Ileana Zuckerman

Speaking of Aspasia

Mentor: Beth Saur

My project, “Speaking of Aspasia,” explores Aspasia of Miletus, who – as a woman and a foreigner – never found her footing in Athenian society (5th century BC). Philosopher, Prostitute, Rhetorician, Feminist: evidence of Aspasia’s true identity and function in society is sparse. Only mentioned in three contemporary works, Aspasia is portrayed as a conniving prostitute and viciously attacked for her supposed manipulation of Pericles, the greatest statesman of the time. In subsequent centuries, Aspasia gained attention for her philosophy and rhetoric and more recently, her influence has extended into the world of art, literature, and video games. Yet, Aspasia’s true identity remains a hot topic of debate. In order to examine the controversy of Aspasia, this project creates a fictional symposium with scholars represented as characters arguing about their interpretations of Aspasia. The novella places the reader on the sidelines of the discussion with Aspasia (both go unnoticed by the scholars) and from this vantage point, the reader hears both the debate and Aspasia’s comments to it. Such framing of the debate highlights how scholars say everything as well as nothing about Aspasia as they erase her personality and turn her into nothing but an icon representing their ideas. Aspasia is important to scholars and historians only when she serves their purpose. “Speaking of Aspasia” is the first part of a larger novel that aims to explore Aspasia in a more humanized way.

Read an excerpt from Ileana’s novella “Speaking of Aspasia