The Life of Theodoros of Sykeon is a remarkable hagiographic text that is well known to contemporary scholarship as a source for information about rural life in Asia Minor in the sixth and seventh centuries. This text represents the saint’s mother, Maria, and the rest of his female family as a group of independent women who ran an inn on the imperial road through Galatia. These women set up a business that the text alternatively calls the “business of a hetaira” and the “business of pornike.” Hetaira, the feminine form of a word meaning “companion,” was in antiquity a word that meant a high-class woman who either worked as a courtesan or was sexually free. Pornike is a slur word that generally is translated as “fornication.” Through its highly gendered and sexually charged depiction, the author makes Maria into a negative foil for Theodoros’ future saintly career.
This article examines this depiction of Maria in both the post-641 CE text and a slightly less hostile depiction of her in a shorter version of The Life of Theodoros of Sykeon. It uses these texts to ask the question, “What happens if the representation of sex worker characters in these two texts is read as a mode of making practical/moral and theological points in service of monastic communities?” Building on ideas from Roland Betancourt’s recent Byzantine Intersectionality, the project is an initial foray into acknowledging the ways that representations of sex work are highly gendered and that the subjects are entirely silenced.