The Pyramid Builder

Of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, only the pyramids of Egypt remain standing today--and according to legend, one of them was built for the famous prostitute Rhodopis.

Originally a Greek slave, Rhodopis lived in the sixth century B.C. During her childhood, she worked in the same household as the slave Aesop, the renowned author of fables. She was eventually taken to Egypt to work as a prostitute. In what is surely one of history's greatest true love stories, a Greek wine merchant named Charaxus became so enamored of Rhodopis that he paid a huge sum of money to buy her freedom. Charaxus was the brother of the famous poetess Sappho, who wrote a poem chastizing him for this deed. Charaxus eventually returned to Greece, while Rhodopis continued working as a high-class prostitute in Egypt. She amassed vast fame and fortune; according to the historian Herodotus, every Greek soon knew her name.

In addition to these facts, there are many legends about Rhodopis. One popular tale says she singlehandedly financed the construction of her own pyramid. Another states that a Pharaoh built a pyramid in her honor. Herodotus himself claimed that Rhodopis donated a great number of "iron beef spits"--an impressive contribution in those days--to the shrine at Delphi. Rhodopis is also the central character of an Egyptian fairy tale similar to "Cinderella". In it, an eagle steals a slipper from Rhodopis and deposits it before the Pharaoh Amasis. Amasis, impressed with the delicate slipper, tries it on all the women in his dominion. Upon learning that it belongs to Rhodopis, Amasis marries her, making her Queen of Egypt.

There is no way to know which of these stories is true, but we can be certain that the extraordinary prostitute Rhodopis exerted a profound influence on the ancient world.

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