A Woman to Know: Aspasia

To ask questions about Aspasia's life is to ask questions about half of humanity. — Historian Madeleine M. Henry

(image via Wikimedia Commons)


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From what (little) we know of her life, Aspasia was probably the Zelda Fitzgerald of her time (440s B.C. is her time, btw). What I mean by that is she was a grand thinker who entertained a torrid love affair with another grant thinker, Pericles, the leader of Greek democracy. And at their shared house in Athens, the two led soiree-like salons that brought together the greatest figures of ancient Greece.

But like Zelda, Aspasia's life and her own contributions to art, philosophy and more would ultimately be overshadowed by her lover's — to Aspasia's own deep despair. Athenian elders reviled her free spirit. Because she had demanded to be treated as an equal to her lover, many politicians led a smear campaign against her, alleging she ran a brothel and trained courtesans (which, we must acknowledge, that the sketchy details of Aspasia's life *do* leave this open as a possibility). When Pericles died, all her children by him were ruled as bastards — and Aspasia herself was exiled from Greece. She never again returned to the lively artistic community she had cultivated there.

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