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Focus on the Humanities Lecture: Laura McClure

November 16, 2022 @ 5:45 pm - 7:00 pm

Portrait image of Laura McClure against a white background with shoulder-length brown hair, a grey scarf, and a black jacket.
Image Credit: SuccessWorks, UW-Madison, photo of Professor Laura McClure, CANES

Laura McClure (Senior Fellow, 2019-2023) will be giving the Focus on the Humanities lecture titled “Biography of a Greek Courtesan: Re-imagining Phryne.”

Phryne was the most famous hetaera (“female companion”) in classical Athens and yet we know very little about her. What we do know of her comes from scattered references across a wide variety of Greek texts generated hundreds of years after her death. From these fragments, we learn that she came to Athens as a young girl from Thespiae, a city in Boeotia, probably as a refugee from war, amassed enormous wealth from the business of sex, served as the model for the Cnidian Aphrodite, and was prosecuted, and acquitted, on the charge of impiety. The salacious and sensationalizing details of her reception, such as the shocking exposure of her breasts at her trial, has led modern scholars to interpret Phryne largely as a fictitious character and the object of male fantasy. However, through close analysis of the landscape of classical Athens, especially the ways metic or foreign women moved within it and how they intersected with the legal system and contemporary trends in art, it is possible to construct a compelling biography of Phryne as an independent, influential, and enormously wealthy entrepreneur and public benefactor.

Laura McClure’s diverse research interests focus on Athenian drama, the study of women in the ancient world, and classical reception. Her publications include books on the representation of women in Athenian drama and the courtesan in the Greek literary tradition: Spoken Like a Woman: Speech and Gender in Athenian Drama (Princeton, 1999) and Courtesans at Table: Gender and Greek Literary Culture in Athenaeus (Routledge 2003). She has edited three volumes on the subject of women in antiquity, including Making Silence Speak: Women’s Voices in Greek Literature and Society, with André Lardinois (Princeton, 2001), Prostitutes and Courtesans in the Ancient World, with C. A. Faraone (Wisconsin, 2006), and Sexuality and Gender in the Classical World (Blackwell, 2008). She has published numerous articles, most recently an analysis of the role of women in tragic recognition scenes. She is currently completing a textbook about women in ancient Greece and Rome (under contract with Blackwell). Another project on the reception of the Greek chorus is underway. Laura regularly teaches advanced Greek language courses, Women and Gender in the Classical World, Civilization of Ancient Greece, and Ancient Drama in translation.

For more information click here.

The event poster features a neoclassical painting of a white woman in a courtroom, her garment being snatched away by a man.
Image courtesy of the UW Center for the Humanities


November 16, 2022
5:45 pm - 7:00 pm
Event Category:


Conrad A. Elvehjem Building, Room L140
800 University Avenue
Madison, Wisconsin 53703 United States
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