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A painting taken from an ancient Greek plate depicting a hetaira

Philaenis of Samos (in Greek, Φιλαινίς ἡ Σαμία) was supposedly the author of an ancient manual on sex. According to a surviving fragment of her treatise, she was from Samos, and her father was called Ocymenes. However, many modern scholars consider "Philaenis" a pseudonym, and the manual attributed to her may have been written instead by an Athenian sophist, Polycrates.[1]



According to one of the surviving fragments of Philaenis' treatise, the work was written by "Philaenis the Samian, daughter of Ocymenes"[2] – though Athenaeus calls her "Leucadian".[3] Her mother's name is sometimes given as Gyllina.[1] She was supposedly a courtesan,[4] and Philaenis – a diminutive of "philaina", the feminine form of the Greek word "philos", meaning "love"[5] – seems to have been a name commonly used by prostitutes in ancient Greece.[1] Her association with Samos is also appropriate for a supposed prostitute – in antiquity, the island was famous for its prostitution.[1]

Two poems in the Palatine Anthology – one by Aeschrion of Samos, the other by the third-century BC poet Dioscorides – deny that Philaenis wrote the work attributed to her.[1] Aeschrion instead attributes the work to Polycrates[4] – most probably the Athenian sophist by that name, though this is not certain.[6] Modern scholars generally believe that Philaenis is a pseudonym for the true author of the work,[1] and Tsantsanolou agrees with Aeschrion's attribution of the work to Polycrates, arguing that it is consistent with what is known of his style.[7]


Philaenis' treatise is one of the best-known ancient sex manuals.[6] She is the most frequently named of the ancient women who had an erotic treatise attributed to them, being mentioned in a dozen ancient sources.[8] Fragments of the work were discovered at Oxyrhynchus and published in 1972 as P. Oxy. 2891. Formerly believed to be a monograph on sexual positions, the discovery suggests that the scope of the work was broader than this; according to Edgar Lobel, it seems to have been rather "a systematic exposition of ars amatoria".[9] It does not seem that the work was intended as a serious instruction manual, but rather as a parody of the genre.[1]

Though Philaenis, purportedly the author of the work, was from Samos, there are very few Ionic forms in the surviving portion of the work. This could be attributed to the fact that by the fourth century, when the work was probably written, Koine was starting to become the prevalent dialect in formerly Ionic speaking areas of Greece.[3] As Philaenis is likely to be a pseudonym for the true author, however, it is more probable that only a few Ionic forms were needed in order to lend superficial verisimilitude to the work.[7]

Surviving FragmentsEdit

The three surviving fragments of the manual attributed to Philaenis are exceedingly brief and the handwriting on them is barely legible in some places;[10] in the second of the three fragments, only five letters can be securely identified.[11] The fragments read as follows:

"Philaenis the Samian, daughter of Ocymenes, composed this book for those who wish to live their life with knowledge gained scientifically, not unprofessionally. She toiled...

On Seductions: Now, the seducer must come to the woman untidy and uncombed, so that he does not seem to the woman to be a man who takes much trouble...

[On Flattery]: ...with the intention..., while he says that she... is equal to a goddess, that she who is ugly is as lovely as Aphrodite and that she who is older is as Rhea.

On Kissing: ..."
— Philaenis of Samos, The Art of Love, translated by Ian Michael Plant in Women Writers of Ancient Greece and Rome: An Anthology, page 46

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Plant, Ian Michael (2004). Women Writers of Ancient Greece and Rome: An Anthology. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 45. ISBN 0-8061-3622-7. Retrieved 3 February 2017. 
  2. ^ P. Oxy. 2891, trans. I. M. Plant
  3. ^ a b Tsantsanoglou, K. (1973). "The Memoirs of a Lady from Samos". ZPE. 12: 191. 
  4. ^ a b West, M. L. (1977). "Erinna". ZPE. 25: 118. 
  5. ^ Tsantsanoglou, K. (1973). "The Memoirs of a Lady from Samos". ZPE. 12: 192. 
  6. ^ a b Thompson Vessey, D. W. (1976). Philaenis. Revue belge de philologie et d'histoire. 1. p. 82. 
  7. ^ a b Tsantsanoglou, K. (1973). "The Memoirs of a Lady from Samos". ZPE. 12: 194. 
  8. ^ Boehringer, Sandra (2014). "What is Named by the Name "Philaenis"? Gender, function and authority of an antonomastic figure". In Masterson, Mark; Nancy Sorkin, Rabinowitz; Robson, James. Sex in Antiquity: Exploring Gender and Sexuality in the Ancient World. p. 374. 
  9. ^ Tsantsanoglou, K. (1973). "The Memoirs of a Lady from Samos". ZPE. 12: 183. 
  10. ^ McKeown, J. C. (2013). A Cabinet of Greek Curiosities: Strange Tales and Surprising Facts from the Cradle of Western Civilization. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. p. 40. ISBN 978-0-19-998210-3. 
  11. ^ Plant, Ian Michael (2004). Women Writers of Ancient Greece and Rome: An Anthology. University of Oklahoma Press. pp. 45–47. ISBN 0-8061-3622-7. Retrieved 3 February 2017. 

External linksEdit

  • William Smith, Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (based on ancient references, predating the rediscovery of the fragments, and mistakenly stating that the work was a poem)
  • Papyrus and description, part of the online exhibition Oxyrhynchus: A City and Its Texts (The Egypt Exploration Society)