Rhodopis (fl. 6th c. BCE)

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Rhodopis (fl. 6th c. bce)

Thracian courtesan. Name variations: Rhadopis; Rhodope; (real name) Doricha. Flourished in the 6th century bce.

In the 6th century bce, Rhodopis, a Thracian courtesan, was owned by Iadmon from the Greek island of Samos. Iadmon also owned Aesop, the famous fabulist. After profiting from Rhodopis' trade for awhile on Samos, Iadmon relocated her to Naucratis, the Greek emporium tolerated by the Egyptians on one of the arms of the Nile delta so as to facilitate trade with the Greek world. Rhodopis' beauty was legendary. It certainly bedazzled Charaxus of Mytilene (who was the brother of the renowned Greek poet Sappho ); he was so taken by her charms that he purchased her freedom and set her up in her own business. (Not impressed by her brother's infatuation, Sappho wrote a poem which ridiculed his "chivalry.") A free entrepreneur, Rhodopis made a fortune at Naucratis, but not enough to finance the great pyramid at Giza which some of Herodotus' contemporaries (5th century bce) believed she had erected as a monument to herself. Herodotus, however, knew that the pyramids were much older than Rhodopis. Nevertheless, in order to be remembered, at the end of her career Rhodopis did make a statement of sorts (whether or not she did so with tongue in cheek is not known): she devoted 1/10th of her net worth to the purchase of as many roasting spits of iron as that sum could buy, and then dedicated them all to Apollo at Delphi where they could be seen for centuries stacked behind the Chian altar. It appears that the local authorities did not quite know what to do with Rhodopis' generosity: being a dedication to the god, however, they could not merely discard her gift.

One anecdote told about Rhodopis concerned one of her sandals, which an eagle is said to have snatched while she was bathing. Having stolen the sandal, the raptor dropped it in the lap of the reigning Egyptian pharaoh Psammetichus, who was so impressed by the quality of its manufacture that he sought out the owner. Once Rhodopis had been discovered, Psammetichus is said to have been so bewitched by her beauty that he married her. Although this was certainly not a historical episode, it is interesting to see in the mythology surrounding Rhodopis an early precursor of the Cinderella tale.

William Greenwalt , Associate Professor of Classical History, Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, California