Aspasia 470- 400 BCE
Aspasia was an outspoken philosopher born in Miletus, in modern day Turkey. Aspasia spent most of her life in Athens as the mistress of Pericles. Because Aspasia was not born in Athens, she and Pericles could not marry and any children could not be considered legitimate according to Athenian law.
The beginnings of Aspasia’s life are unclear. She must have had a good education and probably worked as a prostitute and ran her own brothel. Aspasia was one of the few women in Athens who paid taxes and was a part of the public life in the city. It was her outspoken manner that first caught the eye of Pericles. He befriended her, fell in love and they developed a relationship. They lived together and had a son. Aspasia’s attachment to Pericles protected her from many naysayers. She and Pericles were still subject to many rumors and personal attacks but other Athenians, including Socrates, held the couple in high esteem.
Aspasia had a lot of influence over the politics in Athens through Pericles. She did not limit herself to this influence though, Aspasia was known to speak at government assemblies to the Council of 400 about Athenian law. This kind of political activity was usually reserved for male citizens, and though Aspasia was neither she made her voice heard, no one tried to stop her. Her influence was great, she was accused of inciting the Peloponnesian War.
After her lover died in the Athenian Plague, Aspasia most likely lived with Athenian general Lysicles. Her first son, Pericles, became a general. He died in 406 BCE and Aspasia died shortly before that.
Painting: Self-portrait Marie Bouliard, as Aspasia, 1794.