Most sources that mention her name her the daughter of an Athenian man by the name of Cleanor, though who he may be beyond her father is unknown. According to Plutarch, she spent the early part of her career as a flute-player before eventually becoming a hetaira. Precisely who she associated with at first remains unknown, but she was present at the battle of Salamis in the fleet of Ptolemy I. Some have assumed this means she was the mistress of Ptolemy I, but others have pointed out that it’s equally possible that she was actually associated with one of his close friends.
It was during this battle that Demetrius Poliorcetes capture the boat she was on. He proceeded to fall madly in love with her and took her as his mistress. Since she was older than him, ancient sources like Plutarch and Athenaeus assume that her looks played little to no part in his attraction to her. They attribute this entirely to her wit and “talent.” Her wit and intelligence, at least, are shown in anecdotes by Athenaeus. At some point she had a daughter, Phila, by him.
No sources tell of her later years. As far as we know, she may have lived comfortably with Demetrius for the rest of her life. Or maybe she left him later, by her own will or his. Her detractors didn’t hesitate to accuse her of immorality, unchastity, and extravagance, the usual insults leveled against hetairai.** She spent money public works as well as on herself, building a stoa for the people of Sicyon and may have contributed in other ways to Demetrius’ efforts to rebuild the city. But beyond this, as is the case with so many other women’s lives, for lack of information the story must end here.
*The Ancient Greek equivalent of a courtesan.
**And against women in similar positions throughout history. Unimaginative much?
Plutarch, Life of Demetrius 16.3, 19.4, 24.1, 25.6, 27.1-6 - Lacus Curtius
Athenaeus, The Deipnosophists 576-7 - Attalus.org
Pomeroy, Sarah. Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves: Women in Classical Antiquity. New York: Pantheon Books, 1995.
Ogden, Daniel. "Courtesans and the Sacred in the Early Hellenistic Courts." In Tempelprostitution im Altertum, edited by Tanja Susanne Scheer, 344-376. Oldenburg: Verlag Antike, 2009.
Lamia of Athens - Ptolemaic Dynasty
Lamia of Athens - Wikipedia