Recently I’ve visited Sissi’s palace located on Corfu. Two gorgeous statues of Achilles looked great and although Sissi’s palace is famous thanks to those statues, something else caught my eye and made me think. Courtyard of this palace is wonderful, with statues of muses and Dionisio, busts of famous Greeks, surprisingly, a Lord Byron’s and, of course, two statues of Achilles, one representing him while he is trying to pull arrow from his feet and the other in the wining pose, really big and terrifying. But somewhere in the garden, right before these two statues, I found a statue of a woman. She is naked and self confident, relaxed in her natural beauty. Who is this? Does she even have a name and why would Sissi, queen of Austria, place this statue in her garden, to stand proud-spirited and free?
This woman had a name – it was Phryne the Hetaira. Why would Austrian queen let this woman exist in her garden, a woman that obviously didn’t respect the words of the Aristotle: “The greatest glory [for women] is to be least talked about among men, whether in praise or blame.”?
Is it possible that this woman actually represents freedom for all women? She was a courtesan, a woman with many lovers who insured her wealth and power. But how should we judge this during time where woman were not able to have property and were property themselves? Because, slaves could earn their freedom, but woman could never, by the low, gain full citizenship and by this I don’t mean to have political power but to have property, earn her welt by trading or doing some other business. Athenian women could enter into a contract worth less than the value of a “medimnos of barley” (a measure of grain), allowing women to engage only in petty trading.
Yet, Phryne was so powerful and wealthy, so self confident and free that she made proposal to the Thebes after demolition of Alexander the Great. She offered to rebuild city if a simple inscription would be carved on the fortress: “Destroyed by the Alexander the Great, rebuild by Phryne the Hetaira”. This proposal was eventually rejected, but is this or is it not the proof that freedom and respect must be demanded and dreamed of?