Phryne the Thespian was a famed courtesan of Athens, better known for the court case she won by baring her breasts. Her actual name was Mnesarete but people referred to her as Phryne (“toad”) because of the yellow complexion of her skin.
Early life and Claim to Fame
Phryne was the daughter of Epicles from Thespiae (Boeotia), but spent most of her life in Athens. Even though we don’t know the exact dates of her birth and death, various historians estimate that she was born around 371 BC, the year Thebes razed Thespiae not long after the battle of Leuctra and expelled its inhabitants.
Thanks to her extraordinary beauty, she became a model posing for various painters and sculptors, including the great Praxiteles (who was also one of her clients). Actually, Praxiteles’s statue of Phryne was purchased by the city of Cnidus – after the city of Cos that had originally commissioned it, objected to its being nude – and became such a popular tourist attraction that the city managed to pay off its entire debt.
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