Can then sin be love?

The Harlot of the Holy Heart

Why Jesus, Ovid, Propertius, Caesar, Molière, and other greats fell in love with hetaerae.

Mary, a gynecological miracle according to Christian mythology (virgin and mother of God at the same time), is also often called “Queen of Heaven.” An intriguing choice, as this title was also borne (at least in the texts of the Old Testament, written in Babylon) by the “sacred harlots,” high priestesses of temple prostitution, such as Ishtar of Babylon and Ashera of Canaan.

However, recent research contests the existence of temple prostitution, suggesting it is purely mythical. But then, aren’t mythology and legend often far more enlightening than some historical fact? What use is the scientific finding that the wise Solomon did not in fact write the “Song of Songs” himself, and that his palace was hardly bigger than a goat pen?

Church choirs still sang out the lover’s oath of God to his love, Mary, in the Early Baroque period:

“Arise, make haste, my love, my dove, my beautiful, from a far country full of sorrow, and come into the land which I will show thee! Come to me, your most dear lover! For I have loved thee above all others, and I will grant my kingdom to thee, for I have long admired thy beauty.” (Mundy “Vox Patris Caelestis,” around 1550).

The similarity to the “Song of Songs” of Solomon is probably intentional. God courts his chosen like a king – a true potentate. And when Mary’s son, Jesus, preaches: “Love your neighbor as yourself,” he, of course, was not just referring to the giving of alms. Charity (Caritas), love of God (Agape), and the love of parents and children are among the strongest, richest, and most human of all feelings, just like eros and sexus.

Lucas Cranach: Venus and Cupid, © Alte Pinakothek, Munich. The impartial viewer might also see Mary with the baby Jesus in this image.
Lucas Cranach: Venus and Cupid, © Alte Pinakothek, Munich. The impartial viewer might also see Mary with the baby Jesus in this image.

We know that Jesus did not live his whole life without a woman. We also know that the woman who was closest to him and who (together with his mother) was the first to visit his tomb was Mary Magdalene. To John the Evangelist, considered by some exegetes to be the brother of Magdalene, Mary Magdalene was “the woman whom Jesus loved.” Records show that she was a sinner. Jesus cast out seven devils from her at her house in Magdala (by the Sea of Galilee). However, it is not this hocus-pocus that shows Magdalene was a prostitute, but rather the fact that women had no right to run their own home in ancient times – except for hetaerae.

Some confused believers fear that it might be sacrilege to call the partner of the Redeemer a “harlot.” Dear churchy types, did you ever consider that it might rather be an honor? Hetaerae were homeowning prostitutes, well-read in many languages and rhetorically brilliant in comparison to housewives. They were the first emancipated women in history. So Jesus found himself a real women’s libber. Which means he was an emancipated man. Men today would do well to follow the example of this brave, wise lover!

“I am the first and the last. I am the honored one and the scorned one. I am the whore and the holy one. I am the wife and the virgin.” This quotation does not come from Anaïs Nin, the lover of sex apostle Henry Miller, but Mary Magdalene, the partner of a great prophet in Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. Exult, rejoice!

Ovid (Publius Ovidius Naso, 43 BC to 17 AD), a Roman contemporary of Jesus, was equally committed to the subject of love. His Ars amatoria is seen as the first textbook on the art of love. In 49 poems, the pornophile writer presents his readers with a handbook of love techniques that is enjoyable and practical in equal measure. Neither he nor she, he advised, should succumb to Cupid’s arrows and become a puppet of the god of love. It is far more sensible to become master of one’s emotions and refine one’s desires with a clear head – like an artist. This pinnacle of joyful love was only achievable as or with a hetaera. Ovid himself chose the hetaera Corinna as his lover, but unfortunately developed undying love for her. Corinna smiled and Ovid suffered.

All surviving elegies by Propertius (Sextus Aurelius Propertius, 48 to 15 BC), who is counted among Rome’s greatest lyricists along with Ovid, Catullus, and Tibullus, are about the hetaera Cynthia. “She loves neither power nor romance; she evaluates her lovers according to their pocketbooks,” the poet lamented. Whenever he tried to take possession of Cynthia, she eluded him. But more than her beauty and her sensuality, it was her autonomy that attracted men like a magnet. An emancipated woman was something exotic in ancient society: as rare and desirable as a jewel.

Aspasia of Miletus, hetaera, philosopher, and orator (ca 470 to 420 BC), might have looked like this: portrait by Sandro Botticelli © Uffizi, Florence
Aspasia of Miletus, hetaera, philosopher, and orator (ca 470 to 420 BC), might have looked like this: portrait by Sandro Botticelli © Uffizi, Florence

The hetaera Aspasia threw the senate of Athens into turmoil as early as around 450 BC. She was the muse and lover (and later life partner) of the most important statesman in Athenian democracy: Pericles (490 to 429 BC). He, whom we have to thank for the building of the Acropolis, and who was in charge of Athens’s fortunes for 15 years, was seen in his time as a clever diplomat, a cool-headed general, and, above all, as a great orator. “Whenever he appeared in front of the assembly of the people, he could – like a good sprinter – leave the other orators behind,” the poet Eupolis attested. So it was quite a surprise when it became known that his speeches were not written by himself, but by the hetaera Aspasia, who was schooled by Socrates and Plato.

It was embarrassing enough that the first citizen of Athens kept a paid lover; what made things worse was that she was a Milesian – and therefore an enemy. But rather than committing foolish perjury in the style of modern statesmen and repentantly returning to the marital bed, Pericles admitted his passion: in front of the assembly, he embraced his lover and, through tears, swore to the Athenians: “If you wish to take Aspasia away from me, then take my life as well!” The Athenian Council of Elders decided there was no need to get carried away, and Aspasia and Pericles stayed together.

To this day, Cleopatra (Cleopatra VII, 69 to 12 BC) is seen as the Assoluta of all famous women. Egypt’s last pharaoh referred proudly to her ancestors from the Ptolemaic dynasty and that she was descended from statesmen on her father’s side, but hetaerae on that of her mother.

However, there are also sources that claim to see her mother as the daughter of a family of high priests, based on Cleopatra’s knowledge of Egyptian. On that basis, the intelligent princess must have a great many mothers, as Plutarch reports that, in addition to Egyptian, she also mastered Ethiopian, Hebrew, Arabic, Syrian, Median, Parthian, Greek, the language of the Troglodytes (a Libyan tribe), and, of course, Latin.

She certainly acquired two abilities from her parents: her statesmanlike deftness and her art of seduction. Neither Gaius Julius Caesar (100 to 44 BC) nor Mark Antony (ca 82 to 30 BC) could resist Cleopatra’s beauty, because it didn’t exist (as her likeness on busts and coins proves). Equally nonexistent was anything resembling “romantic infatuation” in the heart of this extremely intelligent woman. Nevertheless, the erotic and sexual fascination of the pharaoh must have had an irresistible and incomparable effect on both Roman emperors. No woman can achieve such things through sentimentalism – only through a spectacular grasp of the art of love (which also involves technique, tactics, craft, and desire)!

Imagine Angela Merkel on a state visit to Putin, allowing herself to be wrapped up in a carpet, naked as the day she was born, to offer herself as a gift to the ruler of all Russians in his bedchamber. Quite. In any case, that was the trick with which Cleopatra bewitched and conquered the militarily unbeatable Caesar. We know the rest of the story: the pharaoh becomes ruler of the whole southern Roman empire, bears Caesar a son (Caesarion, 47 to 33 BC), Caesar is assassinated, Caesarion is assassinated, Cleopatra seduces Mark Antony, both seek control over all of Rome, both are defeated by Augustus, and meet their end in suicide. What was Goethe’s placid remark? “We failed together; it was a beautiful time.”

Theodora I, hetaera and the first Christian empress (527 AD), mosaic © Tourist Information Ravenna
Theodora I, hetaera and the first Christian empress (527 AD), mosaic © Tourist Information Ravenna

The first Christian empress (and later saint) began her working life in a brothel and on the streetside as what was known as a “fellatrix” and “meretrix” (prostitute). Motivated by the belief that the world could be a woman’s oyster as easily as a man’s through the goodness of Christ and her iron will, Theodora (500 to 548 AD) took acting classes and studied literature, rhetoric, and languages with the aim of seducing the most powerful ruler of her time, the emperor Justinian I (Flavius Petrus Sabbatius Justinianus, known as “Justinian the Great”, 482 to 565 AD). Something she quickly achieved.

The emperor, renowned for his puritanical, pious nature, fell in love with the beautiful, eloquent hetaera and chose her– though still married – as his consort. In 524, the lovers were wed. From then on, Theodora reigned as an empress of equal standing. While Justinian ensured his place in history with military and architectural heroics (including victory over the Persians and the rebuilding of the Hagia Sophia in its current size and splendor), Theodora practiced what would later be the method of Josef Stalin: she tyrannized the Byzantine Empire with a merciless ideology that victimized anyone who expressed contrary opinions.

“… one might more quickly, I think, count all grains of sand than the vast number (of human lives) whom this Emperor (and his Empress) destroyed,” wrote the historian and philosopher Procopius of Caesarea (500 to 562 AD). Making it all the more incredible that such a doctrinaire ruling couple promulgated the most modern marriage law of its time. The premise was that “mutual affection is the foundation of any marriage” (a revision of the forced marriage valid throughout Europe at the time). Homosexual marriages also became legal. For example, Theodora’s adviser Strategius married his male lover. At the same time, the empress fought against child labor, youth and forced prostitution, and in favor of women’s rights. The fact that they later also criminalized the occupation of hetaerae might be viewed as self-interest: while no man could threaten the most powerful woman in the Western world, she feared female rivals who were as intelligent, beautiful, and seductive as herself – but 20 years’ younger and correspondingly more attractive. Just such a nasty piece of work could easily have developed from among the circle of hetaerae.

In summary: no one and nothing succeeded in defeating Theodora – except for cancer. She died aged 48; no age for a femme d’État!

The following story might turn the stomach of some moralists, but it teaches us to ask the question “Can an evil woman be a good ruler?” without prejudice. And the answer is yes – as proven by the life of Wu Zetian (or Wu Tse-tien, 625 to 705 AD).

By the age of 13, Wu Zetian had already been taken on as a concubine in the harem of Emperor Taizong. When the aged ruler died, his young lover’s hair was shaved – following an ancient custom – and she was sent to a convent: in theory, for life. But Wu, who was gifted with a smart mind as well as a beautiful body, ingratiated herself with the new emperor and his wife through secret correspondence. After seven years, she was permitted to return to the ruler’s palace, where she seduced the heir to the throne (Gaozong) while he urinated. He was so impressed by this shameless beauty, that he chose her to become his main concubine.

In the year 654, Wu Zetian bore the emperor a child. The hitherto childless empress now had to fear for her future in the royal court – and Wu therefore had to fear her revenge. Rather than fleeing, she chose to go on the offensive. She generously allowed the empress to be the first to see the emperor’s child. Unsuspecting, she entered the child’s room – and was arrested on the spot. The cunning Wu had already beaten her own baby with a candlestick, and suspicion immediately fell on the empress – she alone had a motive for murder. And so, after the execution of her rival, Wu had the opportunity to usurp the emperor. She married him in 650, in order to become sole ruler of the Chinese Empire after his death (683). In the year 666, when she turned 41 and her husband began to glance covetously at her beautiful niece, she laced this new love rival’s wine with poison.

Her two sons who aspired to the throne also died unnatural deaths, the third she had certified insane. Her fourth offspring, meanwhile, was so young and inexperienced that she was happy to vacate the throne for him – in order to continue ruling unchallenged. In the process, she kept the multiethnic state free from war, helped trade flourish, and brought prosperity to her subjects.

In 690 she appointed herself the successor to Buddha and took on the title “Holy and Divine Emperor of China.” Even from the Chinese point of view, that was excessive megalomania! At the age of 80, she was forced to abdicate – something that displeased her so much that she died shortly after.

In India, where prostitution is strictly forbidden by religious and state doctrine, the industry has enjoyed increasing demand for hundreds of years (Puritanism, perversion and prostitution seem to depend on each other). Unfortunately not to the benefit of the prostitutes, who are mostly persecuted and despised – with the exception of the Ganika caste.

Similarly to the ancient hetaerae, a Ganika received musical education, could sing and dance, and, unlike a wife, could even read and write – which always brought with it the danger of a political voice, or even revolt. Like an aristocrat, a Ganika enjoyed the privilege of adorning herself with golden jewelry and carrying parasols and fans in public. However, she was also obliged to sleep with any man, should the king order it, and would be flogged should she refuse. If she willingly surrendered, for a cost, two days’ pay per month were due in tax. That is equivalent to a tax rate of 7%, the modern-day VAT rate for cultural items.

If you are familiar with Buddhism, you have surely read something of Ampali. This equally ingenious and spiritual Ganika invited a young prince by the name of Siddhartha Gautama (563 to 483 BC) to lunch back in the year 530 BC. The enthusiasm Ampali and her colleague Vimala showed toward the profound preacher (and their handsome prostitute’s fees) probably made a significant contribution to the enlightenment of the future Buddha. As they grew older and more pious, the generous Ganikas made the change to temple prostitution and eventually to sexual abstinence – which may have been beneficial to their karma, but not to the pockets of the Buddha.

Hindus also preferred prostitutes to frustration. They adorned their temple with pornographic sculptures (the Khajuraho temples are still a feast for tourist’s eyes to this day) and dreamed up a heaven filled with dancing ladies of easy virtue. These apsaras, such as Menaka, are on the same level as archangels, but promise greater joys to those lucky enough to have passed on than “Gloria” and “Hosanna.” To allow such otherworldly festivities to be experienced in this life, there were devadasis, temple dancers who bestowed heaven on earth (at least symbolically) on the living.

“A woman enjoys food twice as much as a man does; she has four times as much knowledge; she is six times more courageous, and gains eight times as much enjoyment from sex,” as the respect-inspiring Indian proverb says. Everyday reality in India could learn something from that.

“Love and money are good servants, but bad masters.” So went the maxim of Ninon de L’Enclos (1620 to 1705). To this day, the former convent schoolgirl and later courtesan at the time of Louis XIV (“The Sun King”, 1638 to 1715) is known as one of the most beautiful and intelligent Frenchwomen of all time. She was certainly the embodiment of female emancipation long before Simone de Beauvoir (The Second Sex).

Similarly to the GRETA BRENTANO® muses, she followed her own desires and affections when choosing her lovers. As an extremely charming and amusing businesswoman, she devoted her full attention to any paying beau – but only surrendered her body to the select few who aroused her passion. Anyone who experienced Ninon’s exquisite art of lovemaking could thus be sure that the favor of the intelligent courtesan had been won by their personality – not their portfolio or influence at court. This sine qua non allowed the chosen one to feel like a conquering champion and doubly enjoy their love life.

The dramatist Molière (Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, 1622 to 1673), author of satirical dramas such as Tartuffe, The Imaginary Invalid, and The School for Wives, was among the visitors to her salon, as was François de La Rochefoucauld (1613 to 1680), founder of the Moralist school and writer of the sharp-witted Sentences and Moral Maxims. Other guests included the wife of Louis XIV, Madame de Maintenon (1635 to 1719), and Queen Christina of Sweden (1626 to 1689) – thus, all in all, the crème de la crème.

Only the queen mother and her royal household were appalled that a courtesan dared turn the societal hierarchy on its head. Suddenly, courtesans had prestige and authority that married, “respectable” female aristocrats could only dream of. Ninon de L’Enclos never deigned to marry, however. She remained true to her autonomy: “My God, make me an honest man, but never an honest woman!”

One can’t help but wonder: how does a professional courtesan maintain her standard of living to a ripe age? Well, Ninon charged hefty fees, acquired land, and was, so they say, still greatly desired as an 80-year-old. After her death (aged 85), the Marquis de La Fare wrote, “Never have I known a woman so reputable and worthy of mourning.”

Perhaps Alice Schwarzer should read some history books.

“I can only love, but I can never belong to another!” These words from poet and countess Franziska “Fanny” zu Reventlow (1871 to 1918) represent a motivation shared by almost all hetaerae, as truly free love can bear no ties.

To revive this idea, 12 young artists and academics came together in Berlin to form the cultural escort agency GRETA BRENTANO®. These modern hetaerae refer to themselves as muses, who bring together five assets in one being: education, eloquence, empathy, eroticism, and elegance.

Once you have met in a restaurant or a hotel bar, you and your muse will decide together how to spend your evening: do you want to explore Berlin’s nightlife? Enjoy a meal? Dance? Go to a theater or concert? If there is mutual affection, your evening could even turn into a night of passion.

However: even if your muse demands a large fee, she is not “for sale” and does not promise any erotic “services” – her art of lovemaking and passion are sparked by her own desire.

Should there be a spark, you will both feel it straight away. If that is not the case, you and your muse both have the right to go your separate ways – free of charge within the first half hour. But as your muse follows her desires and not caprices, you can be almost certain of enjoying the pleasure of love. Every muse feels a natural leaning toward polyamory, and sees an erotic experience with a stranger as an exciting adventure. At the same time, she takes pleasure in being seduced, seducing you, and increasing both your levels of desire. And as each muse accepts no more than one guest per week, you can be certain of her complete devotion.

Why does a woman do this? Because some women, like some men, are looking for an erotic adventure.

Why does she accept remuneration? Because it represents a sign of appreciation.

Does your wife see muse’s kisses as adultery? No wife need fear that a muse wants to take her place, because for a muse, the only true love is free love.

Could you find yourself in judicial difficulties? Not in Germany, and probably not in any enlightened democracy, where the right to genuine affection and free will should reign supreme.

Nota bene: “Virtue is what you make of passion,” Saint Augustine of Hippo.


Recommended literature:

Informed: Nils Johan Ringdal, Die neue Weltgeschichte der Prostitution (The New World History of Prostitution); (458 pages), Piper Verlag Munich, 1997, ISBN-13: 978-3-492-04797-5 and ISBN 10: 3-492-04797-1

Nils Johan Ringdal, Love for Sale – a World History of Prostitution; (448 pages), Grove Press, 2005, ISBN-13: 978-0802141842 and ISBN-10: 0802 141 846

A modern Machiavelli: Robert Greene, The 48 Laws of Power; (452 pages), Viking New York, 1998, ISBN-13: 978-067-0881 468 and ISBN-10: 0140280197

A modern courtesan reports: Vanessa Eden, Warum Männer 2000 Euro für eine Nacht bezahlen. Der Escort-Coach (Why Men Pay 2,000 euros for One Night. The Escort Coach.); (352 pages), Egoistin Verlag, 2013, ISBN-13: 978-3000 39 64 410 and ISBN-10: 3000 396 411

A London call girl reports: Belle de Jour, The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl; (300 pages), Phoenix, 2007, ISBN-13: 978-0753819234 and ISBN-10: 0753819236

A study of men’s motivation: Sabine Grenz, (Un)heimliche Lust. Über den Konsum sexueller Dienstleistungen (Strange and Secret Desires. On the Consumption of Sexual Services); (255 pages), Vs Verlag 2005, ISBN-10: 353 114 77 65

Ruth C. Rosen, The Lost Sisterhood – Prostitution in America 1900–1918; (272 pages), Johns Hopkins University Press (1983), ISBN-10: 0801826659

Helen J. Self, Prostitution, Women and Misuse of the Law – The Fallen Daughters of Eve; (318 pages), Routledge (2003), ISBN-10: 071468371X

Polemical: Alice Schwarzer, Prostitution, ein Deutscher Skandal (Prostitution, a German Scandal); (336 pages), EMMA BUCH (2013), ISBN-13: 978-3-462-04578-9

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