While doing research for one of my books, I discovered an amazingly bright and vibrant person who lived during the golden age of Greece.  Her name was Aspasia.

All of us struggle with adversity in our life, to greater or lesser degree, and hopefully are able to eventually overcome it.  Her story was one of tremendous adversity, which she changed into incredibly great accomplishments.  Perhaps her story will touch something in you, as it did in me.

Just one year before Socrates was born in Athens, Aspasia was born in the Greek city of Miletus (470 BC), and fate would bring them together.  She was still a teenager when she left home and -- due to her exceptional charm and abilities -- became what the Greeks called an "hetaira" which is similar to what the Japanese call a "geisha."  At that time most Greek women were not given much education, they married when young, and were expected to stay home with the children. A hetaira, on the other hand, was highly educated and trained in the arts.  Her role was to accompany prominent men to symposia and other public events, engaging in witty discourse and playing music.  When her sister married a man from Athens, Aspasia moved with them to that city at the center of Greek life.

This golden age of Greece in which she lived was the creation of one man more than any other.  He was Pericles, who was the leader of Athens for 32 years in a row.  He collected gold from all the Greek cities to pay for mutual protection, but did not spend it all to build ships for defense.  With the remainder he sponsored an explosion of the arts in Athens.  He built the magnificent Parthenon -- the temple of Athena -- which still stands on the Acropolis today.  And he erected many other beautiful buildings for the arts and civic use.  Greek theater was created in the form we know it today, fueled by Sophocles and Euripides who lived at that time.  Socrates performed a role much like a male hetaira, always being invited to dinner parties to create his witty and insightful dialogues.

Pericles was just launching those great works when Aspasia came to Athens at twenty years of age.  She made quite an impression and soon was in demand by prestigious men who desired her company at the symposia.  But her heart was captured by Pericles, and in time he became captivated by her.  As leader of Athens, he could not marry someone from outside the city, but they both chose to live together for the rest of his life.  Their home became the center of social life in Athens and of all Greece.  Her friend Socrates was one of these people drawn into her circle. Playwrights, sculptors, civic leaders and famous people from every country who came to Athens sought entry to her social events, and she granted as many requests as she could.

With education for women not encouraged at that time, Aspasia nevertheless opened what was ostensibly a school for hetaira, but which I believe may have been the first known university for women.  Socrates was a frequent visitor to her school, bringing other philosophers and his students.  She was 41 when Pericles died, but did not retreat from what she had started.  She continued her work in Athens for another twenty years.

Aspasia was a woman who made up her mind about what she wanted to do, then found a way to do it with as little upset to others as possible.  No matter the obstacle -- and the odds against doing what she accomplished were incredible -- she found a way to overcome.  Whenever she received, she also gave.  As a result, she became one of the creators of the golden age of Greece.  She lived a life of which others could only dream.  Because she took her dreams and made them her life.

Read more about Aspasia's life:

Ancient Athens


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This page was created in 2003; 

last modified on January 28, 2019

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Aspasia and Pericles

Aspasia and Pericles

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