Philaenis of Samos (in Greek, Φιλαινίς ἡ Σαμία) was supposedly the author of a famous ancient sex manual. 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. The manual attributed to her was well-known throughout classical antiquity and scholars believe that it may have influenced Ovid's Ars Amatoria, but, until the late twentieth century, it was thought to have been wholly lost. In 1972, three brief fragments of it were published, which had been previously discovered at Oxyrhynchus as part of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri. In later times, Philaenis was remembered in literature as a stereotypical tribade.
According to one of the surviving fragments of Philaenis' treatise, the work was written by "Philaenis the Samian, daughter of Ocymenes" – though Athenaeus calls her "Leucadian". Her mother's name is sometimes given as Gyllina. She was supposedly a courtesan, and Philaenis – a diminutive of "philaina", the feminine form of the Greek word "philos", meaning "love" – seems to have been a name commonly used by prostitutes in ancient Greece. Her association with Samos is also appropriate for a supposed prostitute; in antiquity, the island was famous for its expensive hetairai.
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. Aeschrion instead attributes the work to Polycrates – most probably the Athenian sophist by that name, though this is not certain. Modern scholars generally believe that Philaenis is a pseudonym for the true author of the work, and Tsantsanolou agrees with Aeschrion's attribution of the work to Polycrates, arguing that it is consistent with what is known of his style.
Philaenis' treatise is one of the best-known ancient sex manuals. 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. Fragments of the work were discovered at Oxyrhynchus and published in 1972 as P. Oxy. 2891. Although the book was formerly believed to have been a monograph on sexual positions, the discovered fragments suggest that the scope of the work was much broader; according to Edgar Lobel, it appears to have been rather "a systematic exposition of ars amatoria". The work does not seem to have been intended as a serious instruction manual, but rather as a parody of the genre.
The work is written in straightforward, everyday language and makes no attempt at literary artifice. It is divided into well-organized sections, each of which deals with a particular topic. Though Philaenis, purportedly the author of the work, was from Samos, the surviving portion of the work contains very few Ionic forms. This may be a result of 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. Alternatively, since "Philaenis" is likely to be a pseudonym for the true author, it is more probable that only a few Ionic forms were needed in order to lend superficial verisimilitude to the work.
The three fragments of the manual attributed to Philaenis have survived. All of them are exceedingly brief and the handwriting on them is barely legible in some places; in the second of the three fragments, only five letters can be securely identified. The fragments come from the very beginning of a scroll of papyrus, which was divided into two parallel columns. The first column begins with a preamble describing Philaenis's work:
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...
The second and third fragments come from the beginning of the second column on the scroll:
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: ...
The structure of the treatise attributed to Philaenis resembles that of the later poetic Ars Amatoria by the Roman poet Ovid and it is generally thought that Ovid probably drew on it for inspiration. The fourth-century AD Pseudo-Lucianic dialogue Erōtes cites Philaenis as an example of "tribadic licentiousness" and claims that she used a strap-on dildo for the sake of "androgynous loves". A scholium on the passage remarks that Philocrates, an Athenian comic playwright, had described Philaenis as a hetairistria and a tribas ("tribade").
To the ancient Romans, Philaenis and her writings symbolized the perceived profligacy of the Greek cities of Asia Minor. The Roman epigrammatist Martial uses a fictional character named Philaenis in his satires, who may have been partially based on Philaenis of Samos. Martial's Philaenis is a stereotypical tribade, who sodomizes boys, has sex with women, engages in cunnilingus, and lifts weights. One epigram declares: "That tribade Philaenis sodomizes boys, and with more rage than a husband in his stiffened lust, she works eleven girls roughly every day." Another protests that "You, Philaenis, tribade to tribades, rightly call friend her whom you f**k."
In his Gynaikeion (1624), Thomas Heywood describes Philaenis as a "strumpet of Leucadia" and credits her with having invented kataklysis (douching). John Donne's erotic epistle "Sapho to Philaenis" is written as a love letter, in which the Lesbian lyric poetess Sappho anachronistically professes her love to Philaenis, spurning the affections of her male lover Phaon.
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