The role of Aspasia

In this page we align sources concerning the tradition about the alleged responsibility of Aspasia for the Samian war. Plutarch doesn't mention any source for this tradition, while Harpokration refers it directly to Douris of Samos.

The texts of Plutarch and Harpokration can be aligned with a passage from the Deipnososphists, where Athenaeus quotes Alexis of Samos and relates about a statue of Aphrodites set up in Samos by the hetairai who accompanied Perikles during the siege of the island. It is not possible to know if the tradition about these hetairai is true, but it was probably inspired by the strong allegations against Perikles on Samos and against Aspasia, who had the reputation as the mistress of a prostitution school (Plut. Per. 24.3): cf. M.H. Herny, Prisoner of History. Aspasia of Miletus and her Biographical Tradition, Oxford 1995, pp. 20-45; A.J. Podlecki, Perikles and his Circle, London - New York 1998, p. 125.


Greek text (→ English translation)

Highlight corresponding passages

Plutarch, Pericles 24.1, 3, and 25.1
(ed. Perrin pdf_icon)

(24.1) ἐκ τούτου γενομένων σπονδῶν Ἀθηναίοις καὶ Λακεδαιμονίοις εἰς ἔτη τριάκοντα ψηφίζεται τὸν εἰς Σάμον πλοῦν, αἰτίαν ποιησάμενος κατ᾽ αὐτῶν ὅτι τὸν πρὸς Μιλησίους κελευόμενοι διαλύσασθαι πόλεμον οὐχ ὑπήκουον. ἐπεὶ δ᾽ Ἀσπασίᾳ χαριζόμενος (sc. Περικλῆς) δοκεῖ πρᾶξαι τὰ πρὸς Σαμίους, ἐνταῦθα ἂν εἴη καιρὸς διαπορῆσαι μάλιστα περὶ τῆς ἀνθρώπου, τίνα τέχνην ἢ δύναμιν τοσαύτην ἔχουσα τῶν τε πολιτικῶν τοὺς πρωτεύοντας ἐχειρώσατο καὶ τοῖς φιλοσόφοις οὐ φαῦλον οὐδ᾽ ὀλίγον ὑπὲρ αὑτῆς παρέσχε λόγον ... (3) τὴν δ᾽ Ἀσπασίαν οἱ μὲν ὡς σοφήν τινα καὶ πολιτικὴν ὑπὸ τοῦ Περικλέους σπουδασθῆναι λέγουσι: καὶ γὰρ Σωκράτης ἔστιν ὅτε μετὰ τῶν γνωρίμων ἐφοίτα, καὶ τὰς γυναῖκας ἀκροασομένας οἱ συνήθεις ἦγον ὡς αὐτήν, καίπερ οὐ κοσμίου προεστῶσαν ἐργασίας οὐδὲ σεμνῆς, ἀλλὰ παιδίσκας ἑταιρούσας τρέφουσαν.

(25.1) τὸν δὲ πρὸς Σαμίους πόλεμον αἰτιῶνται μάλιστα τὸν Περικλέα ψηφίσασθαι διὰ Μιλησίους Ἀσπασίας δεηθείσης ...

Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae 13.31 (572f)
(ed. Kaibel pdf_icon)

Ἄλεξις δ᾽ ὁ Σάμιος (FHG IV 299 fr. 1 pdf_icon = FGrH 539 F 1 = BNJ 539 F 1) ἐν δευτέρῳ Ὥρων Σαμιακῶν ‛τὴν ἐν Σάμῳ Ἀφροδίτην, ἣν οἱ μὲν ἐν καλάμοις καλοῦσιν, οἱ δὲ ἐν ἕλει, Ἀττικαί, φησίν, ἑταῖραι ἱδρύσαντο αἱ συνακολουθήσασαι Περικλεῖ ὅτε ἐπολιόρκει τὴν Σάμον, ἐργασάμεναι ἱκανῶς ἀπὸ τῆς ὥρας’.

Harpocration, Lexicon in decem oratores Atticos s.v. Ἀσπασία
(ed. Dindorf pdf_icon)

Ἀσπασία: Λυσίας ἐν τῷ πρὸς Αἰσχίνην τὸν Σωκρατικὸν, οὗ διάλογος ἐπιγραφόμενος Ἀσπασία. μνημονεύουσι δ’ αὐτῆς πολλάκις καὶ οἱ ἄλλοι Σωκρατικοὶ, καὶ Πλάτων ἐν τῷ Μενεξένῳ τὸν Σωκράτην παρ’ αὐτῆς φησὶ μαθεῖν τὰ πολιτικά. ἦν δὲ τὸ μὲν γένος Μιλησία, δεινὴ δὲ περὶ λόγους· Περικλέους δέ φασιν αὐτὴν διδάσκαλόν τε ἅμα καὶ ἐρωμένην εἶναι. δοκεῖ δὲ δυοῖν πολέμων αἰτία γεγονέναι, τοῦ τε Σαμιακοῦ καὶ τοῦ Πελοποννησιακοῦ, ὡς ἔστι μαθεῖν παρά τε Δούριδος τοῦ Σαμίου (FHG II 482 fr. 58 pdf_icon = FGrH 76 F 65 = BNJ 76 F 65) καὶ Θεοφράστου ἐκ τοῦ δʹ τῶν Πολιτικῶν καὶ ἐκ τῶν Ἀριστοφάνους Ἀχαρνέων (527-8). δοκεῖ δὲ καὶ ἐξ αὐτῆς ἐσχηκέναι ὁ Περικλῆς τὸν ὁμώνυμον αὐτῷ Περικλέα τὸν νόθον, ὡς ἐμφαίνει καὶ Εὔπολις ἐν τοῖς Δήμοις. Λυσικλεῖ δὲ τῷ δημαγωγῷ συνοικήσασα Πορίστην ἔσχεν, ὡς ὁ Σωκρατικὸς Αἰσχίνης φησίν.


English translation (→ Greek text)


Plutarch, Pericles 24.1, 3, and 25.1
(trans. Perrin pdf_icon)

After this, when peace had been made for thirty years between the Athenians and the Lacedaemonians, be got a decree passed for his (sc. Perikles') expedition to Samos, alleging against its people that, though they were ordered to break off their war against the Milesians, they were not complying. Now, since it is thought that he (sc. Perikles) proceeded thus against the Samians to gratify Aspasia, this may be a fitting place to raise the query what great art or power this woman had, that she managed as she pleased the foremost men of the state, and afforded the philosophers occasion to discuss her in exalted terms and at great length ... (3) And so Aspasia, as some say, was held in high favour by Perikles because of her rare political wisdom. Sokrates sometimes came to see her with his disciples, and his intimate friends brought their wives to her to hear her discourse, although she presided over a business that was anything but honest or even reputable, since she kept a house of young courtesans.

(25.1) But to return to the war against the Samians, they accuse Perikles of getting the decree for this passed at the request of Aspasia and in the special behalf of the Milesians ...

Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae 13.31 (572f)
(trans. Gulick)

Alexis of Samos (FHG IV 299 fr. 1 = FGrH 539 F 1 = BNJ 539 F 1), in the second book of his Samian annals, says: “The Aphrodite of Samos, whom some call by the title ‘In the Reeds,’ others, ‘In the Swamp,’ was dedicated by Athenian prostitutes who accompanied the army of Perikles when he was laying siege to Samos, after they had earned sufficient funds by their seductions.”

Harpocration, Lexicon in decem oratores Atticos s.v. Ἀσπασία

Aspasia: Lysias in the speech against Aeschines Socraticus, who wrote a dialogue entitled Aspasia. She is often mentioned also by the other Socratic philosophers, and Plato in the Menexenus says that Sokrates learned politics from her. She was Milesian and clever at speaking; they say that she was teacher and lover of Perikles at the same time. It appears that she was the cause of two wars, the Samian and the Peloponnesian, as it is possible to learn from Douris of Samos (FHG II 482 fr. 58 = FGrH 76 F 65 = BNJ 76 F 65), Theophrastos in the fourth book of his Politika, and from Aristophanes' Acharnians (527-8). It also appears that Perikles had from her his illegitimate omonymous son Perikles, as indicated by Eupolis in the Demes. She had Poristes from the marriage with the demagogue Lysikles, as reported by Aeschines Socraticus.