In my understanding a high class escort lady is nothing less than a courtesan. Most escorts are educated and intelligent business women (and men, but in this post we merely consider female escorts). They have certain talents, good taste, marketing skills, and exceptional appearance that distinguish them from other women. These ladies are valuable part of today’s society wherever they are allowed to offer their services.
Courtesans were part of a thriving culture of women who were learned, witty and wealthy. They wrote and performed music; they painted and danced. They provided elite men with intelligent conversation, artistic pleasure and sex, just as a high class escort would do today.
They were courtesans, a class of woman difficult to imagine in a world from which they have essentially disappeared. But their existence and accomplishments are now recognised; even being examined by a growing number of academics, artists, filmmakers and other interested groups of people.
“The cultivated courtesan was a very refined, educated type of woman,” said Doris Srinivasan, an art historian at the University of Memphis who will present a paper on courtesans in India. She continues: “A courtesan was respected; she had status; her position was not a degraded one. She was a woman of generosity, of wealth, of integrity, of education.”
And also of erotic desirability. Sex was an integral part of a courtesan’s life. Scholars define a courtesan as a woman who provides a male patron with artistic graces, elevated conversation and her relatively exclusive sexual availability.
According to an other academic source: ”Ancient Greece and ancient Rome both had courtesans as a very prominent part of the way the social fabric operated. So did most places in the Far East and South Asia, India and Renaissance Italy.”
Studies discovered that in Renaissance Italy courtesans maintained salons “where there was elevated conversation about philosophical issues, intellectual issues, theories of life and beauty.” Some courtesans were among the best-educated and most literate and cultured women of their time.
Not the same as a prostitute
Modern sensibilities have equated courtesanship with prostitution, but courtesans and their societies did not. Just as an escort is not the same as a low class prostitute bookable for a quick encounter of pure sex. Escorts offer much more than just sex. They are companionship for high level clientele. Escorts are travel partners for intelligent businessmen, they accompany refined gentlemen to the Opera and they are able to hold entertaining conversations (mostly in more than one language) as well.
When the British colonised India, they made courtesans register for medical checkups and taxed them as if they were prostitutes, Srinivasan said.
“They were really degrading them and placing them in a position they really did not have prior to that,” she said.
A courtesan traded sex and sensuality, she said, but also was required to possess a daunting variety of other skills. According to the Kama Sutra, a “public woman” should be proficient in 64 arts, including singing, musical instruments, dancing, writing, drawing, magic, tailoring, carpentry, architecture and chemistry.
And being a courtesan did not entail the same sense of shame that being a prostitute might do. Even so, courtesans enjoyed freedoms forbidden for other women. According to Christopher Faraone, professor of classics at the University of Chicago: “In sex-segregated ancient Greece, where women citizens were otherwise essentially hidden indoors, courtesans mixed freely. Courtesans seemingly had lived in the world of men, not of women,” he said. “They had autonomy and power. Many of them got to be very wealthy women. That wealth came through gifts, including houses, not direct payments of money.”
In the company of Socrates
The philosopher Socrates may have learned some rhetorical skills from a highly-educated courtesan named Aspasia; he is said to have once recited from memory a speech Aspasia had taught him, said Faraone. The Athenian politician Pericles fell in love with Aspasia and, after he divorced his first wife, married her.
Courtesans often had their own homes, Faraone said. “There’s a wonderful story about a woman Socrates goes to visit who lives in a splendid house [and] has a staff of all female servants. She seems to be a very wealthy, powerful woman.” Courtesans were a class of desirable women for pleasure and entertainment, but they were rarely considered as potential wives. These women tended to remain singe and surrounded themselves with female company in form of servants and “adopted” girls, as family members. Some of them might have had children on their own, but in most cases they remained childless.
Courtesans are difficult to study because they were often reluctant to be defined as courtesans, not necessarily because it’s shameful. More likely because courtesans are operating at a very elite level. Therefore, discretion was expected of them.
Women who became courtesans appear either to have inherited the tradition from their mothers, or to have come from what we would consider the middle class. Because they mixed in the highest echelons of societies, however, they were sometimes indistinguishable from them.