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Athenian Political Art from the fifth and fourth centuries BCE: Images of Historical Individuals 

Amy C. Smith, edition of January 18 2003

page 5 of 14

· Aspasia ·

(courtesan/intellectual, ca. 460s-410s?)

Evidence: No portraits of Aspasia are attested by ancient sources. Yet a herm in the Vatican is inscribed with her name: ΑΣΠΑΣΙΑ [1]. The herm is surely a Roman copy, seemingly of a fifth century original that may have been modified with a fourth century hairstyle (the so-called “melon coiffure”). Experts continue to believe that the inscription is original (because of the letters and placement of the inscription, at the bottom of the shaft), and that it refers to the famous Aspasia associated with Pericles and Socrates. Although the simple demeanor of the woman depicted in this expressionless portrait does not correspond to stories about Aspasia’s beauty and charm, nor her wit, the general appearance of the portrait, as well as details, such as the prominent lids, suit a fifth century date for the original which would correspond with the life time of Aspasia; this may have been a posthumous portrait that attempted, retrospectively, to evoke the image of a mature woman from the fifth century BCE

Extant portraits:

  1. Vatican 272: A marble herm, inscribed ΑΣΠΑΣΙΑ at the bottom, surmounted with a veiled female head (shown here).

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page 5 of 14