Hetaira

Sarah Bernhardt as Theodora
Sarah Bernhardt as Empress Theodora

This is part 1 of 3. Part 2 is here. Part 3 is here.

Τέως μὲν οὖν ἄωρος οὖσα, ἡ Θεοδώρα ἐς κοίτην ἀνδρὶ ξυνιέναι οὐδαμῆ εἶχεν, οὐδὲ οἷα γυνὴ μίγνυσθαι· ἡ δὲ τοῖς κακοδαιμονοῦσιν ἀνδρείαν τινὰ μισητίαν ἀνεμίσγετο, καὶ ταῦτα δούλοις, ὅσοι τοῖς κεκτημένοις ἑπόμενοι ἐς τὸ θέατρον πάρεργον, τῆς οὔσης αὐτοῖς εὐκαιρίας, τὸν ὄλεθρον τοῦτον εἰργάζοντο· ἔν τε μαστροπείῳ πολύν τινα χρόνον, ἐπὶ ταύτῃ δὴ τῇ παρὰ φύσιν ἐργασίᾳ τοῦ σώματος, διατριβὴν εἶχεν. ἐπειδὴ δὲ τάχιστα ἔς τε τὴν ἥβην ἀφίκετο, καὶ ὡραία ἦν ἤδη, εἰς τὰς ἐπὶ σκηνῆς καθῆκεν αὑτὴν, ἑταίρα τε εὐθὺς ἐγεγόνει, οἵανπερ οἱ πάλαι ἄνθρωποι ἐκάλουν πεζήν. οὐ γὰρ αὐλήτρια, οὐδὲ ψάλτρια ἦν· οὐ μὴν οὐδὲ τὰ ἐς τὴν ὀρχήστραν αὐτῇ ἤσκητο, ἀλλὰ τὴν ὥραν τοῖς ἀεὶ περιπίπτουσιν ἀπεδίδοτο μόνον, ἐκ παντὸς ἐργαζομένη τοῦ σώματος. εἶτα τοῖς μίμοις τὰ ἐς τὸ θέατρον πάντα ὡμίλει· καὶ τῶν ἐνταῦθα ἐπιτηδευμάτων μετεῖχεν αὐτοῖς, γελωτοποιοῖς τισι βωμολοχίαις ὑπηρετοῦσα. ἦν γὰρ ἀστεία διαφερόντως, καὶ σκώπτρια· ἀπόβλεπτός τε ἐκ τοῦ ἔργου εὐθὺς ἐγεγόνει. οὐ γάρ τινος αἰδοῦς τῇ ἀνθρώπῳ μετῆν, ἢ διατραπεῖσάν τις αὐτὴν πώποτε εἶδεν· ἀλλ’ ἐς ἀναισχύντους ὑπουργίας οὐδεμιᾷ ὀκνήσει ἐχώρει. καὶ τοιαύτη τις ἦν, οἵα ῥαπιζομένη μὲν τε, καὶ κατὰ κόρρης πατασσομένη, χαριεντίζειν τε καὶ μέγιστα ἀνακαγχάζειν, ἀποδυσαμένη τε, τά τε πρόσω καὶ τὰ ὀπίσω τοῖς ἐντυγχάνουσι γυμνὰ ἐπιδεῖξαι, ἃ τοῖς ἀνδράσι θέμις ἄδηλά τε καὶ ἀφανῆ εἶναι. ἐς δὲ τοὺς ἐραστὰς ἐχλεύαζέ τε βλακεύουσα, καὶ νεωτέραις ἀεὶ τῶν μίξεων ἐνδιαθρυπτομένη ἐπιτεχνήσεσι, παραστήσασθαι τὰς τῶν ἀκολάστων ψυχὰς ἐς ἀεὶ ἴσχυεν· ἐπεὶ οὐδὲ πειρᾶσθαι πρός του τῶν ἐντυγχανόντων ἠξίου, ἀλλ’ ἀνάπαλιν αὐτὴ γελοιάζουσά τε, καὶ βωμολόχως ἰσχιάζουσα, τοὺς παραπεπτωκότας ἅπαντας, ἄλλως τε καὶ ἀγενείους ὄντας ἐπείρα.
(Procopius, Anecdota 9.10-15)

At this time Theodora was hardly ripe enough to sleep with a man or to have sex with him in the way that a woman should. So she would offer herself to certain poor wretches who performed that disgusting act on her that some men do with other men. She did it even with slaves who were attending their owners at the theater and who took the opportunity to step aside for a moment and practice this pestilence. And so she spent much time selling herself in this way, specializing in that unnatural service of the body. As soon as she reached puberty and was ripe enough, she joined the women on the stage and immediately became a call girl in her own right. She belonged to the lowest rank, which in the old days they called “basic infantry.” For she had no skill with the aulos, nor could she sing or even perform in the dance troupe: all she had to offer to passing customers was her youth, and she put her whole body to work for them. Later she took up full-time with the mimes in the theater, taking part in their performances by providing backup vulgarity for the comedians. For she had an especially quick and biting wit, and soon became a star feature of the show. There was no shame at all in her, and no one ever saw her embarrassed. She would provide shameful services without the slightest hesitation and was of such a sort that if someone slapped her or even punched her full in the face she would crack a joke about it and then burst out laughing. She would strip down in front for any passers-by and then in back as well, revealing in the nude those parts which custom forbids to be shown to men. She would joke with her lovers lying around in bed with them, and, by toying with new sexual techniques, constantly managed to arouse the souls of those who were debauched. Nor did she wait for her customers to make the first pass at her; quite the contrary, she herself tempted all who came along, flirting and suggestively shaking her hips, especially if they were beardless youths. (tr. Anthony Kaldellis)

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