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Oxyrhynchus: A City and its Texts, Virtual Exhibition: Scribes and Scholars

Philaenis, The Art of Love: Early second century AD

Well-heeled book-owners among the upper classes at Oxyrhynchus could get professional advice on matters of the heart from this well known manual on the ars amatoria which circulated widely in the ancient world. It is also one of the few technical works believed to have been written by a woman. Of Hellenistic date, her work was regarded as an authoritative guide for the voluptuary. She treated the art of love systematically, including descriptions of sexual positions, aphrodisiacs, abortifacients, and cosmetics. We know her text only from this papyrus fragment of a professionally produced book written in a fair-sized book hand, and preserving the beginning of the work (or an epitome of it):

Fr. 1 col. 1, lines 1-4:

‘Philaenis of Samos, daughter of Okymenes wrote the following things for those wanting ... life ...’

The beginning is reminiscent of the opening of Herodotus’ Histories. Philaenis, however, begins with ‘How to Make Passes’ (peri peirasmon), then a section on seduction through flattery (‘say that he or she is “godlike”...isotheon’), followed by a section on kissing (peri philemat[on]). The style was simple, the treatment summary and matter of fact. The work represents the technical prose tradition on which Ovid drew in his elegiac didactic poem Ars Amatoria.

The Oxyrhynchus Papyri vol. XXIX no. 2891