High-class “call girls” have always existed. In ancient Greek times they were known as hetairai. In ancient Roman times it was a very common practice for ex-slaves from conquered cities and countries to become courtesans. In these ancient times such ladies were called aelicariae or spelt-mill girls in Campania, for example. Later, in the Mediaeval, there existed such ladies even in distant lands like Japan where they were ancestors of a Japanese geisha. In the Renaissance, they received their name “courtesan” from the Italian word “cortigiana” which is the feminine form of cortigiano (“courtier”). Even within the Ottoman Empire a sultan had his favourites.
And who were these ladies?
They were not the ordinary ladies solely practicing the oldest profession in the streets. They were very well-educated companions of rulers and kings, rich and wealthy men from the upper class. They were provided with fortune and luxury by them as well as these young ladies were independent and respected in exchange of companionship. All of the courtesans were diversely trained in singing and dancing. They performed classical music and played games. Or in other words, le cortigiane satisfied men not only physically but also spiritually with their physical beauty and grace, refined manners, intellectual skills and talents.
Why did they take this path in life?
In the Renaissance the girls of wealthy background, with a dower left by their parents had only one choice – they married someone from the upper class and lived (un)happily with him. While the poorer or orphans who couldn’t buy their marriage with money had two possibilities. The first one was to go to monasteries where they were brought up and lived there all their life. Or simply most of them started a life of street girls and only few of them managed to become courtesans (only if they were highly talented and had luck).
Did they mess up in conspiracies and get involved in the political life of countries?
Definitely, yes! As they were in close relations with wealthy and influential men, they often got involved in political intrigues and conspiracies (like the Venetian Conspiracy of 1618, for instance) becoming innocent victims of cruelty. But through the history there have been lots of love stories about courtesans who have found the true and pure love in spite of their reputation. Even though their whole life is tightly bonded to many other men, they are willing to follow and love only one of them …. no matter he is a conspirator, secret messenger and even assassin.
P.S.: This post shouldn’t be considerd an ode to courtesans. Don’t get me wrong. It’s only a humble way to tell you the story of Alessandra Rosetti and Antonio Perez. And if you already want to know the whole story of the Venetian courtesan, the book is called “The Rossetti Letter” by Christi Phillips. 🙂