1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Aspasia
ASPASIA, an Athenian courtesan of the 5th century B.C., was born either at Miletus or at Megara, and settled in Athens, where her beauty and her accomplishments gained for her a great reputation. Pericles, who had divorced his wife (445), made her his mistress, and, after the death of his two legitimate sons, procured the passing of a law under which his son by her was recognized as legitimate. It was the fashion, especially among the comic poets, to regard her as the adviser of Pericles in all his political actions, and she is even charged with having caused the Samian and Peloponnesian wars (Aristoph. Acharn. 497). Shortly before the latter war, she was accused of impiety, and nothing but the tears and entreaties of Pericles procured her acquittal. On the death of Pericles she is said to have become the mistress of one Lysicles, whom, though of ignoble birth, she raised to a high position in the state; but, as Lysicles died a year after Pericles (428), the story is unconvincing. She was the chief figure in the dialogue Aspasia by Aeschines the Socratic, in which she was represented as criticizing the manners and training of the women of her time (for an attempted reconstruction of the dialogue see P. Natorp in Philologus, li. p. 489, 1892); in the Menexenus (generally ascribed to Plato) she is a teacher of rhetoric, the instructress of Socrates and Pericles, and a funeral oration in honour of those Athenians who had given their lives for their country (the authorship of which is attributed to Aspasia) is repeated by Socrates; Xenophon (Oecon. lii. 14) also speaks of her in favourable terms, but she is not mentioned by Thucydides. In opposition to this view, Wilamowitz-Möllendorff (Hermes, xxxv. 1900) regards her simply as a courtesan, whose personality would readily become the subject of rumour, favourable or unfavourable. There is a bust bearing her name in the Pio Clementino Museum in the Vatican.