From the journal of Ellen Lambert:
Greece - A Sensual Life
The House of the Muses.
The moment I entered my new home, I stood in awe. Cleofys had spared no expense in decorating this fine manor. Large murals depicting scenes from the Greek stories of gods and mortals graced each wall in the main salon. Beyond a row of marble pillars, a long balcony offered a sweeping vista of the city below while lengths of tulle curtains billowed in the soft breeze. Damask and silk fabrics had been imported to make comfortable cushions for the many settees and chairs, the fabric of royal blue and purple. Silver decanters and matching goblets sat on carved sideboards, the selection of beverages for the clientele numerous and expensive. Silver chandeliers hung from the ceiling and offered the warm glow of numerous candles while porcelain bowls held potpourri of fragrant jasmine and sandalwood.
“It is like a beautiful oasis,” I commented as Cleofys gave me a tour.
“Yes, it is,” she answered with a sly smile. “I make sure the patrons who visit us receive the best in hospitality.”
My own quarters offered the same opulence with wall murals and ornate furniture, the cushions and bedding of fine, pale blue silk, the panels on the bureau, cupboard and wardrobe featuring carvings of aristocratic women in fancy dress. From my own balcony I had a lovely view of a large hillside statue, a representation of the Goddess Aphrodite in mortal form, a nude woman of alabaster brilliance. The goddess of love, Cleofys explained, remained an important deity at the House of Muses, for she represented our avocation, of love, desire and sexual expression. Two other gods remained important to us, Athena, the goddess of war and community, whose name graced our thriving metropolis, and Poseidon, the god of the sea, who could at any time cause a tidal wave to wash us away if we invoked his wrath. “Pray daily for them,” Cleofys advised, “and you will prosper.”
She went on to explain the inner workings of the house. I need only ask for the items I needed and they would be delivered to me, perfume, soap, hair clips, cosmetics, anything in the way of toiletries that would enhance my attractiveness. To aid me in this quest, I found a porcelain tub for bathing behind a cypress screen and a cupboard filled with soft towels and a flask of musk oil for the skin. And to my delight, I discovered a gilt brush set with a hand-held mirror on my new bureau.
All the courtesans of the house took meals together, but we were free to do as we liked before and after. Entertaining our clients in the main salon was greatly encouraged, and if the clients so wished, we moved upstairs to our private quarters for more intimate relations.
My servants had generous rooms attached to mine with thick doors that closed their rooms off when I needed privacy. We were allowed visits from our own, non-paying lovers, of course, although the clients came first. While clients entered through the front courtyard, our lovers had to use the back entrance for coming and going. All of the courtesans’ rooms had access to the rear staircase and the small, gated back courtyard. Cleofys herself occupied the top floor of the manor, but she rarely entertained clientele these days, only two who had been with her for many, many years.
If she only knew how many years I lived before she took any lovers, I thought with a wistful smile. Of course, I would never reveal this to Cleofys or anyone else for that matter. Again, discretion had become my ally, but with Athens growing daily in population, I felt safe for now, my meals, beyond what was served in the house dining room, plentiful and available. Thus, I quickly moved from my old quarters into the House of Muses, Tira and Lakshmi having packed all our belongings beforehand so we could settle in swiftly and effortlessly.
In the next two days, I met the other occupants of the house, the ten courtesans and some of their servants. All the Hetaeras proved attractive in their own right, some tall, some short, some willowy, some buxom, with varying hair and skin colors. Their nationalities and names offered variety as well, the Roman Jocasta, the Cypriot Zenobe, the Babylonian Issa, the Macedonian Nabila, the Byzantine Halcyone, and the Persian Samira. Four lovely and seductive Grecian women made up the rest of our group—now numbering eleven—their names Adjani, Leatrice, Ophelia, and Semelé.
Most of the Hetearas sold basic sexual and entertainment services, although more dramatic and capricious favors could be had for a higher price—even some that proved physically challenging. Thus the House of Muses offered something for every man and his tastes.
Since I needed a wardrobe befitting my new status as a courtesan, Cleofys employed two tailors to outfit me with the necessary linen gowns and robes—or chitons and himations—plus sandals and jewelry. My rings, earrings, necklaces and brooches were fashioned from silver and gold and studded with semi-precious stones. Tira, too, received a new wardrobe, although she still preferred to wear her turban in deference to her heritage.
By now my hair had grown to the small of my back and I lightened it to a lustrous blond with a bleaching agent. Society women wore their hair gathered up and fastened with jeweled combs and tiaras, while tight spiral curls graced their brows, temples, and the backs of their necks. I employed the same hairstyle, making Tira work a laborious hour pinning my hair carefully with my mother-of-pearl and gilt combs, and then curling each cascading section with a heated rod.
Now equipped with my elegant wardrobe and hairstyle, I made my first appearance in Grecian society, inciting immediate speculation and interest. And when I began to make frequent appearances at public gatherings and events, I knew I caught the appreciative gazes of not only the men but the women as well. People wanted to know my identity, the lovely, elegant and enigmatic blond woman in the company of her tall dark-skinned maid who served as the lady’s chaperone.
As soon as they knew my identity and profession, the men began to court my favors and made appointments to see me for “business purposes.” Soon I had more appointments than I had time, but I gladly rearranged my evening schedule to accommodate all of my clientele, even two or three per night if need be.
The work left me tired, weak and famished, but Tira made sure to provide me with the human nourishment I needed to restore my body and mind. These meals usually took place in the wee hours as time and privacy permitted. I began to sleep no more than four or five hours a night, but I found I could do so and still feel and look refresh the next day.
Soon I received weekly visits from my new contacts, both men and women, who arrived in the latter part of the morning and stayed to mid-afternoon; although these visits remained social only, with no discussion of business and money. We met in the main salon of the House of Muses where the seating arrangements offered comfort as well as a sweeping view of the large wall murals.
This small but important group of people ate the delicacies I provided with my own money and drank honeyed nectar, tea and wine, all the while engaging in lively conversation. On some occasions, the other courtesans would entertain my visitors with musical selections, usually Jocasta on the lute, Ajani on the lyre, and Issa on the flute. Other times, one of the drama personae from the group would perform excerpts from the latest tragedy by the playwright Aristophanes, while a trio of the Heraetas wearing bronze masks— Halcyone, Leatrice and Samira—provided a choral and dance accompaniment.
Thaddeus, now a prosperous textile merchant as well as a member of the elder council, had gladly and eagerly become one of my paying customers, trading drachma coins and bolts of rich silk for my affection, his infatuation for me growing in proportion to his waistline. He frequently joined our group, although he contributed very little in the way of intelligent conversation, even for a politician and business man. Instead, he preferred to avail himself of the free and plentiful food and drink, although he paid for it all indirectly.
One day, Thaddeus brought along his young niece, Penelope. As I welcomed her, I immediately took note of her striking beauty. Penelope possessed a slender body, a heart-shaped face, delicate features, and round, luminous eyes the color of the Aegean Sea. Her hair cascaded down her back in red curls, although she wore the side tresses twisted artfully on top of her head and pinned with pearl-encrusted combs. I also noted that she wore the latest style, a pleated chiton of fine linen, embroidered at the hem with gilt thread, and cinched at the waist with a lamé mesh girdle. Around her neck she wore strands of shell pink beads, their color a match to her delicate rose cheeks.
As I did Darshak, I admired her beauty, her voice like the sound of chiming of bells, her demeanor sweet and charming. Penelope possessed a pure, innocent aura, yet to be branded by passion and the fear some of the Haraetas faced—the fear of growing and looking old without finding love and companionship.
For some reason, I wanted to make the young woman’s acquaintance further, perhaps strike up a friendship. Despite my popularity, I had been feeling a pang of loneliness, for I hadn’t developed any real friendships among the other women in the house. Perhaps because they—like me in a way—remained territorial and wary of another woman’s attempt at closeness, a sign that her ulterior motive might be to steal the other’s lucrative clientele.
Of course, Tira remained a true friend, but our relationship did not extend to the social, aesthetic level. For that I had to rely on men. But I had grown weary of their coarse hands pawing at my smooth flesh, their gruff, groaning voices irritating my senses, their often bloated bodies weighing heavily on top of me, and their foul breath from too much rich food making me choke in disgust. I yearned for a soft touch, a warm hand to stroke and calm me, a pleasant demeanor and light, serene voice, a person who made me think of that oasis I had dreamed about once, a person who could be my oasis.
To my joy, Penelope singled me out in order that we might share some private time together. Often we left the group and walked along the colonnade, between the mighty cypress, the shady olive trees and the date palms. With the statue of Aphrodite looking down upon us from her hillside altar, Penelope related the story of the Goddess of Love.
In the beginning,” Penelope related, “the sky Ouranos, had sexual relations with his mate the earth, Gaia. But Kronos, Ouranos’s son, ambushed his father and sliced off his genitals. When he threw them in the sea, a foam appeared and in the foam a maiden grew. The genitals landed on Cyprus and Aphrodite stepped ashore.”
Penelope paused to gauge my reaction but I simply smiled at such an imaginative story. Then she continued, “Aphrodite acquired an honor, or a divine province, of sexual love. Now she represents its desires and its pleasures.”
“I like that story,” I told her truthfully. “No other myth or philosophy compares or dares to explain our sexuality, why we have desires and why we must sate them.”
“You mean the desire of sexual love?” she asked as she shaded her eyes demurely with her hand.
“Oh, yes!” I exclaimed. “Sexual love above all, but spiritual love, too. All forms of love are acceptable, men loving women, men loving men, and women loving women. Thus, whomever we choose to love, we must strive to love completely, openly and honestly.”
“I like your philosophy,” Penelope told me with a thin but knowing smile.
One day as we took our leisurely stroll, she inched close to me and slipped her hand in mine. I immediately paused in our walk and turned to face her, my gaze filled with tenderness. I brought her hand to my lips and kissed the sweet, warm flesh of her fingers, palm and wrist. She looked at me with her bright blue eyes, her gaze and expression a mix of surprise and curiosity, surprised at my actions and curious to know and understand what I had in mind.
“I must confess to you, Evadne,” Penelope revealed, “I have never been truly loved.”
I frowned. “What about your family, your parents? Surely they loved you.”
“I have no parents,” she informed me on a pragmatic note. “They died when I was very young. My aunt and uncle, Jobyna and Thaddeus, took me in, although they raised me out of duty rather than out of love and affection.”
I couldn’t believe that anyone would deny love to such a beautiful creature as this. “You poor darling,” I soothed as I took her other hand in mine. “You should have been loved since birth. Has there been no man in your young life who would confess his love for you?”
Glancing down, Penelope blushed. “Yes, I have had suitors, but they seemed more interested in seducing me than in loving me. You see, I have learned the difference between love and lust, and I want love more than anything else. Is that so wrong to want?”
“Not at all, my dear. It’s never wrong to want love above physical gratification.” I placed my fingers beneath her chin and tilted her head so I could caress the delicate pink flesh of her cheeks. “And if you allow me, I will love you, love you fully and completely.”
She offered a willing smile as my finger traced the soft bow outline of her lips. “Then I welcome your love,” she confessed, “and will gladly give it in return, the cerebral love of two people who also wish physical affection.”
“Does that mean you wish to become my lover?” I tried to keep my excitement at bay.
Penelope cast her gaze demurely to the ground. “If...that is what you wish...I wish it as well...and very much so.” Then, changing tact with a little giggle, she playfully bit my finger
“Oh, you wicked child!” Laughing, I quickly gathered her in my arms and brought my face close, my mouth hovering over hers in anticipation of a sweet kiss.
But Penelope threw back her head and sighed. “There is one important detail I must reveal to you, Evadne. My Uncle Thaddeus has given my hand in marriage to a merchant named Antipas who has an excellent reputation and makes much money. But he also enjoys his excesses and thereby possesses a rather large body. And he smells as well.” She sighed again. “Oh, I don’t wish to marry such an old, fat man whether rich or poor, but I seem to have no other choice. My uncle is firm on that subject: I will marry Antipas.”
As my hands gently grasped her shoulders, my mind raced with possible alternatives to her problem. I knew Thaddeus very well, his likes, his dislikes, as well as his good and bad points, particularly his greed. There was something to be said for pillow talk, the casual mentioning of personal if not confidential information from a man sated with wine, sex and satisfaction. In fact, my pillows reeked of sweaty secrets. And I knew enough to casually blackmail Thaddeus into withdrawing the proposal between his niece and the portly merchant. I just had to approach the situation the right way.
“Penelope,” I began with an earnest and determined gaze. “If I could persuade your uncle to end the engagement, would you come live with me?”
She nodded. “I would gladly live with you and be whatever you wish me to be, servant, companion, lover...”
“Not as a servant, my dear. I want only your companionship and love. With that in mind, will you allow me to go ahead with my plan?”
She continued to nod. “Yes, oh, yes. I will be eternally grateful for your help.”
“Save your gratitude,” I told her firmly, “and give me only your love in return. I see a long and bright future ahead of us.” Now I could hardly contain my excitement and enthusiasm, for once our relationship took hold, I would then propose my ultimate gift to her: life everlasting
Penelope’s eyes brightened with the prospect of an alternate future, one filled with tender and true love for an equal partner, not the inevitable role of chattel to an old obese husband. The very idea of submitting to this man’s sweaty caresses compelled her to seek her independence and find the love she so desperately wanted and needed.
“I do love you, Evadne,” she whispered, her gaze softening to quiet affection and adoration.
“And I love you.” This time when my mouth took hers, she gave into the kiss, her lips warm and sweet with the pear-honey nectar she had drunk earlier.
My hands studied her face, memorized the shape of her jawline, her firm cheekbones and the high arch of her brows. My fingers then ran through her long, silky curls as I pressed my lips with insistent fervor against hers, opening her mouth so our tongues could meet and dance.
I moved my mouth down her chin and covered her throat and neck with greedy kisses, savoring the fragrance of fresh rose water that coated her smooth, soft flesh.
My hands stroked her small but firm breasts beneath her gown, and I felt her shiver as I shivered too, my desire for her growing rapidly. I hoped that pleasure, rather than fear or uncertainty, caused her to quiver in my arms; but to test her, I broke our embrace and then tugged down the fabric of my bodice to expose my left breast. Taking her hand, I cupped it over the hard nipple and hot flesh, knowing she could feel the rapid beat of my heart beneath. But instead of caressing me, she left her hand in that position. I felt sure modesty, rather than shame or fear, prevented her from going any further in a public place. I pulled back, covering my breast again while offering a reassuring smile.
“When the time is right,” I told her, “I shall summon and welcome you to my private chambers. But first, I want to meet with your uncle.”
Penelope’s face brightened. “You will talk to him then?”
“I will...and if that is not enough, I’ll do whatever it takes to make him understand that you deserve much more than a marriage of profit. You deserve a match where love blooms and flourishes...forever.” As I spoke, I took her hands in mine again and squeezed gently. I couldn’t resist bringing her fingers to my lips once more so I could kiss each one, work down to her palms and on to her wrists, all the while tasting her honey flesh and inhaling her floral scent. I knew that the sensitive core between her legs would taste, smell and feel just as sweet and delightful. The thought of my mouth and tongue caressing those pliant folds beyond her soft downy mound made me hot and wet with desire. I bit the inside of my cheek, hard enough to draw blood so I could quench my arousal for now.
I hated to break away but I knew we ran the risk of being seen by her uncle who would be looking for her now, time to return home and continue on with their daily, unfettered lives. Although for Penelope, she would wait out each day with the hope that it brought a better tomorrow. For me, the wait would be sheer agony, a devilish torture; but I consoled myself with the fact that the next time we did meet I would have Penelope all to myself.
“Farewell for now, Evadne,” she offered and leaned forward to give me a quick kiss on the lips.
“Until next time, my love,” I murmured and watched her run back to her uncle in the House of the Muses.