Lycoris the Mime

Lycoris the Mime was the Most Influential Courtesan in Ancient Rome

Historians can trace evidence of the world’s oldest profession to ancient Greece and Rome. Volumina Cytheris, also known as Lycoris the Mime, is among the oldest pros in history.

Born into slavery around 70 BCE, Lycoris was trained as a mime and actress by her enslaver, Publius Voluminous Eutrapleus, an avid theater lover. Lycoris the Mime’s performing arts and courtesan training began around 50 BCE. It’s assumed that since she was an actresses during the Roman empire, Lycoris the Mime likely also engaged in sex work. [1]

Much of what we know about Lycoris the Mime is due to her well documented and infamous clientele. In 49 BCE, she began an affair with Roman soldier Mark Antony after he was appointed 2nd in command of the Roman army. The romance was short-lived because Antony made their relationship public, which was contrary to the societal norms of the day. [2]

Lycoris the Mime continued working as a courtesan and maintained her political clients and influence. Marcus Brutus, an assassin of Julius Caesar, was one of her regular clients around 43 BCE. She rose to fame after an affair with Cornelius Gallus, a politician-soldier who authored four books of poetry dedicated to and influenced by Lycoris the Mime. Identifying Volumina Cytheris with the pseudonym Lycoris, Gallus’ poetry was published in Virgil‘s tenth Eclogue, and was enormously popular. [3]

There’s no mention of Lycoris the Mime in the historical record after the tenth Eclogue. She may have continued working as a courtesan, keeping relationships with various politicians and soldiers. For the following 300 years, actresses and mimes were known as “Lycoris” so it’s plausible that she continued to perform and mentor young actresses and mimes.

Dr. Charlene J. Fletcher is a historian, womanist, activist, and lover of most things Kentucky, Charlene holds a Ph.D. in History from Indiana University, specializing in 19th century United States and African American history and gender studies. Prior to attending IU, Charlene led a domestic violence/sexual assault program as well as a large reentry initiative in New York City, assisting women and men in their transition from incarceration to society. She also served as a lecturer of Criminal Justice at LaGuardia Community College and an adjunct lecturer in Global and Historical Studies at Butler University. Keep reading…

[1] Maggie McNeill, “Volumina Cytheris,” in The Honest Courtesan: Frank Commentary from a Semi-Retired Call Girl, January 3, 2013.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

McNeill, Maggie. “Volumina Cytheris,” in The Honest Courtesan: Frank Commentary from a Semi-Retired Call Girl, January 3, 2013. Link to source.

Maggie McNeill provides a brief synopsis of Lycoris’s life and influence.

Keith, Alison. “Lycoris Galli/Volumnia Cytheris: a Greek Courtesan in Rome,” European Network on Gender Studies in Antquity 1: 23-52 (EuGeStA), no 1. 2011. Link to source.

Keith’s work uses a feminist lens to examine Lycoris’s life and influence in classical literature.

Traina, Giusto and Augusto Fraschetti, ed. “Lycoris the Mime,” in Roman Women (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001).

Traina’s work on Lycoris is part of a larger collection of essays that focus on the political, spiritual, and cultural life of Roman women from the first through fourth centuries. The analysis recognizes the silence of Roman women in the archive and seeks to redefine understandings of the role of women in the Classical era.

Strong, Anise K. “Powerful Concubines and Influential Courtesans.” in Prostitutes and Matrons in the Roman World, 62–96. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016.

Strong’s chapter examines on the role of sex workers in the political and cultural spheres in the Roman Empire.