leaving Phrynion, (Apollodorus Against Neaera 39) it could be considered that she believed herself to be a free woman.

Neaera moved to Megara after leaving Phrynion and continued to ply her trade, returning to Athens only after Stephanus promised to act as her protector (Apollodorus Against Neaera 38). Apollodorus (Against Neaera 38) suggests that Stephanus intended to live with Neaera as his wife; this would entitle her to all the rights that come with the status. Phrynion, having learned of her return to Athens, brought a lawsuit against Stephanus on the basis that he owned her. Apollodorus (Against Neaera 46-7) evidences that the case was settled through arbitration and that Neaera ‘should be free and her own mistress’ but ‘each shall keep at his house and have the enjoyment of [her] for an equal number of days per month’. This, Davidson (1997:101) argues, demonstrates that ‘freedom for a freedwoman was a relative not an absolute thing’. Without knowledge of the arguments presented during arbitration it is difficult to assess why these decisions were made. It is possible that Stephanus’ argued that Neaera was living with him as his concubine and Phrynion may have countered that he in part owns her; due to the contribution paid for her release from Timanoridas and Eucrates.

Following Neaera’s years of servitude as a prostitute it appears she sought to be a free woman. During her time in Athens Neaera, to a certain extent, found this with Stephanus. Apollodorus provides no further details of her life with Phrynion after the arbitration decision. The evidence Apollodorus presented is intended to portray Neaera in a negative way and as such is heavily biased. Therefore, the text should be treated with caution and an in-depth analysis is required in order to establish what is sufficiently reliable to use. This chapter of Neaera’s life has served its purpose in supporting Apollodorus’ case against her of a ‘false claim to Athenian status’ (Patterson 1994:199). Apollodorus supplements this argument with references to Neaera behaving like an Athenian wife, ‘having now a certain position to keep up…as being a married woman’ (Apollodorus Against Neaera 41) and is ‘accused of living with an Athenian citizen as his wife’ (Apollodorus Against Neaera 110). This suggests that Stephanus and Neaera are living as a family unit. However, the accusation of Apollodorus would only stand if, as Hamel (2003:51) argues, Neaera and Stephanus were raising the children as theirs.


Part way through the prosecutions speech it is revealed that Neaera has children (Apollodorus Against Neaera 38). Stephanus is said to have decided to ‘introduce the sons she already had to his phratrysmen as being his own, and would make them citizens’ (Apollodorus Against Neaera 38). If the children were Neaera’s then it is assurances such as these that may have been one of her reasons and ambitions on returning to Athens. Hamel (2003:51) believes that the argument that Apollodorus constructs rests upon his demonstrating that Neaera and Stephanus are raising the children as if they were married. On the one hand the works of Pomeroy (1994:67-8), Blundell (1995:121) and Fantham et al (1994: 114) do not question whether the children are Neaera’s. Instead they either focus on the outcome of the trial or take Apollodorus’ argument as written. On the other hand, Hamel (2003:61 and 93) considers that there is insufficient evidence in Apollodorus’ speech to support any assertion that Neaera was the mother of the children. Hamel (2003) provides a number of arguments to discredit Apollodorus’ arguments, such as the boy’s acceptance into the phratry and the failure to provide testimony in support of his claim that Stephanus’ daughter Phano was also the daughter of Neaera.

Stephanus married his daughter Phano on two occasions. The first marriage, to Phrastor, resulted in a child but they divorced prior to the child’s birth. Phrastor, whilst unwell and believing he would not recover, decided to register the child in his phratary (Apollodorus Against Neaera 55-9). However, Phrastor’s family objected to the registration on the grounds that the child was not Athenian as it’s mother (Phano) was not an Athenian citizen being the daughter of Neaera. This resulted in a lawsuit being brought by Phrastor. Glazebrook (2006:131) like Hamel (2003:92) observes that Apollodorus argument does not confirm whether Phrastor failed to register their child (just that the family objected and he did not swear the oath during arbitration). Similarly, Patterson (1994:208) considers that ‘Apollodorus never offers either proof or testimony for his assertion that [Phano] is Neaera’s daughter’. Therefore, it is questionable whether any of the children were hers. If they were Neaera’s children they would have benefitted from Stephanus’ action in securing Athenian citizenship and so this might have been one of her aims whilst living in Athens; however, there is no certainty either way. If they were not her children then, apart from her freedom, her personal desires may have been the real aim.

Personal Desires

Apollodorus (Against Neaera 36) states that when Neaera moved to Megara she could not produce a sufficient income to fund her lifestyle. It can be inferred from the argument that Neaera had become accustomed to a finer way of living and may have been a reason why ‘she longed to live in Athens’ as business would have been better (Apollodorus Against Neaera 37). Apollodorus (Against Neaera 39-42) goes onto suggest that Stephanus intended to supplement his household income through Neaera continuing to work as a prostitute and blackmailing her clients through claiming they had slept with his wife. Hamel (2003:71) believes it is difficult to draw a conclusion in respect of this matter due to insufficient evidence. On the one hand, Apollodorus does not produce evidence (witnesses or any of the people that Stephanus had tricked) in support of his argument. On the other hand, it is certainly possible that Stephanus and Neaera undertook such practices in order to bring down political opponents or raise finances. Without additional testimony or other evidence there is insufficient proof to support either argument.

Finally Neaera may have sought the company of a good man and desired to be the companion of one person; whether as Stephanus’ wife or not it is difficult to ascertain. The circumstances of her life as detailed by Apollodorus would suggest that this may have been her aim, as she had often been ‘at the command of others in her lifetime’ (Hamel, 2003:162). Although the conversation between Stephanus and Neaera is clearly a work of fiction created by Apollodorus (Against Neaera 37-8) to discredit the defendant (he would not have been privy to such a private conversation) it is possible that similar promises were made. These promises may have consisted of the provision of a home and security for Neaera in return for her being Stephanus’ companion. These promises may have extended to obtaining Athenian citizenship for her and being Stephanus’ wife, as Apollodorus is trying to argue. Unfortunately without the defences speech or more information about Neaera it is impossible to assess.


Neaera may have had a number of aims during her time in Athens some of which may be outlined within Apollodorus’ speech.

One of Neaera’s main aims seems to have been ensuring a degree of freedom for herself. Unfortunately, though it appears that she did not achieve this having been ordered to split her time equally between Stephanus and Phrynion.

Neaera may have been the mother of the three children. However, as has been evidenced it is questionable whether they were Neaera’s and so this consideration should be made with a note of caution. If they were her children it is possible that she wanted to raise them within a secure home with the status of Athenian citizenship.

Having had a lavish lifestyle in Corinth Neaera may have seen Athens as a base from which to rebuild her business. However, the argument presented by Apollodorus does not support this assertion and instead it is more likely that her desire whilst she lived in Athens was security and a home for herself.

This is not an account by Neaera it is the argument of Apollodorus written in order to win his case against Stephanus. It is difficult within such a biased speech to draw any firm conclusions though it is possible to see outlines of Neaera’s intentions. Unfortunately Neaera’s real aims whilst at Athens will remain hidden and shrouded in mystery due to insufficient evidence.


Primary Sources

Apollodorus Against Neaera Translated by K. Freeman Diotima [Accessed 2 November 2013]

Secondary Literature

Blundell, S. Women in Ancient Greece Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995.

Davidson, J. Courtesans and Fishcakes: the Consuming Passions of Classical Athens London: Harper Collins, 1997.

Fantham, E. et al Women in the Classical World Oxford: Oxford University Press,1994.

Glazebrook, A. The Bad Girls of Athens: The Image and Function of Hetairai in Judicial Oratory in Prostitutes and Courtesans in the Ancient World L. McClure and A Faraone (Eds) Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1930, pp. 125 – 138.

Hamel, D. Trying Neaira London: Yale University Press, 2003.

Patterson, C. The Case Against Neaira in Athenian Identity and Civic Ideology A. Boegehold and A. Scafuro (Eds) Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1994, pp. 199-216.

Pomeroy, S. Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves Women in Classical Antiquity London: Pimlico, 1994.

From → Women in Myth

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: