Aspasia the Younger (fl. 415–370 BCE)

views updated

Aspasia the Younger (fl. 415–370 bce)

Greek concubine. Name variations: real name, according to Plutarch, was Milto; Aspasia the Wise. Flourished around 415–370 bce; daughter of Hermotimus.

The fame of Aspasia of Miletus was so widespread that her name became proverbial for the refined hetaira. The son of the Persian king and aspirant to the throne Cyrus the Younger (c. 423–401 bce) named his favorite concubine Aspasia. Her original name may have been Milto, and her father's name is given as Hermotimus. She was born free and the sources say she was well educated. We do not know anything about her before she came to the court of Cyrus.

She is called Aspasia the Younger, but ancient tradition held that Cyrus called her "the Wise," for the following incident. Several girls were brought in to Cyrus at a party and they were assigned couches. As Cyrus flirted with the girls, they reciprocated—all, that is, except Aspasia. She refused to play Cyrus' game and when he came closer she is reported to have said, "whosoever lays his hands on me will surely regret it." All the others feared for the girl's life after making such a remark to the prince, but Cyrus was impressed and said she was the only one in the whole lot with a free spirit. He then made her his concubine, called her Aspasia in honor of Aspasia of Miletus, and she became his favorite.

Cyrus was murdered by his brother, Artaxerxes (c. 451–360 bce), who became the king of Persia, in 401 and Aspasia the Younger, as spoils of war, became part of Artaxerxes' harem. She soon became his favorite as well. She seems to have had some degree of influence over Artaxerxes at the royal court, but we cannot tell how much or in what situations.

When Artaxerxes grew old, he perceived that two of his sons were organizing factions to support their claims to the throne. He decided to make his eldest son, Dareius, heir-apparent. According to Persian custom (as relayed by Plutarch), when an heir to the throne is named he is allowed to make one request of the king. Dareius asked to have Aspasia. Shocked, and somewhat angered, Artaxerxes decided to let Aspasia choose whether she wanted to go with Dareius or stay with him. She chose Dareius, which also angered the king. Nevertheless, Aspasia stayed with Dareius until Artaxerxes connived a devious plan to take her away by making her the priestess of the goddess Artemis, called "Anaitis," who was required to remain chaste for the rest of her life. That way Artaxerxes could still honor Aspasia and at the same time legitimately separate her from his son. But it seems that Aspasia did not feel honored, and she longed to return to Dareius.

Dareius was incensed at losing Aspasia and entered a conspiracy to murder his father, but it failed and he was discovered. Dareius was tried, found guilty, and executed. Nothing more is heard of Aspasia. She was probably around 60 years old and could have died shortly after Dareius. As with many women from ancient Greece, Aspasia the Wise slips silently from the historical record.


Plutarch. Life of Artaxerxes. Translated J.W. Cohoon with accompanying Greek text, in Plutarch's Lives. Vol. XI. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1926.

Robert W. Cape , Jr., Assistant Professor of Classics and Director of Gender Studies, Austin College, Sherman, Texas

About this article

Aspasia the Younger (fl. 415–370 BCE)

Updated About content Print Article Share Article