Courtesans and the History Therein
Prostitution is and has always been a prevalent profession for any society of human beings throughout history. Though primarily manifested in Rome by members of the papal court, courtesans became wildly popular in the civilized world, especially among rich and powerful men. History records various instances where elite men in the society engage romantically with courtesans even in Greece, a place far away from Rome. In both Romans and the Greeks, class and status were essential definitions of life in the social societies of both Romans and Greeks. Clandestine affairs with common prostitutes, therefore, was a no-no for the elite men of the societies. Evidence suggests that the emergence of courtesans among civilized communities is premised on the men’s desire to engage in sexual affairs with women who reflect their class and status that ooze intellect and style and provoke desirability among their class of peers.
Reasons for the Emergence of Courtesans
While prostitutes had always walked the streets of human societies and civilizations, courtesans only emerged in the classical age, in the period between 4th century B.C in Greek cultures and later became manifest in Rome in the 13th century A.D onwards. From time to time, men’s desire to bend the prevailing reality to their liking is a common occurrence, and prostitution as a profession is no exception. The emergence of courtesans is a manifestation of elite men’s desire to change the nature of conventional prostitution into a form more convenient for their social statuses. At a certain point during the classical and medieval times, elite members of the society decided to reinvent prostitution by popularizing and responding to an elite group of prostitutes called courtesans. Though Greece and Rome had contrasting social setups and strata, both civilizations’ privileged populace liked exclusivity. In response to their preference for exclusivity, men in both societies preferred to sexually engage with prostitutes who reflected their class and status (Fant et al., 2).
Such individuals wanted an experience that differs from what the commoners, soldiers, and artisans got and were willing to pay for the price difference that came with the demand for such high class. As has been mentioned above, courtesans were different from the conventional prostitutes of the classical period. It is essential to understand the lifestyle and characterization of a courtesan to comprehend how elite members of society preferred their company. Courtesans were intelligent and engaging women of beauty who kept the most exciting company and had extensive training on pleasing men. In addition to that, the prices they commanded ensured their exclusivity within the circles they served, increasing the drive-by men to be a part of that circle. Some cultures saw courtesans as more than sexual women, and, in such communities, they provided company, counsel, and comfort. They were wives for hire without marital commitment and the pressure to have children.
Defining a Courtesan
The emergence of courtesan culture in Greek societies and medieval Europe and its subsequent popularization is about the societal need for their services among elite men as it is about the concept around their persons. A typical courtesan was defined by the company she kept, the wealth and respect she commanded, her beauty, and her intellect. Each of the four aspects described her position in society and determined the price she cost and the demand for her services. Understanding all the four elements of a courtesan and comprehending their identity serves to shed more light on the reasons for their emergence.
Courtesans were intelligent women of extensive training and vast knowledge in diverse areas of intellect in the classical period. Among the activities that constitute their job descriptions are music, poetry, and art, all of which they possessed incredible skill and talent. Tales are told of Veronica Franco, one of the most famous courtesans of medieval Europe who, in addition to her profession as a courtesan, was also an accomplished poet. Some of her poetry is considered by scholars as works of reference on the lifestyle of classical Europeans, focusing on the prostitution of elite members of the society. Intellectual prowess was an essential requirement for their jobs as courtesans often accompanied elite bachelors to essential parties and gatherings where matters of great import often arose (2020, Accessed 8 Nov 2020). Dates to such events had to be clever to prevent embarrassment, and therefore, intellect was necessary for their jobs.
Historical accounts are rife of romantic involvement between courtesans and famous individuals in history, validating that the company played an important role in determining the status of a courtesan. Those with a more exclusive clientele often had more demand and, as such, attracted higher prices. For instance, Veronica Franco is rumored to have spent the night with King Henri III of France in 1574, a rumor that radically elevated her career. Exclusivity among courtesans was an asset upon which some charged rates as excessive as to equal seven days’ worth of labor for the common folk.
Wealth, in addition to the company, contributed significantly towards the establishment of exclusivity for a courtesan. This factor drove up the price that one charged in exchange for their services. In Rome, courtesans were some of the city’s wealthiest people, complete with rights to property ownership and the legal right to do business (at least during some periods, for instance, between 1564 through to 1606). Their wealth was manifest in their dressing, which constituted of expensive clothes adorned with precious jewelry and the decorations in their houses, which were very expensive.
Courtesans provided exclusivity, a trait that elite men of the roman and Greek society desperately craved. Through the class and status they manifested, courtesans were seen to reflect the class and position that painters, authors, the clergy, and philosophers occupied and, therefore, were deemed appropriate company instead of the conventional prostitutes. They serviced soldiers, farmers, and ordinary artisans. The need by elite men of the Roman and Greek societies to have prostitutes that reflect their statuses and class in society is, therefore, the reason for the emergence of courtesans.
2020, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nIzIc0Q36bA. Accessed 8 Nov 2020.
Fant, Maureen B., and Mary R. Lefkowitz. Women’s Life in Greece and Rome: a sourcebook in translation. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2016.