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Phryne in Front of the Judges, 338 BC

Phryne was a Courtesan from Ancient Greece who was incredibly beautiful. She was so beautiful in fact, that it earned her a lot of money as a courtesan and so she was also incredibly wealthy and famous.

At the festival of Poseidon she took her clothes off, let her hair down, and walked into the ocean to bathe in front of everyone. (Apelles the artist had attended that festival and it is suggested the sight of her emerging from the ocean inspired him to paint Venus Anadyomene, which then led to the creation of famous painting of Aphrodite emerging from her shell.)

She strived to be recognized as an equal member in ancient Greek society, which practiced little to no female rights, especially for courtesans. In 336 BC when Alexander the Great destroyed the wall of Thebes in his invasion, Phryne offered some of her vast wealth to help rebuild it, on the condition that it be inscribed ‘destroyed by Alexander, restored by Phryne the courtesan’. Although the wall badly needed to be rebuilt in order to defend the city, authorities rejected her offer. The men of Greece would rather be killed by invaders then swallow their pride and accept help from a woman; a courtesan no less.

One day she was accused of profaning the gods and she was put on trial. Just when it seemed as though the verdict would be unfavorable, her lawyer tore her robes off in front of the judges to purposely reveal her naked body. Beauty in ancient Greece, especially beauty as astonishing as Phrynes, was viewed as a gift from the gods and a mark of divinity. The judges were so moved by her beauty that they acquitted her. Phryne remains to this day an ancient Greek symbol of beauty and sexual liberation.